What the authors and the editors of these websites haven't taken advantage of are the tools used on Wikipedia, on the best daily blogs, etc., ie. illustrations (also, I guess, used by Boz, etc.), and - more essentially - hyperlinking. Allowing for a more dynamic method by which to navigate, increasing the speed by which the reader can accumulate knowledge...Now you might be thinking, if hyperlinking takes an essential role in new fiction, how could this ever transfer to books? This, I think, is where ebooks come into play. Touch of a word opens a new window, takes you to a new page, in an instant.
(The ellipsis is mine.)
Now, I don't know about you, but I remember when Robert Coover was going to make hypertext fiction the next big thing. We tried it, and people didn't seem to like it too much.
But I wonder. When I was talking with my class the other day, and I was holding forth on the idea that nobody wants to read a novel on a computer, a couple of students said they had--and one of them, a former teacher of young people, said that, to his students, reading on a computer was not only normal, but preferable. Maybe this generation is the one with whom hypertext will catch on.
Here's the thing about hypertext, though. When I'm using the internet, I'm generally looking for information. And when it's information I want, I enjoy the blinding speed (as Mr. Munroe puts it) with which I can accumulate the knowledge I want. Hyperlinking makes that possible.
But when I'm reading a novel, speed is the last thing I want. What I want is a contained, hermetic world that I can ponder, and compare to the one my mind usually inhabits. I don't want to make choices--I want to submit myself to the mind of another person, the writer. I want to experience The Work: for the writer's intellect, her grand vision, the flavor of his emotions. I don't want to worry about all the possible choices I might have made, or might make in the future, and where those choices might lead. That's what life is like. I want my art to be different.
That isn't to say there isn't something to hypertext fiction. But it isn't the "direction" that fiction is "moving," in my view. It's something else entirely, something on another track. There will always be a desire for the non-participatory narrative, and there will always be a desire for something you can be a part of. But so far, text-based fictions have not found a stable home in the arena of the latter desire.
What do you think? Is hypertext fiction poised to rise again? Or did you have enough of the stuff in 1992?