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The future of web publishing, part seventeen million and six.

...this is that post about the future of web publishing that I promised Charlie I would write.

As many of you probably already know, I am a writer. I write science fiction, fantasy, mystery, young adult, nonfiction (notably book reviews and criticism--which are actually two different things), short stories, novels, poetry--basically, anything that will sit still long enough for me to slap a keyboard on top of it.

As of the end of this month, I have published sixteen novels, a handful of novellas, and almost a hundred pieces of short fiction. It's been critically well received, garnered me some praise and a handful of awards, and has performed modestly well in terms of what the publishing industry refers to as "the numbers."

Like every other narrative-prose writer on the planet who does not have the covers pulled up over her head (and believe me, the temptation is enormous) I am trying to figure out how the heck to continue doing what I am good at--what I have spent twenty years learning how to do at a professional level--in the face of developing technology.

I do believe that books (both paper and electronic) are here to stay, for a long time to come. Paper books are a mature technology: they're a durable and inexpensive way in which to archive information. While modern books are not the thousand-year technology that a medieval or even Renaissance book was, they can still endure for many years undegraded. Ebooks, meanwhile, are tremendously portable, revisable, and information-dense in terms of bits per pound. They adapt admirably to multitasking--I often read on my laptop between IMs or emails, for example--and you can carry six hundred of them in your carryon as easily as one.

But ebooks are not optimized to the web, because the web can do all kinds of things that a print book cannot--and an ebook often can.

I'm currently engaged in a crowdfunded side project with a group of other SFF writers and visual artists (and a computer geek or two) that's attempting to explore some of the options for things a web-optimized written narrative can do. That narrative (what we're calling a "hyperfiction environment") is called Shadow Unit. While it exists in various places around the web (a wiki, some livejournals, some web pages linked to pieces of fiction), the launchpad is here.

We've been at it for three years now, and we've learned some very interesting things.

  • A hyperfiction can be nonlinear.

So that might seem self-evident, but it's one of the most interesting things for us as writers. While the main narrative of Shadow Unit (the "episodes," a serial comprised of short stories, novellas, and (so far) two short novels) is linear, it forms a kind of scaffolding on which other shorter stories are hung. Meanwhile, the characters who maintain blogs maintain them in real time, and they are interactive--as long as participants respect the fourth wall and their privileged information, and engage with the characters as if they were real people.

Which leads us to the next point:

  • A hyperfiction can be interactive

Self-evident, right? But tricky. The people playing along have to be willing to separate their in-character and out-of-character knowledge, just as they would in a roll-playing game. But if they are willing to do that, it allows ARG-like possibilities to emerge. There are several instances in Shadow Unit where the narrative (which sometimes happens in real time in the stories as well as the blogs) was significantly affected by things the fans did or information that they provided to the characters.

  • A hyperfiction can be multimedia.

Shadow Unit has not exploited this particular element particularly well. We've got some music, some web pages, some visual art (and we're working on more), but most of the people involved in the project are writers first, so we've not been as successful at broadening out into things like comics, video, and audio as we would have liked.

  • A hyperfiction can be confusing.

It's easy as heck to lose people in the corners. Hyperfiction by its nature is sprawling--it rewards curiosity, investigation, peering into corners. (Reading dozens of blog comment threads for scraps of narrative, for example, is much easier at the beginning of a five-year narrative run than the end.)

It will help, in the future, to develop protocols for mapping hyperfictions (a sort of table of contents, perhaps, graphically represented in the form of a web? Shadow Unit has done this with a "suggested reading order" page on the wiki, but experience has revealed this to be helpful but not entirely adequate.).

On the other hand, some of the fun is the discovery, and the fan community delights in sharing their discoveries with each other, so we intentionally hide stuff in inobvious places. There's a balance to be struck between the fans who adore logic puzzles and the ones who just want to read a damned story, and accommodation must be made for both.

We do this with a BBS where (a) can show off their finds to (b).

  • Fan engagement is key.

We have discovered that the more we gives the fans the keys to the enterprise, the more they enjoy it. There's a wiki, a BBS, interactive blogs--and a thriving and integrated fan community. We've creative-commonsed the whole endeavor, and fans have put together Kindle versions and programmed Shadow Unit Google widgets that sound the alert when new content appears.

