December 2010

poem27 Dec 2010 04:21 pm

Hugging herself in cinders
That fell from the fire like stars from the sky
Or snow from wintry clouds
And graying her own hair with these ashes
Who can be surprised that they all forgot
Her real name? Was it Agatha or Gladiel
Or Stella or something else? It can be
Surmised that there was a name once at least
Given by a mother and father but then discarded
Like old shoes, unwanted and of no use
Like dead mice and carved pumpkins in November
No one went looking for it either
There was no jeweled slipper that would
Fit this name and anyway, why bother?
She asks herself, when the hearth’s warmth
Is kind and hides her hair and eyes and skin
Under clinging cinders that have a soft touch
Almost as if they care

artist profile20 Dec 2010 06:59 pm

Muliebrity: Noun: Womanhood; the characteristics or qualities of a woman (opp. virility); softness; femininity

After poking around this website for a bit, I think that was my favorite new word. I think it has potential. I can imagine using this is conversation.
Muliebrity MalisonVaticinate
The website is Vagabond Jewelry, the home of Kest Schwartzman, a metalsmith who decided to make very tough simple jewelry because she was tired of not being able to wear jewelry due to the stress she put on it. One of her lines is dedicated to obsolete words that are being removed from the dictionary. These are very simple copper tags with the word inscribed on it. Words like muliebrity, or malison (a curse), or vaticinate (to foretell by prophetic inspiration.) Her thought was that by wearing these words that are threatened with extinction, we can do something to keep them alive. Sort of a preservation program for endangered words. I can get behind trying to save old words, and some of these words are worth using.

the arts13 Dec 2010 03:57 pm

Interactive Fiction – From Art to Entertainment and Back

by Bogi Takács

Interactive fiction, in the broadest sense, includes all fiction with an interactive component. However, the current usage of the concept is much narrower: it usually refers to computer software that is organized around the ‘gameplay’ paradigm but is entirely composed of text. Is there any distinction between these text adventures and interactive fiction (IF) itself? Can IF be an art form? Is the technology behind IF an essential component in the shaping and development of the medium or is it incidental?

Interactivity on paper

Discounting sporadic predecessors, the development of  IF started with nonlinear narratives like Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar or Nabokov’s Pale Fire, both in the 1960s. These early literary experiments failed to start any meaningful trend, even though they were well-received in their own field. The breakthrough came with genre fiction instead: in the 1980s, Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy books where readers could determine the protagonist’s actions in fantasy adventures became massive hits in young demographics. These works were heavily influenced by pen-and-paper roleplaying games, but had advantages over them: they did not require a group of players and an experienced storyteller. The strict second-person perspective these gamebooks used (“You are standing in front of a brick wall”) was different from previous interactive literary works and owed much to these forms of entertainment.

(While Fighting Fantasy and similar print gamebook series mostly died out by the 1990s, the format of choosing from fixed options instead of more open-ended actions still remains. Most contemporary literary hypertext fiction also uses a similar format.)

The text adventure boom and bust

The first text-based adventure games appeared in the second half of the 1970s – they ran on mainframes and were developed by researchers and university students who had access to them. In the early eighties, these people formed companies like Infocom and Adventure International and braved the home computer market. The meteoric rise of the text adventure slightly predated the success of paper-based gamebooks, and these adventures also had a different gameplay mechanism: instead of picking from a handful of possibilities, players were given a prompt describing an environment and the possibility to interact with it by entering verb-noun combinations like “open door”. This was enabled by the use of a parser that interpreted simple natural-language commands.

As technological advances increasingly allowed the use of graphics, first these games began to feature static images and then – with King’s Quest in 1984 – character animation. As fast as it had arrived, interactive fiction soon disappeared from the mainstream of gaming altogether, giving way to graphic adventures.

There is one form of interactive fiction that enjoys continued mass success in the game market: in Japan, a large portion of PC game sales consist of so-called “visual novels”. These works involve mostly static artwork of characters in front of backgrounds (usually both drawn in elaborate manga style), and large amounts of dialogue between the characters with occasional points where the reader can make decisions about the direction of the story. Visual novels are more akin to interactive versions of theatrical works or screenplays than actual nonlinear novels; indeed, some people have adapted plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the visual novel format.

