From n + 1 (see this LH post), an interesting essay by Robert Moor about the history of the e-book (“usually said to have been invented in 1971, when an undergrad at the University of Illinois, Michael S. Hart, decided to upload The Declaration of Independence onto an ARPAnet server”) and an associated concept, electronic literature:

The field of electronic literature began as a hundred loose strands, which briefly appeared to braid into a new art form called hypertext fiction. The influential hyperfictionist Stuart Moulthrop’s “Subjective Chronology of Cybertext, Hypertext, and Electronic Writing” cites as the form’s founding influences a 1945 Atlantic article by Vannevar Bush that envisioned a machine for organizing and linking information; a 1961 computer game called Spacewar!; the writings of Robert Coover, Milorad Pavic, and Thomas Pynchon; the work of hypertext pioneer and theorist Ted Nelson; and Donna Haraway’s 1991 “A Cyborg Manifesto.” Those influences collided in the mid 1980s, when a novelist (and early PC adopter), Michael Joyce, working from his home in Michigan, grew frustrated with the constraints of his word processing software. For decades, experimental writers like Coover had been pushing against the static linearity of the page—a restriction that, Joyce quickly realized, ceased to exist in a digital space. “In my eyes, paragraphs on many different pages could just as well go with paragraphs on many other pages, although with different effects and for different purposes,” Joyce later wrote. “All that kept me from doing so was the fact that, in print at least, one paragraph inevitably follows another.”
When Joyce met a young computer scientist named Jay David Bolter at the Yale Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1984, they began working on such a program. They called it StorySpace, because it allowed readers to navigate a text spatially rather than sequentially, by following hypertextual threads like corridors in a labyrinth. Partly to test out the new software, Joyce wrote afternoon, a story (1987), which is known as the world’s first hypertext novel.

Moor describes some interesting experiments, but I think I’ll stick with boring old sequential text. (Thanks, Paul!)


  1. > “I think I’ll stick with boring old sequential text”
    Yes. I admit I still kind of *like* the idea of hypertext conceptually, though the examples I’ve tried haven’t worked for me. Perhaps it’s that the placement of hyperlinks is subjective: different readers might want to jump out of the text for different reasons.
    But I still feel it’d be a good arrangement for strongly allusory books: I was recently reading Christopher Fowler’s “Full Dark House”, which has a lot of fascinating references to London theatre history and general London geography, and I kept wanting to break the reading and Google.

  2. Man, why you gotta be so linear?

  3. Although my poem “The War” is meant to be read linearly, the hyperlinks in it form a kind of footnote structure, giving a first-order interpretation of the poem’s metaphors. Note that some words have more than one link, so try hovering over both the beginning and the end.

  4. SFReader says

    Try «Бесконечный тупик» -philosophic hypertext novel by Dmitry Galkovsky.
    Most of its content is related to Russian literature, so I suppose it’ll be of interest.
    He is very politically incorrect, I am afraid, and inclined to blame everything bad that happened to Russia during 20 century to Jews….

  5. Books have been with us for a long time but widespread literacy hasn’t. It was Fourdrinier’s invention of the paper machine in 1806 and the application of steam to power the rotary printing press soon after that made mass production of books and newspapers possible. These in turn fueled mass interest in reading and literacy. The e-book may yet make much printing obsolete.
    The irony was not lost on me when, in 1982, I learned that publication of Northrop Frye’s The Great Code was delayed due to a computer malfunction. The muse struck, I penned a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail, and the newspaper published it under the title “Ode to computer overload”:
    Hammurabi’s Great Code saw light of day
    As cuneiform letters pressed into clay;
    Akhenaton planted his words terrific
    On papyrus painted with hieroglyphic;
    Moses chipped his tablets twain
    (We mustn’t take His name in vain!);
    Chaucer (Geoff) and Shakespeare (Will)
    Inscribed their words with sharp goose quill;
    Gutenberg whittled tiny blocks of wood
    Fashioning movable letters good;
    Mergenthaler gave the compositor speed
    His invention quickly proved its need;
    Now micro chip and TV eye
    Help the critic Northrop Frye
    Publish his awaited new Great Code
    Despite computer overload.

  6. dearieme says

    “usually said to have been invented…”: oh yeah? Said by whom?

  7. marie-lucie says

    I think that Julio Cortázar was ahead of his time and would have loved the non-linear, “hopscotching” possibilities offered by the new medium. Perhaps someone will republish Rayuela (Hopscotch) with hyperlinks?

  8. Treesong says

    And of course there are all those books in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ genre, going back to 1975.

  9. sven linquist’s ‘paper’ book ‘a history of bombing’ provides instructions for potential alternate sequences so that the narrative can be followed in a different order. so you can accomoplish a simmilar but more focused result without the hyperlinks, which can, in my experience, completely lead away you from the original text, what with links to links from links leading to links. and more links.

  10. I appreciate hyperlinked text. I only wish it were better implemented on e-readers. For me, pop-ups are far better than jumps to another page from which on must then navigate back.

  11. Bathrobe says

    Lily94, this ( must be one of the first spam links I have seen that is actually relevant to this blog. If you had written something intelligent it would have been even better…
    From the link, I discovered that the following are synonyms of Kartoffel: Erdapfel, Grundbirne, Bramburi, Krumber (regional), Arber, Ärpel, Erdbirn, Knulle, Eachtling (regional), Grumbier, Potacken, Apona.

  12. I was teaching in a university writing program in the 1990s, and hypertext fiction was the Big New Thing. It gave professors a new topic for conference papers, and espousing it let them show how cutting-edge they were.
    I was of the opinion that it wouldn’t last, because it made the reader work too hard. People want a story delivered to them, not to have to work to construct the narrative themselves. I think I was right.

  13. Chas, you were right about it not lasting but I think you were wrong about the cause.
    I followed the hypertextual-fiction fad fairly early on, as both reader and writer, and always found the results disappointingly thin and tepid. (The hypertext I was proudest of got more enthusiastic responses from readers who read the flattened-out printed version than from those who encountered it only as hypertext.) When I caught up with cognitive science research on reading, I learned why. To quote my 1999 self:
    “What readers-for-pleasure value is not passivity before a static presentation but instead their control over the reading experience. Readers’ eyes dart to and fro over the pages rather than moving sequentially; readers pause, backtrack, flip forward, remember and anticipate.” Similarly, on the writer’s side, literary texts have always been able to convey the nonlinearity of experience.
    Hypertext gave the reader less choice, not more. It’s weaker both at consumer-friendly immersion and at puzzler-friendly hard work.

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