  • Keep the content coming.

Something new every week is ideal. Two or three times a week would be better, but we are mortal and all have other work.

Also, keep clever with the content. We've run contests (an Easter-egg hunt, a vidding contest), put up websites, mailed out boxes of goodies "from the characters" to their internet friends, run episodes in real-time day by day with blog posts that reflected the narrative as it happened, and so on.

And there's room for playfulness. One of the characters wrote a short story about his alternate life as a Texas sheriff and posted it to his livejournal for "Down The Rabbit Hole" day, as an example.

This is part of what makes hyperfiction unique and wonderful--along with the nonlinearity and interactivity. It also keeps the creators scrambling to come up with ever niftier stuff.

  • Making it pay for itself?

We're donation-funded. (We decided early on not to sell advertising, but that may someday change.)

So far, we're making beer money, and the site is paying for itself, but not for our time. First season was better than second, but then, the bottom fell out of the world economy in our second year, so it's nonconclusive--and we just started our third year, which so far seems to be more on the level of the first.

Merchandise has largely been break-even so far, though we are planning dead-tree versions of the primary narrative arcs, and those should be out this year. We'll see if anybody wants them.

So we haven't cracked the number-one problem of making a living telling stories in the information era, but this was an experiment, and we're still playing with variables.

  • Have a plan.

Since we're keeping an enormous number of balls in the air, it's essential that the team have a plan, that somebody or at most two somebodies be in charge of keeping track of how the narrative is adhering to that plan, and wow, is shared-calendar software a godsend.

Also, everybody has to be prepared to work together to cover crises and pitch in when something breaks.

  • A hyperfection presents the opportunity for extraordinary richness.

It's astounding how real this world has become to me, and to others. Because I am not the only one writing the characters, because they have lives outside the story arc (they live in and around Washington, DC, and lately have been blogging up the storm of the century) they feel like friends to me rather than people I made up. I hear similar things from the fans--that it's a unique experience to be able to drop a fictional character an email and get a response, or to get a package from one in the snail mail.

That's the baseline so far: we have learned that this stuff is really cool. And that there's tons of unexplored potential for similar narratives out there.

Sometimes I feel that, to what hyperfiction will eventually become, Shadow Unit is the equivalent of very early television--shot like a stage play, not yet quite exploiting its medium, balancing between fish and fowl.

Which is one of the reasons, I suppose, that our mascot is the platypus. Because what we've got here is weird and curious and hard to classify, but hey, somehow it works, and I, at least, am finding it utterly fascinating to spend time working on.



Elizabeth, do you or your SHADOW UNIT collaborators recall THE COMPANY THERAPIST? It's still up at


Look at the video comic Broken Saints when you think of video.

Broken Saints

This is the free e-version

Think in terms of Power Point or Keynote. Virtually(pun unintended) every animation feature that you need is in any current slide show software.

Watch the free e-version of the story, and you will see what I mean.


Who should I contact about becoming involved in the R&D/technical end of Shadow Unit? I'm interested in the possible future intersection of hyperfiction, ARGs, and extensible publishing standards like ePubs.


The risk of these things is of course that they become more fun to create than they are to experience.


A fun and thought-provoking post to have waiting at lunchtime... though that's why Charlie's blog is on my lunch-list.

You know me from fan-love and writing questions on LJ, but the majority of my waking time is spent working as a scientist, and the majority of that time right now is spent organizing and analyzing data that is messy and variable in space and time. Coincident with that, the recent ebook kerfuffle has prompted me to think about how electronic materials can or should differ from their printed siblings, and how my data presentation skills could tie into fictional entities.

Shadow Unit would be a fabulous test case for applying some of those organizational tools. You say yourself that the existing tools are inadequate. Not that mine would necessarily be better, but different anyway. My brain is currently running through ideas for hyperlinked trees organized in time and space, with the option to show or hide various levels of detail (making it possible to figure things out yourself, or be shown them, as desired). Multimedia could easily tie into that skeleton. (I've done similar things linking quantitative data, photos, temporal and geographic information, but I'm afraid I can't point you to them since they reside on government servers.)

