Electronic Books: Hypertext and Hyperfiction
Electronic "Books": Hypertext and Hyperfiction
With the development of CD-Rom technology and the transfer of such reference works as encyclopedias and dictionaries to compact disc, much recent debate among publishers and software producers has centered on the future of books as bound volumes of text printed on paper and their possible eclipse by CD-Rom and other electronic formats. Contending that books are outdated and cumbersome, proponents of CD-Rom stress that the physical space to information ratio is much higher for CD-Roms and that CD-Roms offer sound, moving pictures, and instantaneous cross-referencing capabilities unmatched by books. Proponents of books, however, note that the traditional book is much more durable and easy to transport than CD-Roms, which require a computer; that many of the searching capabilities available with electronic texts are not very useful; and that sales of CD-Roms, despite their hype, have rarely met expectations. Defenders of the traditional book see few advantages to reading literature on a computer screen versus paper.
A small but growing number of writers are developing a new genre of fictional works—known as hyperfictions—that exploit the hypertextual capabilities of computers and can only be read in an electronic format. Hypertext, briefly defined, is a system of electronically linked blocks of text that are not designed to be read in any particular sequential order. For instance, Stuart Moulthrop's hyperfictive novel about the Gulf War, Victory Garden (1993), features nearly one thousand blocks of text with approximately two thousand eight hundred different links between them. The reader of hyperfiction decides in what order the text will be read by selecting from a set of options attached to each block of text. Critics of hyperfiction note that the new genre challenges the traditional view of reading as a linear process, promotes multiple readings of works, and encourages associative thinking. In addition to creating new works, some scholars have identified ways in which hypertext can be used in the reading and study of traditional works of literature. For instance, hypertext might aid a student reading John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) by providing quick and easily accessible explanations of allusions and references in the text. Commenting on the impact of hypertext capabilities on canonized works, Jay David Bolter has stated: "Rather than eliminating works of the past or making them irrelevant, the electronic writing space gives them a new 'typography.' For hypertext is the typography of the electronic medium."
Representative Works Of Hyperfiction Discussed Below
Gibson, William, and Ashbaugh, Dennis
Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) 1993
"Izme Pass" [with Martha Petry] 1991
The Perfect Couple 1993
Afternoon, a Story 1987
Marble Springs 1993
Its Name Was Penelope 1993
Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse 1993
Ambulance: An Electronic Novel 1993
Victory Garden 1993
Roach, Greg, and Crossley, David
The Madness of Roland 1993
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Books Versus Cd-Roms
Sarah Lyall (essay date 14 August 1994)
SOURCE: "Are These Books, or What? CD-ROM and the Literary Industry," in The New York Times Book Review, August 14, 1994, pp. 3, 20-1.
[In the following essay, Lyall discusses the future of books and CD-Roms.]
This spring William H. Gates, the plugged-in chairman of the Microsoft Corporation and a man who lives for his computer, announced that he wanted to publish a definitive 300-page discussion of his views on the information revolution—where it had been and where it was going. But when it came time to choose a format, Mr. Gates rejected the familiar tools of his trade: on-line services, floppy disks, CD-ROM's, all the hardware and all the software. He turned to a technology that has been around since the mid-15th century. He decided to sell his book as a book.
You can't get more conventional. Books are cunning and resilient creatures. They have survived world wars and revolutions and totalitarian regimes and the waxing and waning of other media, including magazines, newspapers, radio, movies, videos, records, tapes, compact disks and television. Whenever their end was predicted, books managed to defy their own death sentences and spring back to life. Books have persevered so effectively, in fact, that in 1993 more of them were sold in the United States than in any year before, $18 billion worth.
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Hypertext And Hyperfiction
George P. Landow (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: "Changing Texts, Changing Readers: Hypertext in Literary Education, Criticism, and Scholarship," in Reorientations: Critical Theories and Pedagogies, edited by Bruce Henricksen and Thaïs E. Morgan, University of Illinois Press, 1990, pp. 133-61.
[Landow is an American educator and critic whose works include Hypermedia and Literary Studies (1991), Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology (1992), and The Digital Word: Text-Based Computing in the Humanities (1993). In the excerpt below, based on his experiences at Brown University where literature courses have used hypertext in the classroom, he defines the distinguishing characteristics of hypertext and remarks on its potential impact on the reading and study of literature.]
It is eight P.M., and after having helped put the children to bed, Professor Jones settles into her favorite chair and reaches for her copy of Milton's Paradise Lost to prepare for tomorrow's class. A scholar who specializes in the poetry of Milton's time, she returns to the poem as one returns to meet an old friend. Reading the poem's opening pages, she once again encounters allusions to the Old Testament, and because she knows how seventeenth-century Christians commonly read these passages, she perceives connections both to a passage in Genesis and to its...
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Implications For Publishing, Libraries, And The Public
Eldred Smith (essay date 1 February 1992)
SOURCE: "The Print Prison," in Library Journal, Vol. 117, No. 2, February 1, 1992, pp. 48-51.
[In the following essay, Smith remarks on the weaknesses of the print medium, particularly as it relates to scholarly publishing, and suggests ways in which the academic community could benefit from electronic information technology.]
It is no exaggeration that the invention of printing liberated the spread and advancement of knowledge. No field or discipline remained untouched, and most were transformed by printing's ability to disseminate and preserve information inexpensively and with an ease and reliability never previously imagined. The ensuing rapid rise of print publication also exerted a liberating influence on the growth and development of libraries.
It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the book and other print products have also had a limiting effect on knowledge's spread and advancement. Print imprisons knowledge by the very means through which it promotes its availability: access to the contents of a book can only be achieved if one physically possesses a copy of that book.
The need to invest their efforts and resources in managing book collections has effectively imprisoned librarians and libraries as well. Research librarians, in particular, have little capacity left over to assist...
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Bolter, Jay David. "The Computer, Hypertext, and Classical Studies." American Journal of Philology 112, No. 4 (Winter 1991): 541-45.
Suggests future uses of hypertext in classical studies.
Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Boston: Faber & Faber, 1994, 231 p.
Collection of essays concerning the shift from print to electronic media. Birkerts argues that "the complexity and distinctiveness of spoken and written expression are deeply bound to traditions of print literacy."
Christopher, L. Carol. "Closing the Gap." The Quill 82, No. 1 (January 1994): 27-9.
Comments on the implications of electronic publishing and the information highway for newspapers, readers, and journalists.
Coover, Robert. "Hyperfiction: Novels for the Computer." The New York Times Book Review (29 August 1993): 1, 8-10.
Reviews Stuart Moulthrop's hyperfictive novel Victory Garden and comments on the genre of hyperfiction and its effects on the reading experience.
――――――. "And Hypertext Is Only the Beginning. Watch Out!" The New York Times Book Review (29 August...
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