Welcome to Belleville

You fly in on the red-eye to save a little money on the fare. The plane lands just after sunrise. You prefer to travel light, so all you have is a backpack and a carry-on sized suitcase with rollers. The one novel you brought with you on the flight you finish on the train from the airport to the city center.

The air in the underground station is warm and humid. You smell oil and machines. The line of disembarking passengers leads to an escalator that brings you up to a brightly lit hall with a vaulted ceiling. Thousands of voices and footsteps echo dully in the enormous space. This is the main concourse in the city’s largest train station.

The concourse looks more like a shopping mall than a train station. You pass cafés, delis, and newsstands, then a pharmacy and the entrance to a major brand department store.

You decide you need a cup of coffee and step into a café. You would prefer a proper coffee shop, of course, but you need the caffeine more than you need a great coffee experience.

The cashier hands you an empty paper cup and points you to a shelf in the back corner where two carafes with the push-button pumps sit. You press the top of the carafe not marked “Decaf” and it pisses a stream of black liquid into your paper cut. It’s hot, at least.

Back in the concourse, you sip the mostly tasteless liquid as you search for the connection to the subway that will take you to Belleville.

You see a sign above a shop marked “Underground Books.” You recall the paperback you finished on the train. The thought of not having something to read depresses you. You decide to go into the book store to see if you can’t find something worth your time.

The shop is narrow and crammed with books on shelves that are only accessible from a ladder. You wander down one row keeping an eye out for the literature section. When you find it, you pause and allow your eyes to drift over the titles. One of the titles appeals to you: Into the Labyrinth. You reach for the book and take it from the shelf.

Choose an Action:

  1. Turn the book over and read the publisher’s blurb on the back cover.
  2. Look at the cover.
  3. Turn to a random page.

The publisher’s blurb

You aren’t the type of reader who looks at covers; instead you look at the back of the book to read the publisher’s blurb.

Jacob Letham wakes up on an airplane bound for a city that might be New York or Montréal or any other North American city. He has lost his memory. He doesn’t even know his own name. From a small notebook in his bag he learns that he will be spending the next few months as a guest at a house called the Center run by a man know as Jack Eden. Jacob begins to reconstruct his past from the things he brought with him to the Center -- a laptop computer, an mp3 recorder, a hand-written journal --, but he does not know with any certainty whether the information on these memory devices is real or made up.

Jacob begins writing a book -- is it a memoir or a novel? He starts to suspect that the story he is writing may actually have happened. When characters in his novel start showing up in real life, he learns more about his identity than he wanted to know. One night a woman who identifies herself only as Jill knocks on Jacob’s door and asks him for protection from unknown pursuers. When Jill’s body is discovered in the alley behind the Center, Jacob finds himself caught in a web of intrigue involving assassination plots, high technology, and the threat of global destruction.

“Filled with amazing twists and turns, defying the readers expectations, Donavan Hall has created a novel of truly labyrinthine proportions.” --The Liberty Gazette

It might be interesting, you think. A character with memory loss trying to work out his real identity is probably the most overused, hackneyed plot device. You wonder why the author selected that rather than something more original; still, you like stories where the line between reality and fiction are blurred.

You would prefer something a little more “high concept” than this, but before putting the book back on the shelf, you consider your options.

Now what?

  1. What the hell, buy the book.
  2. It’s not your thing. You put the book back. Time to go to Belleville.

The cover

The cover itself is simple enough. The title of the book in italic font, the author’s name below in the same font, but smaller. You read: “a continuous open structure novel by Donavan Hall.” What’s a continuous novel, you wonder? Open structure? Like a stadium?

You note the author’s name: Donavan Hall. You’ve never heard of him. There are so many books published these days. So many new authors, it’s impossible to keep up with everything unless you are a book professional.

You decide to…

  1. Buy the book.
  2. Put the book back on the shelf.


WARNING: Do not read this novel from beginning to end! Start in the middle. Start at the end, or at the beginning (if you must). The choice is yours. The "Author" created this work of fiction as an ever expanding textual labyrinth. The "Author" encourages, no urges (demands!), the "Reader" to wander through this unfolding text in a nonlinear (wandering) fashion. Links have been placed in the text as jumping-off points. Make use of them. Annotations collected near the end of the book will help guide You as you follow your own course through this web of text. The "Author" also offers to exchange roles with the "Reader": should You be inclined to correct and expand this text, please do so and share it with another reader.

