Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hypertext Novels. Really?

Already, I kinda feel like Mr. horse, reading this novel: “No, Sir, I don’t like it.”

Why? And what am I talking about? Well, this. Apparently this fella Paul LaBarge is trying to revive the best-forgotten "hypertext" novel which was, apparently, all the rage back in the early protean days of the Internet. Basically, it's a novel with little itty-bitty links embedded in it so you can wander off down other strange roads as you're reading the novel.

And that's what I don't like about it.

Part of my dislike smacks back to my derision of the basic premise of "web" writing – short, scrappy little bits of text that are really part of a longer text byt are broken up solely because it’s badd, baaaaaaad, baaaaaaaaaaaadd, as Al Gore might say, to make people have to scroll. Why scrolling is a sin when clicking over and over and over again isn’t, I’ll never figure out.

And then part of it is this: I’m already prone to getting bored when I read, even when the reading is exciting. I don’t need the distraction of, say, clicking on a link that takes me to some other little snippet of story, as LaFarge’s novel does – only leaving me with the choice: Do I go back to where I started clicking on the segue, or do I follow the further segues until I come to some end (maybe) (then again, maybe not)?

I see the appeal: This is kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” the books I enjoyed as a kid because, as a reader, I had a choice in what happened to my character, even if those choices led to being eaten by some alien because I made the wrong choice. Then again, sometimes I picked up those books and read them cover to cover without paying any attention to the choices offered because, well, that’s what I chose to do. That’s what reading LaFarge’s novel feels like.

I'm willing to give hypertext novels the benefit of the doubt. I'm willing to read this one (although the mention of drug use in its opening blurbs (it's hard to call them pages) aren't promising). I think, though, that a commenter on LaBarge's defense of his novel at hit it on the head when he/she said this:
I think theres [sic] also a big difference between non-linear story telling and something where you stop in the middle of a paragraph to follow the link.

Having hypertext breaks up the flow of reading, and to me anyway would be very distracting. I'd also be wondering why, if the links contained important information, they weren't in the story itself.
But maybe they are part of the story itself, where, as you follow the links, you're taken on the adventure of reading a different story each time you read the book. But then again, who wants to read a different story each time someone reads a book? Tolkien does this throughout his work, but in a way that lets you read narratives as you want to read them, not as the author wants them read. That might be the biggest objection I have to hypertext novels: The author is trying to take too much control of the characters and story.

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