April 12, 2005


by Scott Rettberg · , 10:28 am

I spent some time last night over at Gavin Inglis’ Bareword. Scottish writer Inglis is one of the few hypertext authors I’m aware of who has written hypertexts according to the “branching path” model frequently discussed as a structural model but rarely utilized. I was familiar with Inglis’ Same Day Test, which tells the story the day in which its first-person protagonist goes (or doesn’t) for an AIDS test. The reader of SDT is offered choices of the “choose-your-own-adventure” variety. One smart design decision Inglis made with this work was to put all of the links at the bottom of the page rather than in the body of the text, which at the very least encourages the reader to finish one lexia before making a choice and moving on to the next. The story is tightly structured, advancing the reader through the course of the protagonist’s day.

Inglis’ first hypertext, begun in 1995, Under the Ashes, is a straight-ahead HTML hypertext of the “open and sprawling” variety, in which the reader follows the work’s characters through a “spooky house.” Like many other web hypertexts, the links in “Under the Ashes” are in the body of the text, and the linked content typically follows logically from the tagged word to a lexia that reveals more about that particular topic. Interestingly, Inglis writes that that Under the Ashes “began life as an expandable/collapsible document on a rather old version of a hypertext tool called Guide,” what Ted Nelson would call a “stretchtext,” before Inglis decided to focus on plot branching. Inglis continued to change the hypertext over a period of seven years, adding a node here and ther when he felt so moved. Another interesting aspect of this work is that Inglis has continued to change and expand it over time, at least up until 2002. This malleability is a feature of networked hypertexts shared by other works such as Bobby Arellano’s Sunshine 69, Mark Amerika’s Grammatron, and The Unknown.

Inglis’ most recent work Mr. Tokyo is a genre piece, a thriller about an intelligence agent. The premise of the work is that his memory is being dissected before our eyes. After reading through the piece a couple of times, I’m not entirely sure how the links are structured, but because the frame is set up fairly well (memories are surfacing, and each node represents a single memory), the fact that the links are fairly disjointed from the content that preceded them doesn’t really bother me.

Inglis’ work isn’t self-consciously literary as are many works in the “hypertext canon,” but this may be a strength rather than weakness. He is one of the few writers who have tried to write genre hypertext fiction with branching path structures for an adult audience. While Bareword doesn’t host my favorite hypertext fictions, all three works are entertaining and well worth exploring.

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