“real” reading, hypertext writing (and reading), and semicolons

I saw a couple of interesting articles on the WIRED magazine website:

1)Is Listening to Audiobooks Really Reading? (WIRED’s spiritual advice columnist on bardic traditions for a modern age—and why book snobs worry about the wrong things.)”

(I had a whole rant written about this, but then I remembered that I don’t do rants. There are enough of those on the internet as it is.)

2)Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story

I’ve written about hypertext stories before, and I’ve written a hypertext story.

I’m sort of thinking of writing another one, not because I want to write a hypertext story, but because some stories naturally go in that direction.

So, here are the reasons that I think hypertext stories didn’t catch on:

1) In my experience, the only audience for hypertext stories is people who write hypertext stories. I’ve never written stories in Esperanto (obviously), but I think writing in hypertext is probably like writing in Esperanto, as far as the potential audience goes.

2) Writing hypertext is a lot of work. As I wrote before: “If you wrote a 5,000-word short story, with just one ‘fork in the road,’ that would end up being two 5,000-word stories, each of which has to work. From then on, for each new fork, you can do the math.”

So, compared to a regular story, more work and fewer possible readers.

3) Here’s another factor I just thought of. My first hypertext story was written back in the early 1990s, not long after the Web was invented — and before a lot of people (including me) had internet access (and when a lot of the “internet access” available didn’t even include the Web).

I downloaded a program from a BBS which enabled the creation of the hypertext story, and then you uploaded the text and a “reader” program to BBSs for people to download and run on their own computers. I even paid the guy who wrote the program to add one more feature to a special version for me.

This was a rather clumsy system, and I don’t think it had a lot of downloads, but one advantage was that it was not a Web page. Writing stories on the Web (which I do, obviously) means they’re just more Web pages. That may be one reason I make the HTML versions, which can be downloaded and printed, or loaded on Kindles or other e-readers.

A novel, for example, should be a discrete thing, maybe on paper or maybe as an e-book, but it’s not the same if it’s just pages scattered through the Sunday NY Times.

This is exacerbated in hypertext, because the way I’d want to do a hypertext story would require conditional links — where the same link would go do different locations depending on various conditions. (The Web is not designed that way, nor should it be, since I can only imagine the nefarious purposes for which it would be used. But if there was a hypertext system which wasn’t the Web, which could operate according to different rules, that would be interesting.)

(There was something called XML, which at some point was supposed to be the next step beyond HTML — the code behind every website — but it didn’t take off the way it was originally supposed to. It’s used in Web pages, but it has to be accessed by regular old HTML. You can’t just create Web pages entirely in XML and have browsers display them, so the parts of the XML standard which I wanted to use didn’t pan out.)

I use the Web because it’s there. It’s the easiest way to do something that’s like what I want to do, and it means I can concentrate on the writing rather than trying to figure out how to become a programmer, too.

And, of course, even if I did become a programmer and create the hypertext structure I’d want for a specific project, see the point above about audience.

You know what I do like? Books about punctuation.

I just bought the book, I’ll report back when I’ve read it.

Also, this is charming, and also sensible: “Game of Thrones author George RR Martin: ‘Why I still use DOS’

(Part of the enjoyment, I confess, is to read an article about using DOS written by somebody who obviously never used DOS and doesn’t really understand what it was.)

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skipping, moonwalking, and listening (ulysses, part four )

I’ve been continuing to watch videos about James Joyce and Ulysses.

Some have been interesting, some have been misguided, some I haven’t bothered to finish, and some short ones I haven’t even started — a fifteen-minute video on why I should read Ulysses isn’t going to tell me anything.

I did find one video which proposed three interesting techniques for people who started Ulysses but got bogged down along the way.

One was to skip the parts you have trouble with. As I’ve said before, I’ve followed this myself. After all, this is not a plot-based novel — nothing in chapter seven is going to explain who committed the murder in chapter three.