Buy the book

You take Into the Labyrinth to the front of the shop and purchase it from a bored clerk who can’t even be bothered to insist that you have a nice day. You decline a bag for the book and carry it back out into the station concourse.

You see a sign for the subway line to Belleville. After purchasing a MetroCard you go to the turnstile, swipe your card and head toward the platform. You wonder how long it will take for the next train to arrive.

The subway station echoes with the sound of distant trains rumbling and screeching. Only a few people mill around on the platform. Not too far from where you are standing presently is a bench. You think that it might be nice to sit, but in order to sit you would have to take off your backpack. You are reluctant to take off the backpack because you don’t want to be bothered with putting it back on when the train arrives. You aren’t sure how long the train will stop after it arrives.

Despite the ache in your back, it’s just too much trouble to sit down, you think. Might as well tough it out. Besides, you can sit inside the train.

You check your watch — a nervous habit. It’s only been five minutes since you last glanced at the time piece strapped to your wrist.

When you decided that standing wasn’t such a bad idea, you thought the train would probably be arriving at any moment. Now in addition to your back aching, your legs are starting to hurt. So you walk over to the bench dragging your luggage behind you. You remove your backpack and set it on the bench and plop down beside it. It feels good to get that weight off your back. You’ve got a little pain at the base of your spine, so you try to work out the pain by stretching and massaging the spot with your fingers.

You feel a little better now. You hear the sound of an approaching train, but you quickly realize that the train is running on the opposite track. The noise of the train is loud. The whole station rumbles. You feel the vibration through the bench. The train pauses for a few seconds as the doors open and people get off and on. You hear a voice "Watch out for the closing doors, please." Then you hear the whine of the electric motors and the train starts up again. Not a long stop, you think. There is no sign of your train yet.

Now what?

  1. Start reading the book.
  2. Take a short nap.

Start reading the book

Opening your backpack you take out the copy of Into the Labyrinth that you just purchased a few minutes ago.

The train arrives…

  1. Collect your things and climb aboard.

Take a short nap

You are so tired. Unable to sleep on the plane, you haven’t slept since you left nearly twenty-four hours ago. You’ve been going and going. Now you are so close to your destination. Just a train ride away and then you’ll be at the apartment you leased. You’ve heard that the best thing to do when when traveling is just to keep moving and stay awake and get onto the local clock as soon as possible. But you figure that a short nap couldn’t hurt. You can barely keep your eyes open. And the train will be so loud that there’s no possible way that you’ll sleep through its arrival.

Catherine Street

The Catherine Street stop in Belleville is next. You open your backpack and slip the book into the front pouch. Then you stand up and put on your backpack and grab your luggage and roll it toward the door. The train begins to decelerate and you have to grab the pole to keep from tipping over.

“Watch your step there man,” says a guy in a black Yankee’s cap.

You nod and smile, but don’t say anything. The train comes to a full stop and then the doors open. You step out of the train. A crowd of people waiting at the door to get on don’t seem to be willing to wait for you to get completely out of the way before they start pushing their way past you.

You navigate your way out of the station and up the stairs to street level by following the signs. The morning is cool and bright. The street corner is busy with morning traffic and people heading to work.

You get your bearings and walk down Catherine to Hartnell Avenue. At the corner you stop and dig the envelop with the address and key from your backpack. 308 Hartnell Ave. Apartment 2C.

308 isn’t far from the corner. The entrance is up a short flight of stone steps and flanked with a set of gargoyles. The white door has a single lock and a large brass knob.

There are two keys on the ring. Your first guess is the correct one. The door opens to a short foyer with mailboxes on one side. The inside door isn’t locked.

A staircase leads up to the second floor. The stairs are wooden and the hand rails are smooth and well worn. You find a door marked 2C at the end of the hallway. The other key fits the lock.

You flip the light switch and immediately on your left see the kitchen. A short hallway leads to a small front room. Separating the front room from the nearly identical back room is a bathroom on the right and a closet on the left.

You park your suitcase next to the small dining table and drop the backpack onto the couch which runs along the west wall. In the northeast corner is an entertainment center and a flatscreen television.

You take a look in the bathroom. Small, but clean. Then you step into the backroom. It’s about the same size as the front room. There is a bed along the north wall and a desk in the southeast corner.

You step back into the front room and wonder what you should do next. You are tired. You could sleep. But you are also hungry.

You check in the kitchen. There is a box of cereal in the cabinet. You open the refrigerator. The milk is expired. You don’t even bother sniffing it. Aside from a few cans of soda, three bottles of Brooklyn Brown Ale, and an orange, there isn’t much in the fridge.

