The Case of the Missing Hypertext Novel

Right below the Nobel article in Salon, there was an article about hypertext novels, titled “Why the Book’s Future Never Happened,” Hypertext fiction, according to Wikipedia, is electronic literature with hyperlinks that allow for non-linearity and reader interaction. (Not having read one, the impression that I get is something between a choose-your-own adventure novel and a novel told in a non-linear fashion, e.g. with flashbacks or different character perspectives.)

Apparently there was a lot of hype about hypertext fiction back in the ’90s – it was supposed to be “the next big thing,” but it never really took off. The author of the Salon article posits that hypertext fiction was “born into a world that wasn’t quite ready for it,” and additionally, its failure had more to do with its content than with the its format. That is, the first hypertext novels simply weren’t very good. (“True, the hypertext offers you the puzzle-solving pleasure of making sense of the story, arranging the pieces in your head to see the whole mosaic, but why would you do that, if the pieces don’t suggest a picture you care to see? Not every puzzle has an interesting solution.”)

The article’s author suggests that hypertext novels are even more difficult to write than regular novels, because “the sections have to be readable along multiple paths; they have to be richly related in multiple ways; and they have to keep you reading.” However, non-linear fiction has been written before: the author offers Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov and and Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar as examples, and I might add to that: The Time Traveler’s Wife?

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