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The future of web publishing, part seventeen million and six.
February 15, 2010 8:11 PM   Subscribe

The future of web publishing, part seventeen million and six. Elizabeth Bear (guest posting for MetaFilter's own Charles Stross) writes about her experiences with the hyperfiction work Shadow Unit.
posted by brundlefly (18 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
[Shadow Unit previously]
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:19 PM on February 15, 2010


I remember Shadow Unit from when it was first on MeFi, but I didn't realize one of the authors was the person behind Shoggoths in Bloom and The Horrid Glory of its Wings, which it seems from searching we haven't actually linked to from MeFi before. It's pretty great stuff, and I just realized from searching that the title is a quote from The Last Unicorn, which is both weird and appropriate.

Anyway, Shadow Unit seemed to me to be a bit simple and ad-hoc in its mythology, and the horror aspects of it didn't seem horrible enough. That's sort of the case with Shoggoths in Bloom too, it's really imaginative and original, but it looses the horror of the original works on the way.

I might give Shadow Unit another go now, though, it looks like they've grown quite a bit since the last time.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:30 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kinda have a hard time taking anything about "internet writing + future" seriously from the same person who was surprised and amazed that there would be backlash from admitting to agreeing to a critique solely for the sake of political correctness and that people can/do quote you on the internets.

But hey, a year older, a year wiser?
posted by yeloson at 9:17 PM on February 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Hyperfiction", as she calls it, isn't really much different from actual plays of people's RPGs, wikis of campaigns or ARGs, albeit sometimes better presented. I wish they wouldn't pretend it's some grand new vista of possibility. Now, if they can consistently make money from it, that'll be a big innovation.
posted by jiawen at 9:17 PM on February 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Bear does a nice line in Lovecraftian space opera as well, with Boojum and it's follow up in the Lovecraft Unbound anthology.
posted by Artw at 10:02 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Calling this "the future of web publishing" makes me want to instinctively tear it down, because, come on.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:36 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a groundbreaking "hyperfiction" this Shadoe Unit shared world sounds an awful lot like a rather RPGish setting with a bunch of franchise stories set in it's shared world... And while that sort of thing is fun it's not like there aren't a bunch of commercial ones already doing that sort of thing.
posted by Artw at 11:00 PM on February 15, 2010


Interesting. They say they're crowd-funded. I wonder how far they could take this kind of thing to make it crowed sourced. If you look at all the fanfic out there for popular properties, you could probably 'recruit' the best fan writers (what do you call those people?) and allow them to write "cannon" pieces to flesh out the world.

But on the other hand, the idea of a "Story" that's spread out among hundreds (or thousands?) of separate pages on the internet, spanning multiple servers, etc sounds like a lot of work for a casual reader.
posted by delmoi at 1:58 AM on February 16, 2010


Aside from being very similar to the things jiawen mentioned, the name 'hyperfiction' makes me think of hypertext, which this is not - at least, not in any sense other than being a collection of stories set in the same universe.

delmoi: Yes, the problem of discovering and navigating a large number of crowdsourced stories is tricky. You also have the problem of maintaining and agreeing what is canon, which I suspect would be very messy very fast with lots of people involved (no doubt there'd be plenty of forks).
posted by adrianhon at 2:25 AM on February 16, 2010


This really reminds me a lot of SCP, which I think I discovered via MeFi a while back. Every 2-3 months I get drawn into it for a day or two, catching up on all the new entries.
posted by mrbill at 7:39 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Having characters write in-character livejournals where they can interact with other characters seems to take it a step further than just a set of stories set in the same world.
posted by Jeanne at 7:42 AM on February 16, 2010


Jeanne: Sure - it sounds like an ARG to me, or a tech-savvy RPG; I used to do the same thing about 20 years ago on BBS, except we didn't have Livejournals. Not that I'm saying it's somehow worse because it's been done before - I love the fact that this kind of writing is becoming more popular. My feeling is that there needs to be a *lot* of work done on the navigation and presentation for it to become really successful, though.
posted by adrianhon at 7:52 AM on February 16, 2010


Sure - it sounds like an ARG to me, or a tech-savvy RPG;

Yeah, it sounds exactly like one of the thousands (tens of thousands?) of fandom-based roleplaying games that populate places like livejournal. While the vast, vast majority of these are based around a popular book or tv show like Harry Potter, Supernatural, etc., there are some original fiction based games. I don't see anything particularly novel about this project, although I certainly appreciate it and am glad it exists, since I think the RPG dynamic has a lot of creative and interpersonal potential.
posted by shaun uh at 8:12 AM on February 16, 2010


It's cool that Elizabeth Bear and her fans are enjoying their ARG, hyperfiction, whatever you'd like to call it.

But it seems that the title of her post and the contents of her post are not related. She doesn't really make an argument that hyperfiction is the future of fiction, which is a good thing because that's like saying that RPGs are the future of fiction. That sort of argument puts narrative development on a linear track rather than a branching one. No new form of narrative (as opposed to new media) ever destroys or eliminates the old ones. New ones may become more popular but each form is good or bad at expressing certain emotions.

But ebooks are not optimized to the web, because the web can do all kinds of things that a print book cannot--and an ebook often can.

To me, the issue isn't whether or not narrative is optimized to the web, but rather whether the narrative is optimized to the reader. Which is my jerky, flip way of saying that this statement illustrates what undermines a lot of discourse over technology. What the hell does it mean to optimize a ebook for the web? Fiction isn't the same as a snippet of javascript code. Optimization requires knowledge of the interpreter, which in this case is the reader.
posted by burnfirewalls at 9:26 AM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yay Elizabeth Bear! Woo!

(She and I are buddies. No I'm not stalking her.)
posted by kalessin at 12:27 PM on February 16, 2010


Also? Lexicon.
posted by kalessin at 12:28 PM on February 16, 2010


Having characters write in-character livejournals where they can interact with other characters seems to take it a step further than just a set of stories set in the same world.

I was doing this in 2003, specifically on LiveJournal. Before LiveJournal, I was doing something similar on mailing lists. The idea is really nothing new.

There are at least dozens of RPGs on LiveJournal now where people both write stories set in the same world and roleplay in character through in-character LiveJournals or instant messaging. Some are "fandom," but a lot are original.

I haven't read anything about Shadow Unit yet, but I do actually believe that there is room for fans of it, though. Fandom has shown that once people are excited about a world or its characters, they're willing to spend a lot of effort/time in order to read more. I thought that the project took a lot of (intentional, credited) inspiration from fandom, but maybe I'm not remembering right.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:30 PM on February 16, 2010


You know, that's true and I didn't even think of it. I did what we called "group" or "interactive storytelling" when I was a much younger geek too.

In the eighties and nineties I participated in group freeform rpg or storytelling (no dice, no gm or master storyteller - folks followed the story wherever the rhythm, context or continuity was best among competing or complementary storylines). Mostly we did it on first QuantumLink (which eventually sort of morphed into AOL) then on GEnie. I'm not sure whether or where official logs were kept but most of us kept our own.

It's been a long while but I'm pretty sure our group name was Red Dragon Inn. Good times.
posted by kalessin at 4:00 AM on February 20, 2010


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