This would be ridiculously fun to work on. I'll have to take a stab at it. (Ideas frothing to the surface!) I know I can dig everything up myself, but if the SU team is interested in this kind of thing a copy of the organizational plan to date would keep me from having to start from scratch. If you are interested, I can be contacted at the website linked with this comment (has email & such).


Intresting. It would be instructive to compare Shadow Unit with the 1632 universe, originally conceived by Eric Flint, which - coming from a different direction - seems to have spontaneously evolved into something quite similar.


The balance is this: media is experiential. When I partake of fiction, be it a book, a movie, a game, it is experiential with clearly defined boundaries. I dislike "hyperfiction" simply because it is not.

Hyperfiction is fun to make, as others have pointed out, but it's tiresome to consume. It rapidly crawls up its own navel and vanishes into pointlessness. I generally feel the same way about ARGs.

To turn it around a bit: to be a successful creative person you have to be utterly committed to your work. ARGs and hyperfiction expect the reader to be as interested in the work as you are- and that's just not going to happen in enough cases to make it anything other than an optimistic long-tail enterprise.


@ #3 and #6:

You're both right about the potential level of involvement that the audience might need. But that's a design issue, not an inevitable consequence. The original article discusses it a bit. In Shadow Unit, the main narrative is bounded and does not require participating or looking for any of the other ancillary materials. People who are very interested can seek them out, and can make that information available to moderately-interested readers, but none of that is necessary to enjoy the main story. SU was intentionally designed in such a way that people can participate anywhere along the interactive<->static spectrum.


I understand that, but I disagree. If the ancillary material isn't a key part of the story, you haven't built hyperfiction, you've built marketing. If just the existence of ancillary material is what matters, Star Wars is the largest hyperfiction experiment in the history of the world.


Sounds like one of the things you need is a custom search engine. One that honors a very customized no-robots command.

In this case you want most things to be easy to find, but some to be non-searchable. That means you want to keep Google out of most pages...but you still need to be able to search them. OTOH, this is small enough that a standard web-spider ought to be a suitable base, but you need to customize it to go into files were the ordinary norobots file would prohibit it, but to ONLY go into member sites. And to have it's own custom robots file which tells it what to not find on any particular site.

For something this dynamic an index is just not a reasonable approach.


This sounds rather a lot like a collaborative role-playing game (that's role - not roll, by the way).

It's the kind of project that produced things like the Wild Cards series of books.

While I do have a certain level of appreciation for it, I'm not sure whether it will grow to the same level as current novel sales.

But I'll be very happy to be proven wrong.


This sounds rather a lot like a collaborative role-playing game (that's role - not roll, by the way).

It's the kind of project that produced things like the Wild Cards series of books.

While I do have a certain level of appreciation for it, I'm not sure whether it will grow to the same level as current novel sales.

But I'll be very happy to be proven wrong.


It would be interesting to see what ideas you could pick up from the games industry for this (assuming you haven't already). There's a community there that, as far as I can tell, are very experienced at producing the kind of narrative structure you describe and they manage to get paid for it too.


Having had just a quick glance at your linked website I'm struck by the absence of something I do think is imperative in your kind of experiment, a:

"New to Shadow Unit? Click here!"

button which would lead the newbie to a short introduction to the project, a bit like your post, and give him/her the option to jump in at the newest "starting point" (i.e. episode start) or start at the very beginning. At the moment your website is not intuitive to the "newbie".


Is there anyone in this discussion who has not read Walter Jon Williams' This is Not a Game? (Note how I used a B&N link, not an Amazon link. :))

If there is, I think it's worth reading. I think it had some flaws, but I found reading it after Halting State rather interesting -- one almost leads to the other. And I think WJW's description of alternate-reality games is pretty close to her experiences.


Talking of platypodes, did you know that someone has found a fossil of a platypus-billed duck?


It's refreshing to hear from someone who's genuinely excited about where we can go, and who's actually experimenting with the possibilities and participates in a community built around that experimentation. We'll never learn anything if we never try. Maybe it's because I took a course in hyperfictions in university (we read Orality and Literacy, Hamlet on the Holodeck and Patchwork Girl), but a lot of what you're saying here makes sense. Some of genre fiction's earliest efforts are epistolary and fragmentary in nature, and fictional environments are richer when shared. The Internet seems built to facilitate this kind of collaboration and to broaden our concept of how to share information, including narrative information. Maybe the end result doesn't work for every reader, but for some it clearly does.


