Wired reports on a new, unfolding Web narrative: Flight Risk. Leander Kahey calls it "the incredible story of Isabella V., a wealthy young woman who claims she went into hiding in early March to avoid an arranged marriage."
"On March 2, 2003 at 4:12 pm, I disappeared. My name is isabella v., but it's not. I'm twentysomething and I am an international fugitive"
Kahey gets all tangled up in asking whether or not Flight Risk is a "hoax". He's really asking, "Is it true?", which is something different. (With Kaycee Nicole, there was concern that the author might be seeking donations to help with medical expenses that, like Kaycee, weren't real. But Isabella is an heiress; she doesn't need your money)
What we have here, presumably, is a new media thriller unfolding in real time. That's a very clever idea. Thrillers are very closely allied with mysteries -- both kinds of stories describe how a damaged world is once more made whole -- and mysteries have long been a very difficult target for hypertext. Letting the thriller play out over time can be enormously effective (witness The Fugitive), Thrillers begin by forcing the hero to step off the sidewalk and into another world; the problem here is to choose the rabbit-hole:
- If the danger the hero faces is too pressing, Web detectives will get to the bottom of the story and end it prematurely. Look at the investigative resources harnessed for Kaycee, or for OurFirstTime.com. Imagine what it would be like if our heroine faced credible danger -- if we were convinced, say, that the blogger was in imminent peril of being abducted by a drug cartel or shot by gangsters from New Jersey or Novogorod. ISPs and hackers would fall over themselves trying to help, and agencies from Interpol down to your local precinct house would dream of breaking the case. It would be madness.
- If the danger isn't real and important, we won't particularly care -- and the weblog will be lost in the noise.
- We don't want anyone to get hurt or to break the law, because we might be implicated as an accessory. This means we can't really attempt a heist thriller.
Isabella's story is perfect. She's a Girl In Peril. She's rich, which is always interesting, and gives the writes flexibility; rich folks can always catch a plane if the plot gets jammed. And her peril is precisely tuned so that you want her to escape, but you don't really need (or want) to rush in and save the day. Obviously, even if you figured out where to find her, you'd worry that her Evil Mastermind Father would have Minions on your tail, and you'd lead them to her.
P.S. Someone really needs to look up the creators of The Spot (anyone know where it's archived?) and give them an award (or something) for creating an entirely new literary genre. And someone needs to give all this a name. Suggestions? (Check here -- thanks Eric Scheid!)
Update: Isabella has sent me email; she says she is real.