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Figurski at Findhorn on Acid

Author: Richard Holeton
Publisher: Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, 2001
Review Published: November 2006

 REVIEW 1: Jessica M. Laccetti
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Richard Holeton

I'm grateful to Jessica Laccetti for her thoughtful review and to David Silver for initiating coverage of electronic "books" at RCCS by featuring my hypertext novel.

On being a classic

We surely live in fast-forward, postmodern times when a literary work can become "classic" (as in "classic hypertext") in only five years. Now if only Figurski at Findhorn on Acid can attract the readership of those earlier classics!

Interestingly, there's an extent to which "classic" or "first generation" hypertext is a usage more akin to "Mac Classic" than to the classic literary canon. As Mac users know, Classic is Apple Computer's name for OS 9.x, the pre-OS X operating systems that the company tolerates only insofar as some people insist on clinging to outmoded hardware or to the archaic, older generation look and feel -- systems which are, nevertheless, obsolete. (Regarding "classic" technologies, I'm compelled to clarify one point from the review: the constraint of fitting Figurski onto diskettes -- cited by Ms. Laccetti from a 1998 article in Kairos -- applied only to a much earlier version of the novel composed for my MFA thesis at San Francisco State University. That version was SFSU's first electronic thesis, before CDs and DVDs.)

I hope readers will associate my fiction more with literary classics than with old computer systems, of course, but Ms. Laccetti is surely right that Figurski is not Tristram Shandy 2.0, and she's wise to contextualize Figurski by tracing the evolution of technologies employed by "second-generation hyperfiction writers." In that light, let me commend to her and other readers -- and nominate as the next electronic "book" for review at RCCS -- The Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 1 (edited by N. Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort, Scott Rettberg, and Stephanie Strickland), from the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) available in November, 2006. This collection, which promises to showcase each year the ongoing evolution of hypertext or new media literature, marks the transition of several "first-generation" authors -- myself included -- to the Next Generation of Web lit, Flash fiction, and so on.

Figurski as supermarket

Ms. Laccetti did not feel in reading Figurski the strong presence or pull of a "single story" or of "realist fiction" but had rather a "supermarket-shopping experience" (from Marie-Laure Ryan's phrase for reading hypertext). Happily, she seems to have found some cool stuff on the shelves of that market, and she shares some of those items from her cart.

I will leave the serious theorizing to the experts like Laccetti and Ryan, but if there is a continuum from realist/single-story linearity to supermarket-esque nonlinearity or multilinearity, I'd venture that Figurski -- when compared with other classic hypertexts such as Michael Joyce's afternoon, and I think when compared with most second-generation hyperfiction as well -- is closer to the linear end of the scale, in that it can be read in more or less chronological order. The "single story" of Figurski at Findhorn on Acid, insofar as it's instantiated for a given reader, revolves around the competition and cooperation of the three main characters, across three continents and over the decade of the 1990s, in pursuit of a precious 1737 mechanical pig (and its nearly identical forgery).

Still -- although tempted to resist the supermarket metaphor on the abstract level -- I drank the Kool-Aid (laced with acid?) from Aisle 3, and now I'm a convert. Figurski may most precisely be described as a "combinatorial" fiction (as Eastgate Systems calls it), because the 147 nodes of the main narrative consist of every possible combination of three characters at three places with three artifacts. Since every grid of every aisle in this hyper-organized supermarket is labeled and numbered according to those combinations, while leaving readers free to jump around as Ms. Laccetti points out, might we call it a HyperMart? Whatever we call it, my deepest hope is that readers will enjoy the shopping experience.

Richard Holeton

<holeton@stanford.edu>

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