You decide too…

  1. Eat the orange.
  2. Explore the neighborhood.
  3. You’re tired. Take a nap.

The Man in Black

Into the Labyrinth is not what you are in the mood for today. You put the book back on the shelf and look at your watch. It’s getting late. You leave the bookstore and head for the subway station.

As you wait for the train, a man dressed in a black hat and a black coat stands next to you on the platform. He’s standing closer than he should be. He’s essentially invading your space. It’s not like it is crowded on the platform and there is no where else for him to stand. You don’t feel like saying anything to the man, so you resolve just to move over, but before you do, the man says, “I saw you in the bookstore.”

You aren’t sure what to say in response. You glance sideways at the man. He’s staring straight ahead, not looking at you at all.

After a long silence the man says, “I also saw what book you were looking at.”

You begin, “Look I don’t know what this is about, but—”

He cuts you off. “Why didn’t you buy the book?” he asks.

This question baffles you. Why should this man care whether you bought the book or not? What possible difference could it make to him? You decide to play dumb. “What book?”

“Listen, there’s not much time,” he says.

“What’s the rush?” you say unable to keep a hint of sarcasm from creeping into your tone.

“Take this,” he says.

From inside his black coat he slips out a fat, cloth-bound volume and hands it to you. You glance at the cover. You recognize it. It’s a copy of Into the Labyrinth. You give the man a puzzled look.

“No, not here,” he says. “Just put it away. Don’t look at it until you are in a safe place.”

"Safe place?" you ask.

But the man doesn’t have anything to say on this topic.

The man says, “Don’t follow me. Get on the next train.”

“What’s this all about?” you ask. But the man is already walking away.

You take the train to Belleville and look for the apartment you will be staying in for the next month.

In Belleville, you make your way to the corner of Catherine to Hartnell Avenue. At the corner you stop and dig the envelop with the address and key from your backpack. 308 Hartnell Ave. Apartment 2C.

308 isn’t far from the corner. The entrance is up a short flight of stone steps and flanked with a set of gargoyles. The white door has a single lock and a large brass knob.

There are two keys on the ring. You try the door and you find it isn’t locked. You step into a small foyer with mailboxes on one side. There is another door. This one is locked. You try one of the keys. It’s not right. You try the other and the door opens.

A staircase leads up to the second floor. The stairs are wooden and the hand rails are smooth and well worn. You find a door marked 2C at the end of the hallway. The other key fits the lock.

You flip the light switch and immediately to your left you see the kitchen. A short hallway leads to a small front room. Separating the front room from the nearly identical back room is a bathroom on the right and a closet on the left.

You park your suitcase next to the small dining table and drop the backpack onto the couch which runs along the west wall. In the northeast corner is an entertainment center and a flatscreen television.

You take a look in the bathroom. Small, but clean. Then you step into the backroom. It’s about the same size as the front room. There is a bed along the north wall and a desk in the southeast corner.

You step back into the front room and wonder what you should do next. You are tired. You could sleep. But you are also hungry.

You check in the kitchen. There is a box of cereal in the cabinet. You open the refrigerator. The milk is expired. You don’t even bother sniffing it. Aside from a few cans of soda, two bottles of Brooklyn Lager, and a green apple; there isn’t much in the fridge.

What Next?

  1. Get forty winks.
  2. Eat the apple.
  3. Explore the neighborhood.

North on Troughton Street

You still feel a bit restless and decide that you are going to ignore your fatigue and go out and explore the neighborhood that will be your home for the next month.

You are a fan of coffee shops and cafés, so you are eager to find out if there is good coffee nearby.

You pocket the set of keys and open the zipper pocket on your backpack. You don’t want to walk around with the whole backpack, but you’d like to have something to read. Now you are starting to wish you bought that copy of Into the Labyrinth.

You grab your iPhone and leave the apartment, checking to see that the door is properly locked behind you.

You walk down Hartnell Ave. and go north on Troughton Street. You walk a few blocks and see a place that just might fit the bill. It’s called Vox Pop.

Choose an action:

  1. Continue walking.
  2. Go into Vox Pop.

A Second Chance

You enter the café. After a moment or two you’ve sized up the place. It’s a real café, not just a coffee shop. In the rear of the café are several book shelves. At the bar you notice three taps for draft beer. You see the espresso machine behind the counter.

You step up to the counter and are about order, but instead you ask if the books in the back of the café are for sale.

“Yep,” he says. “If you find anything you want, just bring it up here and I can help. Did you want some coffee or something?”

