One of the histories of hypertexts I’ve been reading this week is going to be a really good book. It’s not yet published, so you can’t read it too. Not yet.
Let’s follow this new book all the way back to Michael Joyce’s original aspiration for hypertext:
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.
Today, our perspective on what Joyce said, and on what hypertext fiction is, rests on the work Joyce and his followers did, on what they wanted to do. That might not be what you want to do, of course, and that’s fine. It’s a big world, and there are lots of stories, and lots of ways to tell them.
The ever-changing novel should work in places we know well, in the old familiar pastures of spinning a yarn, far from experiment and image and metafiction. In fact, it should be terrific there.
Take The Hunger Games. It’s an exciting, melodramatic tale. It’s not trying to demonstrate new formal possibilities. It’s not a lyric little bandbox. I had lots of fun with it, and now I’ve read it twice and I’ve seen the movie and here we are.
But suppose it were just slightly hypertextual. The underlying story doesn’t change, because it’s not that kind of movie. (A naive game would let you be Katniss and sometimes you’d survive and sometimes you wouldn’t, and that’s a great failing of games.) And we can’t do very much with changing the plot, because suspense is the point: you know how it’s going to end, but you want to see it.
So, we can’t choose our own adventure, and we can’t even do a lot with varying how it’s told us. But we could do a little.
Imagine: you come back to reread The Hunger Games in a year or two, and it’s the same book – but this time, Rue tells us a little more about work in the fields. Or, this time, we overhear Clove say something that tells us what she sees in Cato. Or, Peeta reports back on exactly what (he claims) he did to Campfire Girl. Just a line here, a paragraph there, a bit of dialog, a judicious cut. In place of the canonical certainty of the book, our favorite book would have just a trace of shimmer: always the same, but subtly different every time.
It’s not a huge different either way. But why not?