December 1996

Root Page of Article: Tracing the Growth of a New Literature, by Michael Shumate

The Development of a Hypertext Fiction Web Site

Like communities in the Old West or gardens in the heat of summer, many Web sites turn into ghost towns and weed patches along the digital frontier after the excitement of something new passes. What keeps them growing? It helps if they garner profit or attention, or satisfy contractual obligations or private obsessions for the developer(s). I guess a combination of all of these would be best. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which of these apply to my work on Hyperizons.

My attention was first attracted to hypertext fiction by Robert Coover's 1992 article in The New York Times Book Review, "The End of Books." In this article, Coover described his experiences at Brown University with the development of the Hypertext Hotel and the use of Eastgate's Storyspace hypertext writing environment. Having never seen or heard of such a thing, I was mesmerized. But I couldn't find any of it, and anyone to whom I tried to describe what I thought I understood from Coover's article usually got a glazed look in their eyes or tried to back away without making eye contact. It was another year and a half before I saw anything written in Storyspace, two years before I was introduced to the Web.

Once I was on the Web, in mid-1994, I soon began looking for hypertext fiction and came across Prentiss Riddle's Web site (now obsolete), "The Search for Some Hypertext Fiction." Not much was there, but it was a start. Over the next few months, I gradually read a few more things and also finally got a chance to read some of the Eastgate fiction on disk, enough to realize I had my own thoughts about this new field and wanted to develop a different kind of list than Prentiss, one less inclusive but more detailed, an annotated bibliography that would document my thoughts. I'm not only a fiction writer, but also a note-taker and list-maker, a library archivist and cataloger, and, at the time, was also an interdisciplinary masters student hunting for a final project topic in the area of ethical and social issues in technology. Suffice it to say, I was one happy camper (until I began trying to find a faculty member to work with me. I started getting the glazed looks again--"What do you mean 'there will be no paper copy of my thesis'?").

I soon had early versions of five of the eight sections that are at Hyperizons now:

All of these lists were necessarily short at first, since I limited myself to what I had read rather than merely read about. I was happy to let it evolve as I did, and besides, there was no need to duplicate what Prentiss was doing with his site. Late in 1995, however, Prentiss decided to move on to other projects and wanted to pass his hypertext fiction gathering on to someone else. I agreed to incorporate his list into Hyperizons, necessarily expanding my original intent. I kept everything I was already doing but also added a list more like Prentiss's, one with a Main Index that is an author/title list with little or no commentary, though I provided an optional link to an annotation for works I found of particular interest or for which I had found other critiques. At the same time, I began to build individual bibliographies for certain authors when I saw the need or found the time. Thus far the only ones I've done--and the most obvious authors to begin with I thought--are Michael Joyce and Stuart Moulthrop. Currently, the individual bibliographies remain the least developed part of the site, although I hope to do more with the ones I've begun and also add a few other authors, with the next likely additions being such writers as Carolyn Guyer and Judy Malloy. The Eastgate authors are to date the only ones who've been around long enough, and active enough, to have much secondary literature published about them. The eighth and final section is one I hope will go away soon--a Bookmarks file of things to investigate in the near future. That is, if I stay caught up on maintenance there should be little need for bookmarks.

I still focus more on the sections for original fiction than the others, and always will. Finding good new writing is my main interest in developing the site. There are about 100 links at present, most of them to fiction, most of them to Web-based works. The entire site contains perhaps 250 links altogether, with another 100 or so bookmarked for exploration in the near future. The response has generally been positive, but rather than go into the details of that I'll provide a link to my "Clippings."

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