It’s a bit early for beer so you decide to order a shot of espresso and a bagel. “Do you have sparkling water?” you ask. The barista says they do.

It takes the barista a couple of minutes to make your espresso. You take the time to have a closer look at the place. There are a row of tables along the east wall and set of high tables on the north, street side along the full length plate glass windows. You don’t count, but it appears that there about ten people in the café.

You thank the barista. Tucking the book under your arm, you carry the bagel and espresso to a nearby table and set the items down. You return for the bottle of San Pellegrino and ask for a glass of ice which the barista gets for you straight away.

When you finally sit down the crema has almost dissolved back into the black liquid of the espresso, but nonetheless, it’s still hot. You knock back the espresso and take a bite of bagel.

You sit for a moment chewing your bagel, looking around the café noticing more details. A newspaper stand near the entrance with a selection of national and internal papers including The New Socialist and Le Monde. A community bulletin board hangs on the west wall near a square table with two carafes (presumably filled with milk and half and half), a stack of napkins, some stirrers and a three bins with different types of sweetener. You notice in the very back of the café, beyond the bookshelves, is a children’s playroom.

This place is too good to be true, you think. Coffee, beer, books, food, and a play area for children (you like children). This is a regular community center.

You look back down at your table. You reach for your copy of Into the Labyrinth and start reading.

What next?

  1. ?
  2. ?

Explore the neighborhood

You still feel a bit restless and decide that you are going to ignore your fatigue and go out and explore the neighborhood that will be your home for the next month.

You are a fan of coffee shops and cafés, so you are eager to find out if there is good coffee nearby.

You pocket the set of keys and open the zipper pocket on your backpack. You don’t want to walk around with the whole backpack, but you’d like to have something to read. You grab the copy of "Into the Labyrinth" and your iPhone and leave the apartment, checking to see that the door is properly locked behind you.

You walk down Hartnell Ave. and go north on Troughton Street. You walk a few blocks and see a place that just might fit the bill. It’s called Vox Pop.

Choose an action:

  1. Enter Vox Pop.
  2. Try your luck elsewhere.

Eat the Orange

The Zen Master says: "Die today and get on with the rest of your life." He’s not talking about living in some afterlife either. The paradoxical trick of living is to die somehow without it actually killing you. The purpose of this is to just get death out of the way. We can’t we just leave death hanging out there in front of us and only confront it or deal with it when the time comes? Why do we need all this elaborate preparation?

Animals that live in ignorance of their coming deaths do not struggle with the pain and fear of passing out of existence. Because we know what’s coming, we can’t just ignore death. For some people death is easier to deal with than others. This is an issue of wiring and chemicals. Some people brains are wired such that death doesn’t phase them. They have the right kind of chemical cocktail in their systems that counteract the kind of despairing fear that grips a person when they know they are going to die and there’s nothing they can do about it. For these lucky souls, confronting death is no more trouble than a trip to the grocery store. Just another thing to do. Okay, so its the last thing you’ll ever do, but once you’ve done it you don’t care that there’s nothing left or about all those things you’ve left undone.

The present paradox is this. You’re scared to death of dying, yet killing yourself is a terrifying temptation. Paradoxical? The fear of dying, that constant dread that blackens life seems unbearable. The only way to end the fear and the blackness is to jump. Once you jump, you can’t fear death. How many dead people are afraid of dying?

The trick then is to figure out how to follow the advice of the Zen Master.

Gloucester in King Lear stumbled onto a solution. Put on a blindfold. Then convince yourself that you’ll be led to a precipice. Jump expecting that you’ll plummet hundreds of feet and be shattered on jagged rocks below. Then be completely surprised when you find yourself face down in a muddy bog, dirty and smelly, but basically unscathed with the suicide itch scratched, ready to get on with the business of living.

You finish pealing the orange and break the sections apart onto a plate you’ve taken from a shelf in the kitchen. You place the first section into your mouth. The fruit tastes good. You eagerly consume the rest.

After washing your hands and face. You feel refreshed enough that you decide to go for a walk.


  1. Go for a walk.

An overture to sleep

You lie down on the bed and try to get comfortable. You are exhausted, but because it is light out you know you are going to have trouble falling asleep. At one point you get up and see if you can’t adjust the curtains better. You lay back down on your other side and try putting a pillow on your head. You let your mind drift and before long you sense that you are on the edge of sleep, but this realization is enough to wake you up again.

You lay there trying not to think about anything -- a task that is more difficult than it sounds. Eventually, your mind starts to drift.

