Consider two books: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Not the printed books, the apps – software for mobiles and the iPad. The Wolf Hall app is a thing of beauty. It contains the text, of course, but readers can also move slickly between the text, family trees of the Tudors and the Yorkists, extra articles by Mantel and a fascinating video discussion between the novelist and historian David Starkey. All of which gives a deeper and richer understanding of the novel’s historical context and its characters.
But this is nothing compared to Alice for the iPad. You can throw tarts at the Queen of Hearts, help the Caterpillar smoke his hookah pipe, make Alice grow as big as a house and then shrink again. You can watch as “the Mad Hatter gets even madder”, and throw pepper at the Duchess. Over the 52 pages of the app there are 20 animated scenes. Each illustration has been taken from the original book and has been made gravity-aware, responding to a shake, tilt or the touch of a finger. The story is never the same twice, because users are Alice’s guide through Wonderland. The Caterpillar will smoke his hookah in a new way when you tilt your iPad, or you can throw more pepper the second time around.
I’m rather surprised that, given how the SFF community has dominated the literary blogopshere, and made the most of modern technology, the genre has been slow at thinking of interesting methods in exploring narratives on the latest wave of iPads and ereaders.
When Joe Abercrombie made a request – “what styles of additional content would persuade you to part with a little more of your hard-earned and give you the sense you got value for money?” – a good deal of responses were: just give us the (cheap) ebook; less fancy stuff.
Given that science fiction especially is the genre of thinking up plausable new ideas, where is the next generation of interesting media coming from? Where is the smash-up i-RPG-film-soundtrack-interactive-reading experience? You’re telling me that a historical novel and a children’s book is ahead of the literature of ideas in grabbing all the tech headlines?
Perhaps these sorts of changes are driven by publishers with huge budgets to blow on development, and SFF rarely gets the kind of money necessary. Or maybe I was right after all.