Category Archives: walter_kirn

serial killer

Alex Lencicki is a blogger with experience serializing novels online. Today, in a comment to my Slate networked book post, he links to a wonderful diatribe on his site deconstructing the myriad ways in which Slate’s web novel experiment is so bad and so self-defeating — a pretty comprehensive list of dos and don’ts that Slate would do well to heed in the future. In a nutshell, Slate has taken a novel by a popular writer and apparently done everything within its power to make it hard to read and hard to find. Why exactly they did this is hard to figure out.
Summing up, Lencicki puts things nicely in context within the history of serial fiction:

The original 19 th century serials worked because they were optimized for newsprint, 21st century serials should be optimized for the way people use the web. People check blogs daily, they download pages to their phones, they print them out at work and take them downstairs on a smoke break. There’s plenty of room in all that activity to read a serial novel – in fact, that activity is well suited to the mode. But instead of issuing press releases and promising to revolutionize literature, publishers should focus on releasing the books so that people can read them online. It’s easy to get lost in a good book when the book adapts to you.

slate publishes a networked book

060313_Fict_Unbinding.gif Always full of surprises, Slate Magazine has launched an interesting literary experiment: a serial novel by Walter Kirn called (appropriately for a networked book) The Unbinding, to be published twice weekly, exclusively online, through June. From the original announcement:

On Monday, March 13, Slate will launch an exciting new publishing venture: an online novel written in real time, by award-winning novelist Walter Kirn. Installments of the novel, titled The Unbinding, will appear in Slate roughly twice a week from March through June. While novels have been serialized in mainstream online publications before, this is the first time a prominent novelist has published a genuine Net Novel–one that takes advantage of, and draws inspiration from, the capacities of the Internet. The Unbinding, a dark comedy set in the near future, is a compilation of “found documents”–online diary entries, e-mails, surveillance reports, etc. It will make use of the Internet’s unique capacity to respond to events as they happen, linking to documents and other Web sites. In other words, The Unbinding is conceived for the Web, rather than adapted to it.
Its publication also marks the debut of Slate’s fiction section. Over the past decade, there has been much discussion of the lack of literature being written on the Web. When Stephen King experimented with the medium in the year 2000, publishing a novel online called The Plant, readers were hampered by dial-up access. But the prevalence of broadband and increasing comfort with online reading makes the publication of a novel like The Unbinding possible.

The Unbinding seems to be straight-up serial fiction, mounted in Flash with downloadable PDFs available. There doesn’t appear to be anything set up for reader feedback. All in all, a rather conservative effort toward a networked book: not a great deal of attention paid to design, not playing much with medium, although the integration of other web genres in its narrative — the “found documents” — could be interesting (House of Leaves?). Still, considering the diminishing space for fiction in mainstream magazines, and the high visibility of this experiment, this is most welcome. The first installment is up: let’s take a look.