The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

by Antonia Fraser, ed.

A clever anthology of essays by notable writers about their early reading and their favorite books. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this collection is that it gathers so many different voices (A. S. Byatt, Tom Stoppard, Ruth Rendell, Stephen Spender, J. G. Ballard) and asks them to write a piece on a tightly constrained set topic – like reading a pile of school essays written by the all-star team. Quite a few of the participants balk at some of the requirements, and the expected list of “ten favorite books” proves especially unpopular.

Some aspects of early reading are surprisingly common. There are, apparently, two ways to encounter Winnie The Pooh: either as bedtime reading when you are six, or as required reading in the bed of one’s college lover. Everyone, it seems, has read Richmal Compton’s Just William books, though I missed the memo. There are some wonderful evocations of libraries, bookstores and booksellers, especially from Gita Mehta:

Sahib. Latest from Plato. The Republic. Also James Hadley Chase and P. G. Wodehouse. You want Catcher In The Rye, Sahib? Mad Magazine?
Jul 16 24 2016

The Boston Girl

by Anita Diamant

The story of Addie Baum, a nice Jewish girl from the tenements of Boston’s North End, and also (of course) the story the immigrant experience refracted by the summer program of a Boston settlement house. The immigrant stories here are well told and witty; you’ve heard them before, of course, but they’re always fresh enough.

Jul 16 23 2016

Tinderbox 6.2.2

We delivered a new Tinderbox yesterday, with some nice improvements in maps and some important infrastructure. This was, as these things go, a fairly small release, intended to clear the decks for the start of Tinderbox 7.

This makes a new user’s post in the Tinderbox Forum all the more welcome.

I bought Tinderbox in the most recent Summerfest.

Today I got to experience one of the pleasures of joining the TB club:a new release! Grin

The list of improvements was more extensive than I expected. Very nice.

No grander message than that, but I fully admit to always getting a little thrill from installing updated software.

We do lots of Tinderbox releases: seven new versions in the last twelve months. Backstage, we’ve had 54 new versions in the past year (and that doesn’t include Storyspace releases or the preview of my hypertext school Decline and Fall).

Jul 16 19 2016


by Ian McEwan

A strange, suspenseful, but also lyrical story about the sophisticated and successful men who loved Molly, an extraordinary woman whose London funeral opens the story. Terrific and rare portraits of real people – a newspaperman and a composer – doing real work, bookended by plenty of incident. The best of McEwan.

Jul 16 17 2016

Hypertext 2016

Just back from Hypertext 2016 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve missed a couple of hypertext conferences lately – they’re costly, especially when in a remote place, and lately the center of gravity has swung toward empirical studies of Twitter and Facebook that strike me as irrelevant to – or actually destructive of – the hypertext of the Web.

This year, though, the conference had a really strong hypertext session and quite a few fascinating papers. The Engelbart Award was taken home by Millard and Hargood (again) for a nifty paper about Patterns of Sculptural Hypertext in their location-based narrative system Storyplaces. It’s fascinating work – hypertexts to be read while wandering through a city – and led to all sorts of fascinating discussions about literary experience, tourism, augmented reality, China Miéville’s City and The City, and much else. Almost makes up for missing Readercon, which was scheduled for the same dates.

Thomas Schedel and Claus Atzenbeck had a terrific paper on spatial parsers. This is an old core idea of spatial hypertext, in which the computer works to understand the layout of things like Tinderbox maps. Schedel’s just finished a doctorate on the topic, to which he brings some fascinating insight and a welcome sense of rigor. This is ambitious work that will have direct influence on systems you use, and you won’t need to wait very long to see the impact.

These two papers were the first I can remember in eons where I returned from hypertext with immediate implementation plans. My own paper on Storyspace 3 was in the same session and nicely received; it describes how the new Storyspace accommodates “exotic” affordances like sculptural hypertext and shark links – things originally termed exotic because they were not anything like Storyspace.

Stacey Mason chaired a creative track that was fascinating, too. A sidebar to the creative track reception was a performance by the 2B Theater Company of “REBECCA reads NORA reads MOLLY” – a staged reading of the entire final monologue of Ulysses. The work the referees selected for the creative exhibit were a fascinating mix:

  • Apartment 613 (Carlos Ramírez)
  • Cape (Bruno Dias)
  • Cancel Cable Or Die Trying (Tony Smith)
  • Hypertext and Cultural Autobiography: Talk with Your Hands Like an Ellis Island Mutt (Steven Wingate)
  • Generative Stein Poems (Everardo Reyes, Samuel Szoniecky and Jean-Pierre Balpe)
  • Decline and Fall (Mark Bernstein)
  • Pluto (Mez Breeze and Andy Campbell)

I wrote some notes on Decline and Fall for the Narrative Workshop as well. We have a bunch of intriguing work here, not all of it ideal for reading at a cocktail reception, to be sure, but fascinating anyway and suggesting lots of directions for the future.

by Cixin Liu, Ken Liu, trans.

