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The Southern Reach

Posted By tom On March 28, 2014 @ 3:32 pm In New Media, these are not books | No Comments

Or; Genette and Hypotext (you can research this yourselves).

Or (b); in which order do we read things?

Jeff Vandermeer has a new book out. [1] Annihilation. It’s the first in a trilogy about The Southern Reach. And a zone of earth that is out of kilter with the rest of the world (*zone*, used very very deliberately here) and a series of expeditions sent to explore and assess it. Any more is going to cross the border into Spoiler territory, so we’ll stay this side of the fence.

Annihilation has a digital ‘extension’. [2] http://join.thesouthernreach.com Designed by some smart people who will remain in the shadows for now, it’s a taster for the book, an incursion into the real world and a bridge back to Area X (the zone. Did I say Zone?). It’s worth twenty minutes of your time, and whether you’ve read the book or not, it stands up as a marketing, ‘attention’ tool, and a reflection of the themes of Vandermeer’s book (which it could be assumed is to be regarded as the Primary text to which this acts as a Secondary object).

The Problem of the Primary Platform.

The digital site is an example of unease and paranoid behaviour. The decisions you’re invited to take (and their consequences) are made more tangible by knowledge of the book and it’s contents. Which is not to say that they don’t make sense without foreknowledge, but southernreach.com operates in a curious slipstream between Primary and Secondary platform. Here’s the thing:

If the audience for the digital comprises the potential audience for the book, then it’s the first platform they find. It’s job is therefore to entice, to persuade them to part with their money and buy the book – the goal of the whole exercise. However, that audience don’t have anything to work with other than the digital content. So it also has to function as the Primary Platform for the period between first click and the reader’s encounter with Vandermeer’s book. It’s caught on a high wire between enticement and exposition and has to face in both directions at once.

That’s not to say that it isn’t successful. I played through the first half (or thereabouts) of the piece with a classroom of filmmakers, showing them how to think about story that moves from platform to platform, and how certain decisions might be made in the design of each. They drank it in, swallowed the premise hook line and sinker, and demanded more. Two bought the book during the session.


One thing that thesouthernreach.com shows us is how appreciating the edges of genre can provide focus; the act of defining a new space, the effort that takes, narrows something useful around it. We pay attention to the world being created.

An aside about IF.

It’s easy to be snobbish about Interactive Fiction. Really, it is. I am a snob. I’ve spent too long, too many hours (when all of the conversations are added together) explaining that digital storytelling need not equal Interactive Fiction (and by extension, Branching Hypertext Narrative). I’ve built up a reputation for being prickly around the topic -[3] Jon Ingold told me that he when he introduces [4] InkleWriter, he often gets a response that quotes me being snippy about something that’s identified as his work. For the record, I think InkleWriter is a smart tool. Like any tool, though, it’s usefulness is determined by the experience of it’s wielder. When wielded well, with intention and clarity, it draws in and provides focus.

Another aside.

Are we ready for something new?

If IF hasn’t changed in 20 years, if the range of work being produced is so woefully inadequate (there are too many designs, too many example of work made, for extended and enhanced books that rely on the mechanism and forget that the story has to FUNCTION DIFFERENTLY in that space) then why make really new work at all?

Because it is possible to make something new in that space. Information; the place of performance as central to navigating the text; the manipulation of that performance and the subsequent slipperiness of perception; all of these are part of the avant-garde of IF.

Because we can do better. IF is only the lowest-hanging-fruit if we let it be so.

Article printed from other things: http://www.tomabba.com/otherthings

URL to article: http://www.tomabba.com/otherthings/?p=838

URLs in this post:
[1] Annihilation: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Annihilation-The-Southern-Reach-Trilogy/dp/0007550715/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0
[2] http://join.thesouthernreach.com: http://join.thesouthernreach.com
[3] Jon Ingold: https://twitter.com/joningold
[4] InkleWriter: http://www.inklestudios.com/inklewriter/

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