On that topic, one thing in this article from The New Yorker caught my eye:

A friend of mine told me that once, when he was talking to a group of Russian-literature professors, he confided to them that he and his American colleagues often had difficulty with the many highly detailed accounts of battles in “War and Peace.” Oh, the Russians answered, we skip those parts! So boring! You should skip them, too, they said.

I used to do that the novels of Roger Zelazny, too. Pages of semi-poetic random images and stuff. Skip!

To quote Alice in Wonderland:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?’

Another technique suggested in the video was to read Ulysses backwards, so you don’t miss out on “Penelope” — Molly Bloom’s amazing, 42-page soliloquy which ends the book. (As readers of Douglas Adams can tell you, the number 42 has a special significance — and now I’m wondering if that’s why Adams chose that number…)

(Update: I’ve now seen a second video which makes the same suggestion.)

The third idea was to read the book out loud, or listen to a recording of it.

I’m doing the skipping thing, and the listening thing, although I haven’t yet done the backwards thing — but I might, or at least I might listen to “Penelope.”

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the deacon mystery (part eighteen)

This story started here.

Rhonda got out of her car and walked toward the steps to the porch.

“Sheriff,” I said, rising. “We’re short on chairs here.” I looked at Kate Lane. “Shall we three adjourn to the rear deck? Coffee is available, and I could use a refill myself.” I stood and gestured with my empty mug.

We adjourned to the front hall, where I refilled my mug and they filled theirs, and then we went back outside and around to the rear deck, where we sat at one of the tables. Everything on the deck was damp with dew, but I had anticipated this and I’d brought a stack of napkins from the supply in the hall.

When the three of us were seated and sipping our coffee, I wondered who would speak first. It was pretty clear that each of my guests would have been much happier if the other one had not been there.

For me, I was thinking how pleasant it would be if I managed to drink my coffee in silence. That did not seem likely.

The reporter finally turned to the sheriff. “Rhonda,” she said, “Do you have any comment on the death at the college?”

Rhonda shook her head. “Not yet.” She turned to me. “Is your employer going to look into that?”

I shrugged. “She may not even be aware of it. I do know that she is writing against at least one pressing deadline.”

The sheriff was regarding me thoughtfully. “It does seem like it’s her kind of case. The death of an exchange student, in a locked room, apparently with no way in or out.”

“And the knife,” Kate Lane put in. “With the word ‘Revenge’ on the handle in Spanish.”

“How did you find out about that?” the sheriff demanded.

“I do have my sources,” the reporter said happily.

Rhonda frowned. “I have no comment on that case.”

The reporter still looked pleased. “Any update on the Deacon case?” she asked.

“The Deacon sisters and Prescott Owens are in the hospital, recovering from their injuries.”

“Are they in custody?”

“Nobody is in custody at this moment.”

“And Dr. Deacon–”

“All indications are that he and his brother killed each other.”

She did not raise the question of which brother had died first, and nobody asked. If Kate Lane was not aware of the possible significance of that information, I didn’t see any reason to send her in that direction.

A few minutes later, after I had put the dirty coffee mugs in the kitchen, I went back to the room. My employer had finished her coffee and she was taking her shower, so I did a quick check and the knife which had been thrown at our porch two nights before, with “vingança” on the handle (which was Portuguese, by the way, not Spanish), was no longer where I had hidden it.

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the deacon mystery (part seventeen)

This story started here.

In the morning, my employer opened her eyes, just enough to see the sun streaming into the room. She groaned and threw her forearm across her face as she said, “Your tasks for this morning: 1) Get me some coffee. Please. 2) Take your coffee and have it somewhere other than here. I’m expecting at least two callers this morning, and you’re going to talk to them, not me. I’m far too busy. Deadlines and so on.

“If you have your coffee on the deck, leave a note on the front door saying that’s where you are. And make sure this door is locked.”

“Who are you expecting?”