Another interesting site is the Orion's Arm Project. I find them fascinating as a worldbuilding site, one that's been active for about a decade.

To date, they've produced a bunch of short stories and articles, one printed collection of five short stories, a collection of images and some short videos.

I'd argue that the Orions' Arm website is the greatest work of the whole project, although it was designed to be a shared universe for people to play in. The contributors got into building that universe, instead of using the world to create more conventional forms of art.

This is in contrast to Shadow Unit (which I confess I do not know), and I'm including it to increase the sample of projects.

Meanwhile, dozens of worlds, both original and derivative, continue to be created by artists and writers every year. Some, like Avatar, are gorgeous, even when they are not terribly original.

So far, these are interesting experiments, and we'll see how they go. Even if they're profitable, I'm not sure I want to sign onto an online franchise or cooperative, if that's the only way I can make a living writing. Is true, lonely self-expression going to be the victim of authors' drive to survive?


I take part in the Spontoon Islands website. There's a fuzzy boundary between hyperfiction and shared worlds: the're certainly both the product of multiple minds, but a read-only website alone isn't sufficient.

Being on the inside, creating stories and using the mailing lists, is closer.

My emotional response to Shadow Unit was pretty intense. The climax to the first season was, to ne honest, too much for me. I backed off. I didn't like the emotional reaction.

The characters had become too real.


The scenario you're describing sounds as though it's inherently multi-author. Where does that leave authors who prefer to work on their own? Where does it leave fans who prefer the cohesion and consistency that (to date) only a single author can manage?


William, Phiala, feel free to drop by the bulletin board and introduce yourselves/express an interest there. It's probably the best way to get involved in the fan community.

Since everything we're doing is creative-commonsed (for noncommercial derivatives) we're intentionally playing an opensource game.

TBR, that's an excellent point. Thank you!

T3knomanser, I think that's exactly why the novel is not about to die as a narrative form. Some people really like boundaries. Others like stuff that blebs over into the real universe. We find there's a wide range of variation in how deep people want to delve.

But then, most media is like that. I have been a fan of properties that entirely consumed my attention, that I needed to delve deep into and integrate deeply, and I have been a fan of properties that I could skim now and again and be happy with that level of association. It's all good.


Dave Bell, the emotional reaction as a writer is quite strong too. It's hard to separate myself from these people as I write them--it becomes more like role-playing, and the investment is quite strong.

One result of the semi-real-time environment is that SU winds up being, in some ways, ephemera--like a stage play or a role playing game. There is an aspect of performance to it, because elements of the plot unfold as the audience observes.

Both tricky and cool.

kbob, I imagine one would have to do smaller-scale projects without a team. For me, the team aspect is a lot of the joy.


Hyperfiction sounds like exactly what I don't want when reading a book.

When the original series of "Heroes" was on TV it was supplemented by online articles, information, stories etc on the ABC web site. This stuff was designed to "enrich" the story telling beyond what could be provided on the TV screen.

I didn't look at any of it.

When I'm watching TV or reading a book I'm not looking to interact with the show, with the characters, with other readers. I'm engaged with the story and imagining the characters and environs based on the world-building written by the author and set "in stone".

Have you ever read "Headcrash" by Bruce Bethke? This story has "information boxes" inserted in the text; in a way a bit like modern popups when you move your mouse over some highlighted text. This, often humourous, side text was a fun way of trying to emulate the "oh, let's follow this link..." experience. And I found it totally distracting to the story. In the end I probably missed a number of them simply because I'd trained my eyes to skip content in a box.

Which brings me to my point; these side details may create a more immersive interactive environments, but that makes them closer to game play than story telling. If I want to play an RPG (whether Call of Cthulhu over a table with friends, or online) or fantasy or whatever then interaction and depth of detail and user-driven experiences are good. If I want to read a book... not so much.

It sounds like hyperfiction is about building a community. You state that fan involvement is key; that's exactly what communities are. What you've discovered (invented?) is a way of taking audience-participation shows and bringing them online.

