What if you had a book that changed every time you read it? —Michael Joyce (1991)
There was a section on Melbourne’s daily free newspaper, MX that spoke about aviation and design engineers architecting an aircraft carrier whose interior matches and changes with the stratosphere overhead as it flies by. Basically a chameleon of the heavens.
The shaky thought about hypertext fiction not having fixed, tangible beginnings or ends as print books and stories, is not the fact that it’s limitless, it’s the problem that arises with the amount of free will someone has towards it. Douglas Yellowlees surmised hypertext’s dimension varying from hundreds to the thousands in terms of narrative episodes or segments which are also connected by a vast number of bridging links.
My personal problem with this, which I’m sure some other would echo, is the idea of exactly not having that fixed beginning and end. Let’s take a book known by all: Pride and Prejudice. If we were, for argument’s sake, refashion it as a hypertext fiction, I am more than positive that we would not have it lasting this decades long with countless adaptations in print, television, movie, new media and the web. A final conclusion and a definite beginning is the head and the feet of the body of narrative. Without these parts, I don’t see it moving anywhere at all.
One of the reasons why I believe that having a beginning and an end is very important to a body of work, especially when it is some sort of narrative, is how it necessitates arguments, debates and opposition. Does this make me sound like some lawless chaos-machine wanting all that disarray? Perhaps, but hear me out, anyway.
Debates, arguments and opposing views are all part of the inter-personal relationship we have with each other. It governs motivations for obtaining gratifications in social media, for example, because ‘you just can’t stand that “fandom” at all.’ It also births ideas better than the first said. If we had been able to manipulate Elizabeth Bennet into marrying Mr. Collins for one day and then Mr. Darcy after a week of arguing and so, then what’s the point? Our conversations with our bff’s would well, not end. We’ll say our goodbyes thinking about what change can be made next time we see each other again.
And the list goes on…
For me, it’s frightening in that respect to think of a book that changed every time I read it. Goodreads would lose not only its recommendations list, but it wouldn’t exist at all. Because why would one go to a website to recommend books whose stories forever changed anyway? No one would be liking the same things or fighting over the same character or giving 5 out of 5 cats for the fantastic ending or a thumbs down for its poor read.
Conclusively, everything will be quite forlorn. There’s no solidarity or consensus between groups of people. No book-clubs or favourite reads.
I like change. But not this kind of change.