“Rhonda, and Kate Lane — probably in that order. Rhonda will want to give you information. You can take it or not — that’s your call. I have nothing for her, and I don’t care about the case — any case she may want to talk to me about.”

Some time later, I was sitting on the front porch, in the rocking chair. My coffee mug was on the worn two-by-six of the porch railing.

No note on the front door would have discouraged Kate Lane from ascending the stairs and knocking on our door (at a minimum). Better to head her off on the ground floor.

The sky had become somewhat overcast, and the air was damp and a bit chilly. I had the idea of going upstairs to get a sweater, but now that I was sitting I was comfortable and reluctant to move.

Contemplating the easy availability of more coffee in the hall, whenever I needed it, I noticed a thin layer of condensation on the glass of the front door.

My employer’s coffee was ready on her bedside table. She had apparently gone back to sleep. I put a saucer on top of the mug, to try to keep the coffee warm.

I wondered who had washed the four dirty mugs from the conference yesterday morning. They were clean and back among the collection in the hall, so somebody had dealt with them.

Sitting in the rocking chair, sipping my coffee, enjoying the cool breeze, I remembered the woman who’d been sitting there two nights before.

She’d appeared to be tall and slender, with long, dark hair, and wearing dark clothes and, possibly, wire-rimmed glasses.

Could she have been mistaken for my employer in the darkness? Is that why someone had thrown a knife at her?

I thought that this was likely.

Had we met her before? I was pretty sure we had, but of course this was just… Well, my employer would have called it guessing, and “guess” was a dirty word in her lexicon.

A little while later, Mrs. Jessup, our landlady, poked her head out to wish me good morning, and I rose, appropriately, to return her greeting.

Kate Lane drove up and parked in front of the inn. I wondered if my employer had been right about Rhonda visiting this morning as well.

“Hey, Marshall,” the reporter said cheerfully as she reached the three steps up to the porch.

“Good morning, Miss Lane,” I said. I rose and offered her the chair, but she declined and half-sat on the flat railing.

“What brings you here this morning?” I asked.

“I wanted to find out what Miss Sleet thinks of the new case, at the college.”

“As far as I know, she’s not aware of any new case, at the college or anywhere else. I know I’m not. In any case, she’s not available — she’s got deadlines.”

She digested this. “Do you know how the Deacon case worked out?”

“Sheriff White interviewed me last night, and I know Dr. Deacon is dead, but I don’t know anything beyond that.”

Of course, if the window in our room had happened to be open, my employer (if she were awake) would have been able hear this conversation. I was tempted to glance up and check, but obviously I couldn’t do that with the reporter in front of me.

Kate Lane paused, as if this conversation wasn’t going in the way she’d anticipated. As she started to speak again, I held up a finger and pointed as a police cruiser pulled up and parked behind her car.

To be continued…

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the deacon mystery (part sixteen)

This story started here.

“Do you want to know what I’m thinking?”

The sheriff shrugged, conveying that she didn’t know (or possibly that she didn’t care).

“The Deacon girls have just lost their father, and their uncle for that matter. Maybe we should go to their house, right now, and inform whoever happens to be there.”

“And see who’s there, and what’s going on.” She stood up, shoving her notebook into her back pocket. “Let’s go.”

The state police had arrived by then, and we paused on our way out so the sheriff could confer with the officer in charge. I stood a distance away, politely giving the impression that I couldn’t hear anything, although of course I could. Nothing interesting was said.

Then, as we drove along Main Street, at less than the sheriff’s usual breakneck pace, I noticed Elsa’s van in front of the Wagon Wheel. Their roast beef sandwiches were not going to please her.

Seafood was pretty reliably fresh in Claremont, but red meat was unpredictable, at best.

Thinking about roast beef, I remembered when my employer and I had spent a few days (hiding out from the army, in fear for our lives — a long story) on a fazenda in Bellona, and we’d eaten beef, a couple of times, from an animal which had been slaughtered just a day or two before.