For a long time you use to go to bed early. The purpose of this was so that you would have plenty of time to read in bed. However, you were so good at falling asleep that as soon as you laid down, you’d nod off before you had time to say, "I’m falling asleep." But then you’d shake yourself awake thinking that you were still awake and that you needed to put away the book you were reading so that it wouldn’t fall from your hands and become dented or bent when it hit the floor.


  1. Keep trying to fall asleep.

Dream Life

Have you ever dreamed you were awake and the dream was so real that you actually thought you were awake?

I had this dream once. I got out of bed, went to the bathroom to piss, brushed my teeth, splashed water on my face, pulled my rags on, shoveled some cereal into my mouth, then rode the train all the way into the City. Everything was like normal. Every detail was the same in my dream as it would have been if I were awake. So the content of the dream itself wasn’t extraordinary. I didn’t fly or have sex with a beautiful woman in Central Park. What is extraordinary is that I couldn’t tell I was dreaming. As soon as I stepped into my cubicle at work, I woke up. Whoa, massive disorientation. I was like -- how did I end up back in bed?

I jumped up checked the clock, doubled checked the calendar. I decided that what I had just experienced was a dream. So I started getting myself ready for work just the way I did in my dream. Without really intending to I repeated each step of my morning ritual exactly as I dreamed it. The only difference was that when I got to my cubicle, I wasn’t rewound and sent back to my bed. I had to go through the entire day. That night I went to bed and slept all night.

I woke up the next morning and remembered the dream I had had the previous day. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between my memory of the dream and my memory of being awake. So what’s the difference? Could it be that waking life is just the memory of a dream that doesn’t end?


  1. You fall into a deeper sleep.

The Derelict Spacecraft 1

From the pilot’s seat of your moonrunner, you survey the exterior of the derelict spacecraft. You have matched the velocity of the derelict craft so that it appears to hang motionless in front of you, a bright jewel against the blackness of the void.

Before you, through the main window of your shuttle you can see the derelict craft. It is an elongated octagon. The nose of the craft tapers to wing-like flanks. In the rear of the ship are two large engine cones. Clearly, the craft was designed for atmospheric flight as well as traversing interplanetary space.

The ship is old. The exterior is worn and battered. You wonder if it pre-dates the interplanetary war, but you think that is not likely, since that war lasted over a hundred years.

As you approach you can see the insignia on the craft. It’s a Terraquean vessel. The other markings on the craft don’t make any sense to you.

You have, of course, heard of Terraquea; the ur-planet of blue and green where human life began, but to you seeing a Terraquean ship is like seeing something from a legend or a myth. Like finding the bones of a unicorn or a centaur in the dessert.


  1. Dock Shuttle

The Derelict Spacecraft 2

You look out your shuttle’s forward portal and view the exterior of the derelict craft.

The derelict craft is large, about ten times the size of your shuttle. It is shaped like an elongated octagon. The narrow forward part of the craft has an aerodynamically designed pilot house. The craft flares out at the rear into wing-like flanks. You note fins and the outline of rudders. Clearly this craft was designed for atmospheric flight as well as interplanetary journeys.

From this angle you don’t see any obvious weaponry. There is no clear indication what purpose the ship might have served. A private transport ship? A commercial cruiser.

The ship shows every sign of age. The exterior is worn and battered from collision with space debris. One wing of the ship appears to have some kind of burn or blast mark, a dusting of radial black streaks. Even though the ship is scarred, it is still intact. Few ships from the era of the interplanetary war survived intact. All of the old ships in the vicinity of Old Earth were wrecks, split apart and charred husks.

How old is the ship, you wonder? Could it pre-date the war? Not with the distress beacon broadcasting like that. No. Whatever happened to the ship to cause it to be in such a crazy orbit happened after the war ended.

As your shuttle rises above the derelict craft you see a number of markings on the wings of the craft. One large blue circle embedded with a field of stars confirms that this ship was originally from Terraquea, the name by which your ancestors called Old Earth. The rest of the markings on the craft are in an alphabet that you do not recognize.


1. Ask Virgil about markings (alphabet). ("The Ship’s Markings")

The Ship’s Markings

"What do you make of the markings on the ship, Virgil?" you ask your shipboard computer.

"From the small sample of letters, I conclude that they are characters from the Cyrillic alphabet."

"Do you know what they mean?" you ask your shipboard computer.

"Searching..." and after a few moments Virgil chimes, "The closest match in Modern New Speak is ’Labyrinth.’"