Adventure and art

In the first half of the 1980s, text adventures were massively popular in English-speaking countries. While this success has not been repeated ever since, they still exist, and out of the spotlight, they have gone through a notable transformation: with no commercial pressure, they gravitated away from formulaic fantasy and toward experimentation and artistic aspirations. To be sure, this tendency has always been present: even back in the eighties, science fiction writers authored text adventures (not necessarily making the linear-nonlinear transition successfully!) and there were nonconventional releases, but not to the current extent.

As part of this trend, more and more authors and fans alike began to use “interactive fiction” as the preferred label. Indeed, influential pieces like Galatea by Emily Short, described by the creator as “a conversation with a work of art”, could not be called an “adventure” in any meaningful sense of the term.

The great expansion

While interactive fiction in its present-day form grew out of text-based computer games, the concept of IF can be applied to nonlinear literary works, Japanese-style visual novels, wikifiction (both authorial and crowdsourced) and other forms of hypertext fiction just as well. There is plenty of cross-pollination already: to cite a lesser-known example, Neel Krishnaswami’s Lexicon RPG, a collaborative wikifiction game/project that takes about a month to run, was inspired by The Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavić; one of the classics of nonlinear literary fiction.

A number of easy-to-use authoring tools also appeared – and continue to appear –, and the Internet allows people to share their creations and to build large databases like the Interactive Fiction Archive, the Interactive Fiction Database and the Ren’Ai Archive (for visual novels). There are regular contests like the Annual Interactive Fiction Competition which also serve to drum up and maintain interest. Thus technology serves as an enabler of interactive fiction – even paper-based forms like gamebooks have made the transition to the Internet, and this has been most fruitful with many fan-made gamebooks appearing that would have had little chance of finding a traditional publisher as the demand for print gamebooks decreased.

Unfortunately, many online fiction venues still shy away from accepting interactive fiction, sometimes for technical reasons, but probably more often due to a general non-awareness of IF’s existence and tradition. The ones that show an interest – like the speculative fiction magazine Ideomancer, which openly solicits for “hyperfiction” in its submissions guidelines –, still do not publish much of this type of material. The reason for this is probably that interactive fiction developers are often not aware such paid venues exist, and thus most often just self-publish online. This gap needs to be filled if we are to see a rise of IF as an art form whose influence reaches beyond its own well-circumscribed group of enthusiasts.

fiction06 Dec 2010 09:22 am



Sara Hoskinson Frommer

Sam couldn’t leave the house. The cars were angry at him. He whispered it to his brother, whispered it so that the cars wouldn’t hear him, wouldn’t find him. Jonathan was sitting in his living room with the CD player on, nodding to the beat of the music while he read the evening paper and pretended not to notice the cars.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Jonathan told Sam. He didn’t whisper. “Those people don’t even know you.”

“Not the people. The cars! Listen to them!” Their angry voices pierced Sam’s mind, drowning out Jonathan’s music. He ran his fingers through his hair.

“It’s just rush hour,” Jonathan said. “You always think that at rush hour, Sam. It’s time for you to go home. Go on back to your apartment. You’ll be fine.” He went back to his paper.

But Sam knew it wasn’t just rush hour. The cars were angry at him, Sam. You’re trash, they whined at him. You’ve let everyone down. You don’t deserve to live. Come out here, and we’ll do to you what someone should have done a long time ago. Come on out, Sam. We’ll get you. Jonathan had to hear them. He had to know. Unless . . . maybe not. The cars weren’t angry at Jonathan. If Sam was the only one who could hear them, Jonathan would never understand. He’d never believe his brother. Sam wished Jonathan could hear them. Then he’d understand.
Continue Reading »

editorial03 Dec 2010 07:22 pm

Or rather, new old format. I’m going back to a weekly update schedule. I’ve got the next few weeks queued up and ready to go here. Some more fiction, some more poems, let’s see if we can scare up some more non-fiction and artist profiles.

We will be starting with a short story on Monday morning. “Wishing” is by Sara Hoskinson Frommer. In addition to her six mystery novels, Sara has written little books for adult new readers and short stories. But “Wishing” is the only story like this one. It is a gentle story about mental illness and brothers.