What you described (and what others have previously described to me) fills me with a desire to not read Shadow Unit because it sounds to me like it's not reading but is, instead, interacting.

And that's not what I want from my books. I was never a fan of the "chose your own adventure" books, either :-)

I can see hyperfiction as a new different method of story telling, but I don't think it's a replacement for books. At least I hope it doesn't!


Hi, I'm a first-time commenter, long-time follower. Strange place to start, when a temporary blogger comes on the scene, but I usually feel overwhelmed by Charlie's posts and just listen to the conversation. I've learned quite a bit here.

I've heard about Shadow Unit like fierce... when you're online a lot, it's hard not to hear about you, Bear! This time, I feel like I can contribute a little! Like quite a few people have said on here, and elsewhere, Shadow Unit really resembles an RPG.

I used to play MUDs and MUSHes a /lot/, and people did similar things... using LJs, building videos, and so on. The amount of stuff out there got to be quite overwhelming.

The old idea of guilds and clans is like the smaller-scale approach - focus on a few aspects of the setting and just tell stories in there. Certainly gets the world more manageable.

Anyway, just saying greetings! I've been strongly interested in Shadow Unit, but there's so much out there that it's too time-consuming to read!


sweh @23:

You and me are conflicting in our views here, then, because I love the interaction and community participation. :)

I find the most pleasure in immersing myself in an imaginary setting, and a community gives me that. I think that's part of why WoW devoured far more people than any other MMORPG around.

So why am I not playing WoW or another game, or, for that matter, not reading Shadow Unit? It's too /big/. I would be so immersed in that imaginary setting that I would able to lose track of the (sur)real world.

The impression I get about Shadow Unit's that the episodes are a stand alone story - but if you want to explore further, there's quite a bit going on there. Bear can of course answer better than me, I haven't even read the series. 8)


Rereading what I wrote, it may have come across more negative than I intended. I'm not against hyperficition; if I ever had the free time (oh, so much time I have!) to indulge in another online community with multiple aspects then Shadow Unit sounds like a good place to investigate.

But when I'm looking for a story then it's not something I want to have to invest all that extra time and effort in; it's not what I want from a book. I don't want to be the story teller :-)


Ah! I get that. That's actually what I thought you meant. Even as a guildleader or a GM, it can suck your time but good.

If I could sustain it, I think /running/ a hyperfictional setting would be quite a bit of fun.


By my read of it we're seeing the big media companies attempting to create more hypertextual narratives. They're coming more from the visual (TV) medium. SciFi did quite a bit of stuff with their Battlestar Galactica property during the main run, with lots of add in content that rewarded delving deeply. They're experimenting with this to see what sticks.

At the same time, the comic book industry has figured this out a long time ago. They figured out that if you can interest readers in the universe instead of just characters the readers will buy a lot more comic-books. This is why they have cross-overs, and plot that spans more than one character-property. Keeping up with the entire DC Universe requires a LOT of reading, and importantly to those making a living selling this stuff, a lot of money too. They've started expanding into movies, which is working. The 'holy grail' of color e-readers is comic distribution.

The above methods were at most minimally interactive with the consumer; quizzes to figure out if you'd survived the holocaust of Caprica being about as far as it went. Both of the above have major plot mapped months or even years before release, so fan interactivity by definition has to have zero impact to events in canon.

That said, Shadow Unit represents something of an evolution of the above. Shadow Unit has used fan interaction in the story itself to a significant degree, which is greatly assisted by the setting. Like most DCU/Marvel comic properties, the story can be enjoyed without having to branch into other areas to figure it all out. But if a reader wants to find every little morsel of content, it's all out there for the researching. It can satisfy both people who don't like to work for their fiction, and those who obsess to a great degree.

Shadow Unit can do some of this because it is set in a somewhat modified 'present day'. People can interact with the Livejournal fictional character blogs as if they were any other LJ-based human and it'll work just fine. A Battlestar Galactica can't do that; allowing that sort of interaction would require a significant familiarity in the world before participation could even begin. This is what makes Shadow Unit seem so different, and why I like it so much.

