We Descend Volume Two (proposed)
for the CyberMountain
We Descend (Volume One) is an artifactual hyperfiction, set (apparently) in the distant future, in the form of an archive of writings by different authors over a vast span of time. It contains the writings of a Scholar who discovers documents he believes to have been written or collected by one Egderus, who lived a millennium before, and who in turn was the curator of writings and artifacts of even more ancient provenance. In addition, an unnamed annotator has provided glosses, commentary, and cross-references upon all the fragmentary writings in the archive, including those of the Scholar.
The text runs to some 40,000 words, contained in 598 nodes connected in various ways by 864 links. There also appear three black-and-white illustrations (actually a single graphic cropped three different ways).
The reader can elect to take a default path or "tour," which introduces the major characters and leads through the three principal "bands" of time in which the story unfolds. But the default path also leaves sizeable tracts of temporal territory to be discovered on tours of the reader's own devising.
We Descend was originally published by Eastgate (1997) as a stand-alone Storyspace reader; an HTML excerpt can be found in the Gallery at Word Circuits <http://www.wordcircuits.com/gallery/descend/Cover.htm>. [top]
At present, I'm rather stymied in my work on Volume Two, which, as I envision it, will extend and at the same time enfold the first and current volume. At the Hypertext 97 Conference, I saw a demo of the zooming interface program Pad++, and immediately began to think of putting the piece into Pad's 2.5-dimensional architecture. Since We Descend deals not only with time but with stratified deposits of scholarly analysis, commentary, and argument, the idea of rendering this dimension in terms of *depth* is irresistable -- indeed, as one writing has it, "Time [rises] like smoke away from the flames, in a line that bent this way and that, but ever [ascends]."
Galvanized by this possibility, I proposed to NYU's Center for Advanced Technology, who had sponsored the demo, that they let me try this out at their place -- as far as I know, no satisfactory version of Pad++ is available for Mac or PC. As yet I've received no response. (Much of what follows comes from that proposal.) [top]
But writing the proposal helped me to work out what seems to me a sensible two-phase plan, provided I can get my hands on software that will let me do what I want, to wit:
In the present Storyspace version, the reader "enters" the hypertext by clicking on an opening graphic, a frontispiece-like illustration:
I can easily imagine still being able to use this graphic as a kind of front door -- zooming in on the banner in the sky might reveal the title page [see top] , adapted from the existing one; zooming in on any of the first three "destinations" on the title page -- Foreword, Directions, Inventory -- would then pan/zoom the reader towards the appropriate "lobe" of the apparatus of the present hypertext. The reader who clicks on "just START" might "fall through" the title page to a deeper level, onto the default path, which itself would descend and reascend through the layers of story and commentary.
In the present stand-alone Storyspace version, once the reader leaves the default path, a rather cumbersome apparatus must be used for navigating the archive: the Inventory (shown below in Storyspace map view).
It resides near the top of the nested-boxes structure, and can be accessed only by clicking repeatedly on the compass tool (on the palette in the lower left corner), by which the reader can ascend stepwise through the hierarchy. In the full Storyspace version (which requires the Storyspace application), the Inventory may also be accessed "directly" via the Edit menu>>Locate space command, which presents a list box that then must be scrolled through.
In Pad++, the Inventory could be adapted into a portal arranged as an Index, as demonstrated in the Pad++ guided tour on the WWWeb.
It is fairly easy to envision other ways of converting the existing interface of We Descend from Storyspace to Pad++. However, there is more We Descend to come, and once the basic conversion has been accomplished, Phase Two will commence. [top]
The next step is to begin construction of Volume Two, in which the work will grow in all directions. New characters will be introduced, further adventures of old ones elaborated, new secrets revealed, and old mysteries "explained." At the same time, I plan to enfold the archive of writings that already exists in at least one more outer layer of commentary and annotation, perhaps dealing directly with the navigation apparatus itself, but certainly "pulling back" far enough to include the unnamed annotator (and perhaps the putative author Bill Bly as well!) within its frame.
All of these extensions of the present narrative and apparatus will deepen the structure of the hypertext significantly. This is in keeping with the piece's arch-metaphor for time, which, rather than flowing, rises: to find our origins, we descend.
In short, here's what I want to do: create a structure in which at any time the reader can pull back, perhaps to see how the locale just departed relates to other areas of the hypertext, then pan to find some interesting new point of descent, and zoom back in. In addition, Pad++'s lazy loading feature would indicate those places already visited, so that the reader will easily be able to find regions of the hypertext as yet unseen.
And since much of Egderus' story is set in rocky, mountainous terrain, a nifty parallel can be fashioned between the setting and the "topography" of the zooming interface, permitting the reader to sail like a hawk above vertiginous depths of time, then plummet from these heights onto a promising morsel of text.
If a writer sans portfolio such as myself could get at Pad++ (or something like it) easily, We Descend Volume Two would be able to come into being. I'm hoping that the CyberMountain Colloquium will help make this dream a reality!