An Account of A Hyperfiction Reading : The Unknown

 At first I could not make head or tail of the hyperfiction because unlike a book, you get to read the summary on the back of a book or the introduction and be able to get a gist of what the book is about. In a hyperfiction you do not get that kind of orientation. When I clicked on the hyperfiction entitled The Unknown, the first page that came on did not seem like the beginning of a story at all. I felt like I was reading the middle of it because I did not know what to expect and I felt rather lost after I finished reading the first page. All I could gather was that there were three academic professionals (the writer was one of them) and they were on their way to Seattle on a book tour. Each of them took turns to write the hyperfiction during the trip. There were descriptions of events that occurred during their journey and at the end of the page the writer expressed his love for his own country but that this love did not preclude the South from rising again (whatever that meant I had no idea.)


To make sense of the hyperfiction, I tried to search for a content page. I clicked on an icon with the words sickening decadent hypertext novel and walla, the content page appeared on my screen but it was not very helpful or user-friendly because there were seventy over hyperlinks and they were randomly arranged. After scrolling up and down the page until I nearly became crossed-eyed I finally found something that might give me a clue on how to read the hyperfiction. So it seemed the hyperfiction was a mixture of poetry, drama, fiction and essays written by four academic professionals, William Gillespie, Scott Rettberg, Dirk Stratton and Frank Marquardt (so altogether there were four writers rather than three).


The four would talk about the different places the book tour brought them and the things they did during their tour interspersed with their opinions on some mundane things in life for example about job interviews and the significance of holding a job. Some of the events were true and some of them not. I could tell a true event from an untrue one because the latter tend to be ludicrous and exaggerated. For instance, Bill and Scott turned Dirk and Frank into vicious vampires when an experiment to merge Dirk and Frank into one super hypertext novelist failed. After reading a few more links and some more very bizarre and lame tales, I began to wonder if anything they said ever happened and made up all the story about them being academic professionals and visiting all those places on their supposedly book tour.


The contents in some links were absolutely meaningless and I wondered what was the point of the links. For example, there was a link on the word The Unknown Cookbook and the recipe given was for a delicacy called ‘Duck Tails in Salamander Soup’. “Yucks!”, I thought. The writer himself had said that a very rare duck had to be used for the recipe but the duck was so rare that it was non-existence! So what was the point of writing a recipe book with a non-existing ingredient? Did the writer get carried away with the new found freedom of a borderless environment and exploited the space just for the fun of it? I would think that was the only logical explanation.


I felt that this particular piece of hyperfiction had too many links per page. For one page there can be about ten to fifteen links and when I click on a link another ten to fifteen links appear. I found this a little tedious because I had this preoccupation to read every link, thinking that perhaps I would be missing out something significant to the story which would render me lost to the meaning the writer was trying to bring across to me as a reader.


Some links did not have any relation from one to another and tend to mislead. For example, the hypertext word, bone, was linked to a science fiction story featuring themselves as the main characters. The science fiction had nothing to do with bones, rather it was about cloning. I couldn’t quite see the motivation behind the link because the page I was reading before I clicked on bones, was a page describing the events that happened in Cincinnati. If it was a good science fiction, I would have excused them for making a poor link but unfortunately it was a pretty lame one that nobody in their right mind would want to publish it on the Web. On another page, the words flying pigs were hyperlinked. Being curious I decided to find out what was the content of that page. I was expecting some weird stories where one of the writers saw pigs flying. Actually it was a transcript of a conversation between Dirk, William and Scott on a British Airways flight to England. Scott at one point in time had said that he was sweating like a pig. So I thought, “Does it mean that the Dirk thinks that he and his friends were pigs and that since they were on plane, they were the flying pigs?!? Who knows what they meant. In a way I felt cheated because I did not get what I expected to get and this discouraged me to read the hyperfiction any further. 


The topic can change drastically from one link to another. For example, I click on Seattle and I would be reading about the events that took place there and then I click on coffee on that page and I would be reading about the writer's opinion on Starbucks coffee. Some links would bring me to a transcript on a conversation and then to a science fiction. This demonstrated to me that hypertext is really flexible and this opens up a whole new way of writing but the links must be done tastefully or it would turn a reader off.


I am so used to linearity concept of a book, that is, a beginning and a closure that when I read the hyperfiction I felt rather disturbed by the fact that it does not necessarily have to have a closure. The writer can keep adding to the hyperfiction and still not have a closure when the writer decides not to write anymore. The multi-linearityness of The Unknown made me a little confuse. For example, the book tour started in Seattle but the sequence of their following destinations was somewhat unclear because there was no particular order in which a reader should follow when clicking on the hypertexts. Since each reader will follow an individualized path, one reader may reach a page with a Seattle hypertext first and the other reader may reach a page with the hypertext Alabama first. So depending on which path you take, the sequence of events will be different.


            Overall the hyperfiction was poorly written and linked. It had quantity but no quality. I would rather it be short but interesting instead of endless links of mumbo-jumbo. There was a lack of focus because I did not get the point they were trying to make (if they intended to make a point in the first place). They probably got carried away with the flexibility provided by hypertextuality and over-exploited the space.


Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.  

Accounts of reading "The Unknown" by my mates:

Kevin, Mike and Li-Lin.