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Feb. 25, 2000


A. Updike uploads
B. Where to buy it
C. Hypertext book readings: never the same ending twice
D. Show and tell
E. The downfall of books?
F. No danger to books
G. Plagued by problems?
H. Some other opinions
I. Up, up with e-lit
J. Cyberfiction resources on the Web

Curling up with a good book becomes a whole new experience with the newfangled genre called hypertext fiction. Hyertext fiction is a multi-media form of story-telling that uses computer technology including the Web or CD-ROM. It usually offers readers multiple tangents to choose from. Instead of following a story by turning from one page to the next, the reader can select where to go next in terms of details, character and setting. Hypertext fiction often incorporates art images and sound.

More than 500 years ago, the invention of the moveable printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century revolutionized the way stories are written and shared. It remains to be seen if the World Wide Web, computer hypertext and CD-ROMs will have such a long-lasting and widespread impact on story-telling. This week's University of Cincinnati e-briefing examines some of the changes that are already occurring because of hypertext fiction, and what may lie ahead.

A while ago, John Updike -- the respected contemporary writer and the author of more than 45 books -- was approached by to contribute the beginning of a story that would be taken forward, over the course of six weeks, in daily installments by visitors to the Website. After Updike wrote the opening paragraph to a murder mystery, "Murder Takes the Magazine," Internet visitors offered subsequent paragraphs in hopes of winning the $1000/day prize. One of those vying on at least three or four days was James A. Schiff, UC adjunct assistant professor and Updike expert. According to Schiff, the judges at were choosing from as many as 9000 daily entries. After the last entry was in place, Updike tied up the loose ends with a conclusion. "I found it initially a good deal of fun. In my mind I was carrying not only the official version given on the web site, but also the rejected versions that I had written on my computer and submitted on preceding days. It was all rather exciting, though not nearly as much as it would have been had I won the daily jackpot." Contact: James A. Schiff 513-871-8894

Eastgate Systems Inc., the pioneer commercial distributor of hypertext literature on CD-ROMs and floppy disks in the United States, reports its most popular hypertext fiction title right now is a novel titled "The Patchwork Girl," a post-feminist retelling of the Frankenstein myth that asks what would have happened if Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, had created the monster herself and it was a woman. A publisher of hypertext and hypertext tools since 1982, Eastgate carries about 37 titles in its catalog and about two-thirds of it is fiction, according to Mark Bernstein, Eastgate's chief scientist. Most of the sales are direct, so readers won't find hypertext fiction readily available at regular bookstores yet. Some Eastgate titles are carried in college and university bookstores. Contact: Mark Bernstein, 617-924-9044

Hypertext fiction readings take on a whole new life, at least when award-winning hypertext novelists Dirk Stratton, Scott Rettberg, William Gillespie and Frank Marquardt introduce their novel, "The Unknown," to audiences. Attendees, listening and watching along on an enlarged screen, get to shout out where the authors should read or link to next. "I think the audiences find it refreshing to have some input," said Stratton, who is a University of Cincinnati doctoral student in English. "Every reading is different, so we're not ever bored. And a majority of our readings have resolved in an almost perfect way, as if we planned it that way. It's almost serendipitous. Their hypertext novel, which tied for first place in the first-ever trAce/Alt-X International Hypertext Competition in 1999, can be found at Contact: Scott Rettberg, 773-645-0218 (h) or 773-769-3540 (w); Dirk Stratton, 513-361-0451; William Gillespie, 217-244-4832 (w) or 217-337-6237 (h); Frank Marquardt, 415-824-5718 (h)

Two hypertext demonstrations/readings will take place at the University of Cincinnati in coming weeks. The sessions are part of a lecture series that is examining the interplay between literature and technology. First, the man known as the godfather of hypertext fiction, Brown University professor Robert Coover, will give a demonstration at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28, in Room 427, Engineering Research Center. Next, two University of Cincinnati doctoral students who are among the four co-authors of the hypertext fiction novel, "The Unknown," will read hypertext fiction on March 1. Scott Rettberg and Dirk Stratton's demonstration will begin at 3 p.m. in Room 53, McMicken. Contact: Scott Rettberg, 773-645-0218 (h) or 773-769-3540 (w); Dirk Stratton, 513-361-0451; Robert Coover, 401-863-1152

