Sunday 23rd November 2014

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Digital Literature Pioneers: Michael Joyce on early Hypertext Fiction

TLP Interview

Michael Joyce is a professor of English at Vassar College, NY, USA. His work afternoon: a story, 1987, was among the first works of hypertext fiction. The New York Times called Michael Joyce’s afternoon “the granddaddy of hypertext fictions,” while The Toronto Globe and Mail said that it “is to the hypertext interactive novel what the Gutenberg bible is to publishing,” and Der TAZ in Berlin termed him “Der Homer der Hypertexte.” afternoon has been translated into Italian, German, Polish, and French.

TLP: Your work afternoon, a story (1990) marks you as one of the early pioneer of electronic writing/ storytelling, can you tell us a bit about your work, what inspired it and what you were trying to achieve with projects such as afternoon?

MJ: I fear I’ve too often told the story of the writing of afternoon in 1987 (not 1990), which I actually began writing in late 1986 and distributed at the first ACM Hypertext meeting in 1987 at Chapel Hill NC where Jay Bolter and I also presented a paper “Hypertext and Creative Writing.”  Your date of 1990 marks when it was published by Eastgate but by then it had been widely distributed and written about (and at least one dissertation about it, by Jane Yellowless Douglas, was underway). Suffice it to say that Jay and I had met through the Yale Artificial Intelligence Lab where we each were visiting fellows albeit in successive years, each interested in new ways of storytelling, but neither of us, or much of the world, having heard the word hypertext (which, coincidentally, Ted Nelson first was quoted as using, albeit hyphenated, in print here at Vassar in 1965. Interested readers looking for the full genealogy can read my chapter, “What I Really Wanted to Do I Thought” in Of Two Minds (University of Michigan, 1995 or, better still, Belinda Barnet’s wonderful Memory Machines: The Evolution Of Hypertext (Anthem, 2003). There to Belinda I summarized our early work on Storyspace and my work on afternoon by saying  “I wanted, quite simply, to write a novel that would change in successive readings and to make those changing versions according to the connections that I had for some time naturally discovered in the process of writing and that I wanted my readers to share.”

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Can Readers make a Book Better?

Hector McDonald

Advance Editions

There’s no doubt that readers have strong opinions about books.  We see them expressed every day in Amazon reviews, in book clubs and a plethora of blogs. After giving up many hours of our time to a book,  after investing emotionally in its characters or rationally in its arguments, it’s not surprising we have a lot to say. The question is, should the author ever listen?

When Ian Fleming received a letter from a reader politely suggesting his fictional hero be issued with a rather more powerful firearm, he took the advice and gave James Bond a Walther PPK.  But he had to live with the fact that Bond, in his first five novels, had trusted his life to “a lady’s gun,” as his correspondent Geoffrey Boothroyd described the .25 Beretta.  With the technology of the day – printed books and typewritten letters – reader feedback was slow in coming.

By contrast, several small factual errors in my latest novel, Rogue Elements, have already been corrected by sharp-eyed readers, long before the book is printed. I referred to a “private” in the Coldstream Guards; it turns out the junior rank is “guardsman”.  I placed the top brass of MI6 on the fourth floor of the Vauxhall Cross headquarters – it should be the sixth.  And although I undertook an exhaustive research trip to Lourdes, my description of the bathing procedure has now been substantially enhanced thanks to a Catholic pilgrim with far greater experience of the town’s miraculous waters.

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