The Fanfic community in many ways is the fan expression of the desire for interactivity with the characters. Shadow Unit allows direct interaction, which means the unsanctioned (from the POV of the content creators of things like BSG) use of characters in fan-originated fiction is somewhat obviated. And very nifty. I do wonder if this same trick could be done with a universe more askew from the one we already live in. We'll find out in the next few years.


I don't think hyperfiction is likely to replace traditional narratives, anymore than movies have replaced stage plays.

They're different media with different strengths.

And nobody is suggesting that everybody will find this sort of thing to their taste. That would be ridculous. (If everybody liked the same thing, as my friend Marissa says, think of the price of oatmeal!)

Shadow Unit happens to be a hyperfiction based around a traditional written narrative, but one could build a similar environment around almost any medium imaginable. For example, a series of youtube videos.


What you describe sounds a lot like game development, as others have commented, particularly the alternate reality games (ARG) that have been popular recently. I'm a professional game developer myself (met Charlie at the LOGIN conference last year), and a lot of the issues you raise are the same things that game designers grapple with.

One bit of advice I'll share with you: interactivity cuts down on your audience. As other commenters have pointed out, the requirement (or even option) to interact can detract from the experience. And, frankly, some people just aren't able to keep up with interactivity. The lesson here is that if you had N people reading your books, you probably won't get N people reading your hyperfiction.


And is it based in, or rotate around Porthmeirion?

And if not, why not?


As an avid Shadow Unit reader, I have (to date) taken part of almost no ancilliary material and still like it. I think the balance between "core" and "non-core" has struck roughly right with Shadow Unit. There's no requirement to check the various LiveJournals, wikis, online foras and whats-have-you to enjoy the regular Shadow Unit installments, although I imagine that I may have a richer experience if I did.

But, alas, time is a precious resource that I don't have enough of and so I must forego the richer, deeper Shadow Unit experience, instead spending my time figuring out how to detect anomalies in network traces, earning money to buy books (and feed myself) and, as the spare seconds are found, put keyboard to file and produce written material.


Brian Green:

Indeed it does. But it also adds immeasurably to the experience for the people who enjoy it. The solution, I think, is for the creators to relax and allow the audience to interact with the environment in their own manner, and try to make it as amenable to different styles of enjoyment as possible. Based on website metrics, we have about ten times as many people reading as participating. Which is, based on my experience elseweb, about the standard for such things.

No one narrative can appeal to all audiences, and attempting to force it to do so will only result in making something denatured and uninteresting. All markets are niche markets, and the biggest readership is not always the goal any given artist is seeking with a particular project.


I'd like to chip in as one of the Shadow Unit readers whose involvement doesn't go beyond reading the main narrative. While I'm aware there's more to delve into, I've never felt that I was missing something vital to my understanding of the events by not doing so. Bear et al have done a very good job of keeping the main narrative line entirely self-contained, and I think that's a wise choice on their parts, and a good example to follow.


I'm on board with Sean for This Is Not a Game. Besides, Walter Jon Williams seems like a really nice guy. I asked him about the book and he told me a little about the sequel, Deep State, which he just finished writing. Unfortunately, he also said that publishers aren't exactly beating down his door for sequels to Metropolitan, which is one of my favorite books ever. (If you're interested, you can read the whole interview for free on )



YES. I think they key differentiator here is that SU rewards inquisitiveness, rather than incentivises it. Commercial properties like the big comic book universes actively encourage people to think bigger (consume more). Where SU is nicely contained in the mainline episodes, for those that just want that. Very well done.


Elizabeth, if increasing readership is of interest, particularly among those who still read in a mostly linear fashion, a more targeted intro would help. I followed your launchpad link, clicked around a bit and failed to find a good (for me) starting point. Maybe I'm just too old. :-(


Bob @ 37, as a direct result of comments here, one of the things I am doing tonight is working on a "How to get started with Shadow Unit" post that will go on the main index page.

In the meantime, the easiest place to start will be here.


"A hyperfiction can be nonlinear." and so forth. Makes perfect sense to me. Very clearly thought through.

I'm not saying this just to toot my own horn (though I have that tendency) but because I have intentionally been publishing hypertext since I co-developed the first PC hypertext system with Ted Nelson and Mark Miller, at demo'd it at the world's first PC Conference (Philadelphia in, I think, 1976). This was BEFORE there were IBM, Apple, and Tandy in that market.