In this fascinating first-encounter novel from China, two despairing civilizations – one human, one from Trisolaris (which we call Alpha Centauri) – make radio contact. A novel about the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath, and also about the politics of despair, this won both the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Jun 16 24 2016


by Curtis Sittenfeld

A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by the author of the wonderful school story, Prep. The Bennetts live in a nice Tudor house in the Cincinnati suburbs. Bingley is an ER physician who recently starred in a reality TV series. Darcy is a neurosurgeon. Jane Bennett teaches yoga in New York, where her sister Lizzie is an up-and-coming magazine writer; both are nearing forty and their mother is very eager for grandchildren.

The surprising technical obstacle in this vivid (and in most ways very literal) retelling is Lydia, the younger sister who threatens to disgrace herself and her family by running away with the handsome and untrustworthy Mr. Wickham. There’s just no way to do that in modern dress, at least not romantically: who could be so unsuitable, what arrangement so unspeakable, that everyone would have to drop everything and fly to Chicago to track down the errant daughter? Sitttenfeld comes up with one answer, but it's a stretch. (In the wake of today’s news about Brexit and my recent immersion in the Mitford, I suppose eloping with a fascist, Trump-eter, or war criminal might serve, though even then Mrs. Bennett could forgive much as long as there was enough money in the family.)

Written in lots of tiny chapters, this may be a frothy book but it was a ton of fun.

An interesting research area for Tinderbox (which is now on sale, incidentally) is the discovery of emergent structure in Tinderbox maps. One aspect of this is simply discovering the geometries each user prefers for each problem.

This structure emerges as soon as we begin to work. For example, when we place a single note in a map

Spontaneous Grids

its mere presence might set up in our mind an implicit grid.

Spontaneous Grids

Your grid might vary. It probably will. For example, you might want to leave spaces or gutters between objects; some people will want larger gaps than others. Different shapes and different patterns of connection will also create distinct layout constraints.

Spontaneous Grids

An important stream of research on spatial hypertext involves spatial parsers – processes that recognize implicit structures and patterns. These can, for example, recognize that you’ve got a vertical list of notes and help you treat that list as a unit. Spatial parsers can also recognize and help correct small mistakes, such as unintentional misalignments.

Graphic design thinks a lot about grids, both how they can be respected and how they ought to be subverted. What is the latest design thinking about this? What’s happened since the Bauhaus? Email me.

by Charlotte Mosley, ed.

Lord and Lady Redesdale had seven kids. The boy was popular and well-enough liked, and died in Burma during the war. The six daughters were a handful.

  1. was Nancy (Naunce), gorgeous and a terrific novelist. She wrote equally terrific letters and had a fatal tendency to fall for gay men.
  2. was Pamela (Woman), who had childhood polio, a brief, bad marriage, was gay, and lived a retired country life. She is the only one of the sisters who didn’t publish books, but she could write, too.
  3. was Diana (Honks), the beauty of her age. She was the model for one of the muses in the floor of the National Gallery, and much else beside. After another brief, bad marriage, she married Oswald Mosley, leading man of British Fascism.
  4. was Unity (Birdy or Boud), who shared a room with #5. They didn’t get along, and drew a chalk line down the middle of the room. Unity filled her side of the room with pictures of brave Fascists; her sister plastered her walls with Lenin and company. In the 30s, Unity went to Germany and fell deeply in love with Hitler, shooting herself when England declared war on Germany.
  5. was Jessica (Decca), who eloped with a communist, moved to California, and wrote important exposés and was a leader in the civil rights movement.
  6. was Deborah (Debo), who became the Duchess of Devonshire, invented the stately home industry, and remained on speaking terms with all six sisters throughout the course of her life.

They knew everyone worth knowing, pretty much. They seem to have had uniformly bad taste in men, but never let that stop them. They wrote a lot of letters, many of them brilliant.

Charlotte Mosley – Diana’s daughter in law – selects and edits these expertly. The correspondence is huge, so even selected letters leaves us with a brick. Every letter has wonderful footnotes that identify almost everyone mentioned – a task made nearly impossible by the sisters’ fondness for nicknames and private jokes. The Queen Mother, for example, is always “Cake,” apparently because, at a wedding in the 1930s, she was strikingly enthusiastic when told that the couple were going to cut the wedding cake.

Fascinating interview with IF writer Bruno Dias on the craft of writing hypertext narrative.

What does it mean to give the player a choice that is enormously consequential to the character but almost entirely inconsequential to the plot?

The 2016 Summer Festival of Artisanal Software is here. Save 25% on Tinderbox, , and lots of other great tools for writers and thinkers.

by Iain M. Banks

Second reading of this fascinating story about The Culture – a future civilization which has transcended routine scarcity, removing many sources of conflict and threatening to render narrative pointless. Further complicating the narrative problem is that the central character is a professional gamer, but since we’re talking about very advanced civilizations which have self-aware spaceships and such, the games can’t be described in much detail because they’re just too complex. Despite the challenges, this is superbly done.