Thursday, May 29, 2008

Still the book...

I met the Guardian's games blogger Aleks Krotoski at Futuresonic a few weeks ago, and she was far more than just a "games blogger." In today's paper she turns her thoughts to fiction, and says: "there's a shift afoot in storytelling, one unavoidably inspired by computer games and new technologies." And well, there might be, but as she also indicates, you won't find it at Hay-on-Wye or in the literary pages. Hanif Kureishi was dismissive of her question regarding interactive literature, which would all be well and good, if I wasn't still trying to get through his latest highly disappointing novel (more of which when I've finished it). I've long bemoaned the fact that the web hasn't really thrown up much interesting in the way of literature, even if the critical culture of which I hope this blog is part, has benefited from the move to cyberspace; but perhaps it's just taking time. As a mass medium, I'm sure that the big web writing successes, interactive or otherwise, are likely to be at the populist end of the spectrum, at least for some time. Part of the problem is technological of course: it's only now that the average writer can do something with all the Web 2.0 tools available, without furrowing his/her brow over HTML (not usually a writers' primary skill); and though writers have always been asked to Hollywood I'm not sure they're as welcome in the plot development rooms of Grand Theft Auto IV. Yet, I agree with Aleks, that games offer quite a few useful tricks for would be innovative writers. I've a number of projects I've half tried over the years, but without a specific audience for them - I've never really invested the necessary time (and it is time) - to make them happen. As for collaboration, I've a book of Jerry Cornelius stories before me, "The New Nature of the Catastrophe", very few of which are written by his maker, Michael Moorcock. Nothing new under the sun it seems. Over the page (and I'd advise all literary types to stray to the Guardian's technology section now and then), Victor Keegan points out that "books are thriving on the internet." Which is one way of saying that the nature of the catastrophe facing the publishing industry isn't necessarily the same as that which the music industry has failed so badly to deal with. The reading experience - i.e. the book - has both "first mover" advantage and is, I'd suggest, still a "killer app;" though "Kindles" etc. are likely - eventually to have some kind of niche. Keegan mentions audio books and the success of and wonders about rivals - there's quite a range at eMusic, he might want to try. A few years ago I was roped into a project that Tony Wilson was planning, allowing downloads of stories (as well as music) for a few pence, and I even went as far as writing and recording a first "episode" of a continuing narrative . It's an idea whose time may well have come... yet, like everything on the web, the time it takes to make it good, is something that a writer needs to be paid for, just as much as a software engineer. All of this comes a few days after Robert McCrum's farewell soliloquy from 10 years at the helm of the Observer's literary pages. At least 3 of his 10 "highlights" were technological, and yet I wonder about that. Blogs, Amazon and ebook readers don't any kind of revolution make. It's hardly, Picasso, Stravinsky and Joyce, is it? If you're still calling it technology, I guess, you're still scared to use it. Aleks point, extrapolated, is that these are tools, and writer, use them. One final point, that came to mind reading another article in the Guardian, saying that the Olympics' need for power is going to limit the economic growth of the city of London, particularly in relation to data centres (i.e. banks of computers). We are so blissfully unaware of the real cost of "cyberspace" - all those servers running our blogs, eShops and videos - are served by water and electricity; and in the future, as those costs rise, then just as people are beginning to question the diversion of land to biofuels instead of wheat; what happens if we are more concerned with keeping our web servers running than our water and electricity? I'm going to go stock up on the candles.

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