I published early examples on paper, with hotlinks shown in a static way in such venues as:

"Hypertext Sonnet: Lines from 'A Shropshire Lad'" [Datamation, p.24, July 1982]

"Computer Cures Roethke's 'Dolor'" [Datamation, p.172, Aug 1982]

and in many places since, such as:

"Footnote to Feynman", Jonathan V. Post and Richard Feynman, [Engineering & Science, Caltech, Pasadena, CA, Vol.XLVI, No.5, p.28, ISSN: 0013-7812, May 1983; reprinted in Songs from Unsung Worlds, ed. Bonnie Bilyeu Gordon, intro by Alan Lightman (award winning author of Einstein's Dreams), Birkhauser Boston/AAAS, hardcover ISBN: 0-8176-3296-4, paperback ISBN: 3-7643-3296-4, 1985

"To The Stars: Love Hypertext" [Another Final Offer, 1986; Rhysling Anthology 1986, ed?, Berkeley, California, Science Fiction Poetry Association, p.24, 1987]

"Hypertext Sonnet: Lines from Robert Silverberg's 'Star of Gypsies'" [The New York Review of Science Fiction, ed. Kathryn Cramer, L. W. Currey, Samuel R. Delany, David G. Hartwell, Gordon Van Gelder, November 1990]

"Space Travel in the Next Millennium", commissioned poem as summary/frontispiece of: [Proceedings of Vision-21 (Space Travel in the Next Millennium, NASA Lewis Research Center, 2-4 April 1990, NASA Conference Publication 10059, 1991]

"Quatrains from The Martian Chronicles", Ray Bradbury and Jonathan V. Post, [Space and Time, No.81, Spring 1993] ISSN 0271-2512, published twice a year by Space & Time, 138 W. 70th St. (4B), New York, NY, 10023-4432, in association with Emerald City Publishing (C.E.O.: Jonathan V. Post)

"Science Fiction and the Search for Transcendence: A Hypertext Poem", co-authors Sir Horace Walpole, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Herbert George Wells, Abraham Grace Merritt, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Dr. William Olaf Stapledon, Dr. Edward Elmer Smith, Dr. Jack S. Williamson [Space and Time, No.82, pp.93-95, Fall 1993]

And I'm just using hyperpoetry as exemplars in this blog thread comment.

I am very pleased that world has caught up to Ted Nelson's great vision -- except that the Web was built without the transclusions and micropayments that he insisted were necessary.

Without hose hyperpayments, I have to work for a living independent of all the literally millions of words that I publish.

The e-book wars only prove how authors were screwed by the lack of micropayments in the net infrastructure.

Anyway, great essay/guest blog. We grumpy whitebearded pioneers are always happy to see the settlers move in and build log cabins.


Minor note: a BBS isn't the same thing as a webforum.

A BBS is an piece of software run on a computer that allowed others to connect (often dial up) to the computer via a terminal and leave messages.

Now, on topic: Lovely read!


I think one of the primary challenges writers of this form of fiction will face is avoiding the same trap many software writers fell into at the dawn of GUI-faced, Event-Driven programming: The programmer, capable of getting the required user feedback in a non-linear manner (as compared to using a string of linearly connected green-screens) did so in every case. Result: entirely flexible yet unusable mess - the users got lost in the complex networked web of tasks required to do whatever was needed. Been there, seen others do that.

It is an interesting experiment though, a truly distinct form of entertainment (the reader-variable stuff seems to fall into the field of interactive text games, though I may be misunderstanding the idea from the brief description you gave).

Gonna have to take a look now.


Thank you for this excellent and helpful analysis. Someone used it to launch a discussion of a shared world that I'm involved with, Torn World. (Main site is here: ) I also plan to mention this over on the LiveJournal community Crowdfunding.


Very interesting read ... I have been working on a web zine for some time now that aims to combine the benefits of both web and print. From my viewpoint, the neat part about web is that you can build on a base and add a dialogue, rather than build up an entirely new fiction... but of course, everyone gets something different from reading.



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This page contains a single entry by Elizabeth Bear published on February 8, 2010 4:03 PM.

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