DAC Home THE NEW WAVE OF WEB FICTION
Raine Koskimaa
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Stephen King's much hyped e-publishing ventures, as well as speculations about the e-book industry have been the buzz in the field of digital literature during the year 2000. From the point of view of aesthetics and innovation it has been much more interesting, though, that several new, highly ambitious web fictions have been published this year. These new works are natively part of the WWW in a way not seen before. Because of this, I dare to dub this phenomenon as the "new wave of web fiction". It is worth noting that e-books and reader softwares (MS Reader, Glass Book), are not capable of showing dynamic content like these web fictions.

I will present a close reading and structural analysis of two major web fictions, M. D. Coverley's "The Book of Going Forth by Day" (http://califia.hispeed.com/Egypt/) and Michael Joyce's "The Sonatas of Saint Francis" (http://supertart.com/sonatas/index.html). One of the reasons that Coverley's fiction is interesting is that it is a work under construction. It is, so to speak, written online. This way it opens a unique peek hole for readers to follow the creation of a work of a novelistic quality. There is also the possibility for significant reader feedback directing the development of the work. In "The Book of Going Forth by Day" a quite complicated reader interface is employed. On top of a basic bidimensional interface (horizontal bar for buttons activating story related links; vertical bar for topical links) is built a more complicated system of pictogram icons, lending the work a sense of playing. The story is located in Egypt, and the main story line taking place in contemporary setting is overlaid with a wealth of historical and mythological materials.

Joyce's "The Sonatas of Saint Francis" also employs a unique navigating device, extremely simple one in this case. Basically, there are just two buttons, "seawards", and "skywards" ­ in amusingly ironic way these highly relative (and at times surprising) alternatives make parody of the back-and-forth ­model navigation in web browsers. "The Sonatas of Saint Francis" is very sensitive to the nuances of language, and it uses quite idiomatic "pidgen" English. There is an "addictionary" explaining the meaning of more obscure expressions. There might be even heard of echoes of the Island of Myst (the computer game), but the island in "The Sonatas" is much more lively indeed.

In both of these exemplary cases the hypertextual structure of the works is buried behind a complicated multimedial layer ­ text links are in minor role in the navigation. Reader's activity required, the ergodic aspect, is well integrated to the fictional world, in a naturalizing way. This, and the fully adopted web-ness, describe the new wave of webfiction in general.

 

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