January 12, 2004

Writs of Passages

by Nick Montfort · , 12:31 pm

I was very pleased to note that the first two English reviews of Twisty Little Passages were posted online yesterday. One of these reviews is from an IF author, editor of the SPAG Newsletter, and longtime, active member of the IF community, Paul O’Brian. The other, entitled “Wor(l)d Games,” is from Matt Kirchenbaum, assistant professor of English at the University of Maryland and author of the forthcoming book Mechanisms: New Media and the New Textuality (MIT Press, 2005).

Both reviewers liked the book and were very kind in their comments; it pleases me immesely that I seem to have managed to put together a book that will be of interest to both academic and non-academic readers, as this was a very important goal of mine.

They made some good points about shortcomings of the book, too. The analysis of specific interactive fiction works in the “history chapters” (chapters 3-7) isn’t as deep as one would like, and doesn’t employ the figure of the riddle as usefully as it could. As Paul noted, I’ve tried to remedy this failing a bit by writing, with Stuart Moulthrop, a paper about Varicella that looks in greater depth at a single piece of IF. Still, there is much more to be done, and a wealth of worthy IF from the past decade that I didn’t even mention. I hope Matt’s suggestion that the book will lead to more study of IF in English departments, and Paul’s call for a sequel, are signs that Twisty Little Passages will not be the book about IF but the first of many serious studies of the form.

6 Responses to “Writs of Passages

  1. andrew Says:

    These are great reviews, thanks for the links.

    I found Matt’s point interesting about how there is not yet a similarly-thorough book on the origins and development of hypertext fiction. That would be very useful as well, though perhaps less in-need-of-existence as TLP was.

    (BTW I’m still working my way through TLP, and am enjoying it so far; I’m looking forward to writing up my own informal review of it at some point as a blog post.)

  2. nick Says:

    An addendum: By nothing that these were the first English reviews, I didn’t mean to snub Noah or Adam Cadre, both of whom have written comments about TLP online. But these comments were already noted on here, and in my own categorization system, I didn’t sort their writings as “reviews.” Their writings and other things I’ve found that discuss the book are all linked from my news & reviews page.

  3. Jeremy Bushnell Says:

    My review / notes on the book went up today, here:


  4. nick Says:

    Thanks, Jeremy – I added a link at nickm.com. I wish my discussion of the riddle had been more convincing to you, but I’m glad you found some things to like about the book, regardless.

  5. Jeremy Bushnell Says:

    Don’t get me wrong: I loved the book; I’ve already read it through twice and I imagine it’ll be something I’ll reference frequently in the future. But something about that particular chapter didn’t quite sit right with me and I wanted to try to puzzle out why. The blog just happens to be my machine for puzzling out things like that…

  6. nick Says:

    I appreciate the crticism, and I am really glad that the rest of the book stands as worthwhile even if the riddle discussion isn’t persuasive. At times I had worried that historical section moved too quickly to really be that valuable, and thought may the riddle chapter and the discussion of narratology and IF (abbreviated from “Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction”) would end up being the only main points of the book. So it actually is very reassuring that you still liked the book, even finding the riddle chapter unsatisfying.

    Beyond that, your comments (along with some discussion in an interview I did recently) have made me think about how to develop the riddle idea further. A figurative approach like the one I suggest is always difficult in ways that semiotic and narratological approaches aren’t, even when the figurative approach is effective, because people will find different things about the figure to be useful or useless and perhaps talk past each other about what works and what doesn’t. In the future I should try to explain how I see the riddle as explaining IF that isn’t puzzle-based, I think, and I should try to use this figure myself, with more awareness of what I’m doing, as I develop IF.

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