It was as different from ordinary restaurant beef as fresh swordfish is from canned tuna.

Not that any restaurant in Claremont was going to have beef like that–

“O’Connor!” the sheriff said sharply, and I realized that we were parked in front of the Deacon house, which showed no life or lights. The entire street was dark and silent.

I started to open the car door when the two-way radio demanded Rhonda’s attention.

She opened the door, took the handset from the dashboard, and demanded to know what was up.

As she spoke — mostly yes and no and terse requests for more details — I got out of the car and leaned on the hood.

Somewhere along the line I had miscalculated. Why was I leaning against a police cruiser, in front of this dark and depressing-looking house? I had been asked to provide whatever information I had and I’d done so — as a responsible citizen and as someone who, for professional reasons, wanted to maintain good relations with local law enforcement — but, like my employer, I was not a public convenience, or a public employee, and I certainly didn’t care about any of the Deacons.

I was still slightly buzzed from the beers I’d consumed earlier, on an empty stomach. I decided to blame everything on that.

Rhonda ended her call and closed the door of the cruiser.

After a moment’s study of my face, she said, “Do you want the new news, or are you out?”

“I’m out,” I said. “This is not my case.”

She nodded. “Fair enough. I wish I could say the same.” She gave me a sketchy salute. “Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

To be continued…

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the deacon mystery (part fifteen)

This story started here.

“Can I know what’s been going on here?”

That’s the question I almost asked, but I stopped myself.

Instead, I said, “FYI: If the body downstairs is Fred Deacon, it may turn out to be important, to some people, to determine which brother died first.”

That focused her attention on me.

“I should say, as a caveat, that none of this is, so far, documented fact.”

She gestured that I should continue.

“I have heard that Dr. Deacon inherited his family’s money on the death of his father. He believed that this was a good system, to keep a family’s estate together, so, the story goes, his will states that his money, on the occasion of his death, should go to his brother, his only living sibling, or, if his brother should predecease him, to his brother’s elder daughter.”

“Oh, crap. I see where this is going.”

“Exactly. Fred Deacon, on the other hand, having been his brother’s poor relation for all these many years, divided his own estate equally, in his will, between his two daughters.”

The sheriff, apparently holding back something either obscene or blasphemous, or both, paused, then she said, “We don’t get these kinds of cases except when Miss Jan Sleet is in town, so it’s rude of her to not be available when we get stuck with one.”

I made sure not to express any opinion about this.

“I’m not implying–” “–Of course not–” “–that I need her help to solve this.”

She looked at her notebook.

“Were there any other family members? I’m not aware of any, but you’re the one who did all the research.”

“Nobody close, either genetically or geographically.”

“What about the mother? The girls’ mother?”

“She died some time ago. Cancer.”

“Aubrey and Fred,” she said slowly. “The older brother got all the money and he got the fancy name. Poor Fred, I guess.

“Here’s a question which has been bugging me: Fred Deacon was putting on airs with your boss at the book sale? Letting her think he was well off?”


“How in the world did he think he’d get away with that? Running a con on her?”

“He didn’t — that’s my idea. He was approaching her because he had to, so he did everything wrong, to be sure she’d slam him down. She can be predictable in that way, in what annoys her, and she is, after all, fairly well known in this area.”

“So, the whole kidnapping thing was a fake?”

“One: Let’s assume he’s desperate for money, for whatever reason, and he goes to his brother. His brother seems fond of his nieces, as far as we can tell, so there’s a chance that, yet again, he will bail out his ne’er-do-well younger brother if one of his nieces is in danger.

“Two: Dr. Deacon is tired of Fred’s nonsense, so he says, ‘Your daughter has been kidnapped, and you don’t want to call the police, for fear of what will happen? There’s Jan Sleet, the master detective, standing right over there. Ask her for help.'”

“Which he did — in a way almost guaranteed to annoy her.”

“Which it did.”


To be continued…

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