Novelist Robert Coover, a leading authority on hypertext literature, predicts the rise of digital literature to the demise of traditional books. "The digital revolution is irresistible and irreversible. Over the next decade and no doubt for many decades to come, the Web and its offspring will be the medium of choice for most, and if literature is to survive and continue to be a force in human lives, it will have to go there....Books will survive over the next decade, too, and also probably for decades to come, but the days of traditional print publishing are clearly numbered. At the very least, print books will have their electronic versions and companions." Contact: 401-863-1152,

Hypertext fiction isn't a threat to books, any more than cinema was to theater, or television was to cinema, contends Jane Yellowlees Douglas, author of the new book, "The End of Books -- Or Books without End? Reading Interactive Narratives." Some types of fiction, however, may appear more commonly in hypertext form in future than in print, she predicts. Games will probably increasingly morph into interactive narratives (involving images more than text that more closely resemble the texture, depth of characters, plotting of films and novels, especially since the likes of Sega Dreamcast and Sony's upcoming Playstation II have taken realism to full-motion video, she said. Contact: Jane Yellowlees Douglas, director, The William and Grace Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication, University of Florida, 352-392-5421

Tom LeClair, University of Cincinnati professor of English and a novelist, says he is not objective enough to comment on the quality of the hypertext novel, "The Unknown." "I'm in it," he said. "I know the authors too well." But he thinks that hypertext fiction does have a future with a wider audience than it currently enjoys. "There are multiple possibilities for it that might put the conventional novelists out of business just as television and movies have reduced our business in the last 80 years." As computers become more common, hypertext fiction may find more fans, but Vicki Newell, head of the fiction department at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, says she doesn't foresee a day when computer fiction will displace the old-fashioned book. "People want something they can take a bus and take to the beach," she said. Contact: Tom LeClair, 513-961-0968 (h); Vicki Newell, 513-369-6919

Dirk Stratton, co-author of the hypertext fiction novel, "The Unknown" and University of Cincinnati doctoral student in English, acknowledges: "It's kind of exciting to be involved with something that does seem to be the creation of a new art form. But it's in its infancy. It has a long way to go. Whether it survives remains an open question." Some of the problems the new genre needs to address: slow connection time to the Web and for changing pages, training an audience to use the technology involved and appreciate the new art form, and how authors can make a living from it. Contact: 513-361-0451

A new online organization, the Electronic Literature Organization, has been formed to promote the field of electronic literature. Headed by Scott Rettberg, University of Cincinnati doctoral student in English, the nonprofit group is based in Chicago. "Something significant is happening in the world of writing and publishing. We're starting to see interest in literary content from some quarters where you might not expect it. Big companies like Microsoft and Gemstar are investing in software and devices to make the electronic reading experience more book-like, and electronic publishing markets are just beginning to develop," said Rettberg. The nonprofit organization's web site at has links to hypertext literary works available on the Web, electronic journals and news about hypertext events. "The audience is expanding for this type of material," Rettberg continues. "In terms of the web, we've figured out commerce models and news/information models, but what we haven't figured out are the entertainment models. Hopefully, we'll have a form of literature involved. I see the audience expanding because there is a whole generation of people who are now used to using screens and aren't very interested in reading books." Contact: Scott Rettberg, 773-645-0218 (h) or 773-769-3540 (w)

Other places to find hypertext fiction include these Web sites:
http: //, finished works and works in progress by Stuart Moulthrop, associate professor in the School of Communications Design, University of Baltimore, plus works by others, links to works and news about hypertext literature, a site operated by the nonprofit Electronic Literature Organization, the Alt-X Online Publishing Network "where the digerati meet the literati", information about fiction and non-fiction works offered by Eastgate Publishing Systems, site of Geoff Ryman's hypertext novel for the Internet about London Underground in seven cars and a crash, the site of trAce, a 24-hour online community for writers and readers across the world, where works are shared and critiqued, Robert (Bobby Rabyd) Arellano's pioneer hyperfiction (first of its kind on the World Wide Web), "Sunshine 69," which focuses on the killing of George Meredith at the Rolling Stones concert in Altamont in December 1969., a site produced by the Walker Museum in Minneapolis that mixes art and literature

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