Afternoon: a story -- an electronic labyrinth?

Kyris Ang CCST02 "Telling Stories in Cyberspace," University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore

That afternoon, I tiptoed into the storyspace with a heavy heart, knowing that I would be wrestling face to face with one of the most bizarre fictional tales ever written in hypertext. With a deep grasp of air, I started clicking my mouse and began to plough through the thick forest of lexia. As I manoeuvre to and forth between seemingly unrelated storylines, I felt my eye brown raising, and soon followed was my pulse . . .

With hundreds of lexia weaving almost flawlessly into one and another, I wish that someone would tell me where to start! But wait, isn't that an obvious role of the author, for he is granted with the power to dictate the beginning and the ending of a story? Not necessary. In this case, what I see is the possibility of a shift in authority, a transfer of power: from the author and his text, to the reader and his (constructed) text. In hypertext fictions, we no longer have to torment ourselves to start a story so typically with "Once upon a time . . . " or to end it expectedly with " . . . and they lived happily ever after..." Here, there is no preferred starting point: like touring along the circumference of a perfectly constructed circle, with only its radius known. How far you can go is pre-established but it doesn't really matter where you start. Your starting could be mine ending but we will eventually tread through equal distance. However where you choose to begin shapes as much the story that you are going to read. You, as the reader, are given the power to construct meanings behind the blocks of text and to make sense of what you read. (or what you want to read)

So what was I reading? I am not too sure. I was too busy identifying the characters, playing mind games with the narrator as he (she?) repeatedly lied to me about his (her?) gender. As I tried to find clues from statements like "Peter knows we women are free" and " . . . as I touched her nipple . . . " it becomes increasingly annoying since there is a countless possibility of what is going on. I could assume that the author is a female and there is a female homosexual relationship, or that I could tell myself that the notion of "I" has been again and again manipulated by the author such that "I" assumes no definite subject matter in the entire tale. Or could the author be a man whom had undergone a sex-change operation and the story was narrated both before and after the successful operation? Who exactly is the narrator? And what is the relationship of the narrator with the rest of the characters? These questions continue to haunt me when I plunge deeper and deeper into a world of uncertainty. (Quantum mechanics, anyone?) But I must say that it is precisely this lack of certainty which produces the multiple narrative configurations of the text, something which is rarely seen in printed material.

Frankly, I have no model answer, but I do manage to piece my little jigsaw after few hours of intense reading. While I continued to find clues for the narrator's gender, it dawned upon me that what is so complicated could be something really simple. Daringly, I posited the possibility of having our characters in the story all sitting in a police station (or wherever it was), each narrating a story: a story that is told from their own stand and a story unknown to anyone else but the reader! The mysterious car wreck, and the uncertain death of narrator's son (I want to say I may have seen my son die this morning) could be good reasons to explain why they obliged to tell us their personal stories. Therefore, the "I" in the story assumed different personas as we transited from stories to stories: a man now and a woman later; a husband here and a lover there. Again, this is purely a conjecture.

I may be dead wrong but I reckon this is not at all important, considering the fact that there could simply be a variety of plot. Whether Lolly is Nascicca's lesbian lover or Wert is the killer who conspired with Lisa no longer matters. How I feel about afternoon is that it made me felt very needed as I was reading through it, and that it got me engaged in deciphering, like a detective, the bits and pieces that were deliberately omitted by the author. First-timer may be feel helpless and lost but the initial confusion and fuzziness will diminished once the pattern is discovered. For example, it was interesting when there were these chunk of one-word lexias, which in sequence, read T(Tristle Tropique), A(apple), M(myself), R(retro), S(sex), G(groundless enthusiasm), E(elements of) and F(fiction). With all the letters, it is actually possible unscrambled them and to form the word FRAGMENTS. Cool, isn't it? J

No longer is reading reading and writing writing. The author has brilliantly married traditional narrative writing style to a new-fangled medium, the hypertext, and this produced a marvellous work that strikes a balance in between its hypertextual form and its familiar prose style, and is suitable for a afternoon of pleasure reading.

I try to recall winter. (As if it were yesterday?) she says, but I do not signify one way or another. By five the sun sets and the afternoon melt freezes again across the blacktop into crystal octopi and palms of ice--rivers and continents beset by fear, an we walk out to the car, the snow moaning beneath our boots and the oaks exploding in series along the fenceline on the horizon, the sharpnel settling like relics, the echoing thundering off far ice. This was the escape of the wood, these fragments say. And this darkness is air.

(Poetry) she says, without emotion, one way or another.

Do you want to hear about it?

Afternoon Discussion overview Hypertext Cyberspace Web