April 17, 2004

Kids use computers, inspire fiction

Rose spotted this New York Times article about a guy writing a digital epistolary novel. Nothing wrong with that yet...but wait.

A corporate e-mail message goes astray. Two young strangers flirt in cyberspace. They agree to meet. An assault ensues. And a mystery built on digital clues is born.

It's not a plot that breaks new ground. But then, the earnest new "novel" that it fuels, "Intimacies," by Eric Brown, is drawing notice more for its style than for its content.

A former English professor who teaches executives how to write, Mr. Brown, 59, calls "Intimacies" a digital epistolary novel, or DEN, terms that he has trademarked.

That would be the first bit of lameness. Trademarking something that is just a descriptive term? Come on. This sounds to me like another gloss on interactive fiction, which is by no means a new phenomenon. (The Times article goes on to cite a decade-spanning list of examples.)

So if the format is not that groundbreaking after all, and the format is more interesting than the content...then why should people pay attention to this guy? I mean, if someone wants to argue that this book is a great work of art, I am more than willing to seriously entertain that argument. But we just get all these qualifiers like "...more intriguing than 'Intimacies' itself is Mr. Brown's plan to begin selling a version of the software that he used to write it, one that will help fans of the form execute their own digital epistolary novels."

Call me crazy, but I think I care about content more than tie-ins. Rose also found this line somewhat infuriating:

Mr. Brown said he was inspired to create "Intimacies" after watching young people use e-mail and instant messaging.

It's not quite "I decided to co-opt youth culture", but it's close. It's hard to put into words quite what is so weak about this quote. Like -- to me, e-mail and IM are just a regular part of daily life. Sure, kids are doing it...but that's just because that's what everyone does now. It's like saying "I decided to write a book about phones because those teenagers sure do call each other a lot."

Of course, I must admit I'm immediately prejudiced against anyone whose website is www.greatamericannovel.com.

Posted by Francis at 12:00 AM