You are familiar with the word ’labyrinth’ or Cretan labyrinth from a reference in Moby Dick, a description of the tattoo on Queequeg’s arm:

"The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise shade-- owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times-- this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt."

You visually identify the craft’s airlock. You toggle a viewer on your control console to display an image of the airlock. The image relayed to the screen is a view from your own airlock. You set the navigation computer to track the airlock. You initiate the automatic docking procedure. After a few minutes you hear the sound of your shuttle and the derelict craft coming into gentle contact along with a gentle bounce as your shuttle’s motion abruptly locks with that of the ship. The exterior of you shuttle’s airlock automatically resizes to fit the one on the derelict craft.


1. Dock Shuttle

Dock Shuttle

Through the forward port, you visually locate the small circular relief of the ship’s airlock out on the underbelly of the starboard wing about ten meters from the edge of the cargo bay doors. From the size of the cargo bay doors, you wonder if you wouldn’t be able to fly your shuttle into the cargo bay. Of course you would have to find a way of opening the derelict ship’s cargo bay doors. Then you wonder if the derelict ship could even be made to function after all these years. What if the ship was still pilotable? What if it still had fuel? The idea excites you. What an incredible find.

Coming back to reality from your daydream, you reach out to the control console and toggle a viewer on that displays a color image of the derelict craft with an over lay of cross-hairs. The view relayed to the viewer screen is relayed from a camera on the underside of your shuttle. You use a small joystick to center the cross-hairs on the derelict ship’s airlock. When you have the airlock centered you hit a button next to the joystick. This locks the viewer screen with the airlock as the target. You can now initiate automatic docking procedures. Virgil will do the rest.

After a few minutes you feel a gentle bump and hear the reverberation of your shuttle coming in gentle contact with the derelict craft. A series of four hollow clunking sounds complete the docking procedure tethering your shuttle to the underside starboard wing of the derelict craft.

You unstrap yourself, push gently up and glide away from the pilot’s seat. You tap the ceiling of the shuttle with your hands pushing down. After a few moments, the magnets in the soles of your boots secure you to the shuttle deck.


1. Go to the airlock. ("The Airlock")

The Airlock

Your shuttle has a full atmosphere of air. Until you know if the other craft has air you’ll need to put on your helmet and an air pack.

Your helmet and airpack are in place. You are ready to enter your airlock.


1. Board the derelict spacecraft. ("Cargo Bay")

Cargo Bay

You get through the airlock and find yourself in a large storage compartment, a cargo bay. The containers are strapped down so that they don’t float in the weightlessness. Some of the containers are bolted down. You examine one of the containers. It’s sealed. You’ll have to break the seal to find out what’s inside. You estimate that there are forty or fifty containers in the cargo bay.

You nose around and discover there are four exits from the cargo bay. You know from your visual inspection of the exterior of the craft that aft is to your left and that the fore is to your right. You’ve approached the ship from the starboard, so larboard is straight ahead.


1. Go left (aft). ("Engine Room")

Engine Room

You enter the engine room. Spanning the entire starboard side of the room is a wall of gauges, switches, and levers. There is an access port on the aft bulkhead, presumedly it leads to the service shafts for the engines themselves.

The first thing you do is ascertain the engine type. It’s an old-style mirror fusion engine using deuterium and tritium for fuel. You search for the fuel gauge. The tanks are not full, but they aren’t empty either. The design of the engine is compact. It has a single electrical power plant that runs the superconducting magnets. You see that the argon liquifiers are off line. They would be since the power plant is shut down.

You find the reset switch for the power plant. You press the switch. Nothing happens.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do with this old technology. You have a general understanding of how it works, but it’s too complex to fix on your own. You decide to abandon the engine room.

You could run a power cable from your shuttle, but that would require you first activate the life support systems for the derelict craft. Unless you can get, at the minimum, a backup generator running.

That’s it. Of course, life support would have it’s own power supply.

Along the larboard bulkhead is another control panel. You examine it. You see gauges for O2 and N2. The temperature gauge reads 248 Kelvin. There must be some kind of heater running. Perhaps its chemical? No. Not after all these years. Some backup power system must be functioning to keep the ship this warm. Of course, 248 Kelvin isn’t warm. You keep your shuttle and ship at a cool but comfortable 289 Kelvin.

You don’t see any obvious way of turning on life support. You decide your best bet is to try to reactivate the ship’s computer and have it reactivate everything for you rather than try to figure out how to do it manually. If the ship’s heaters are running, then there should be enough power for the ship’s computer.

You leave the engine room, cross the cargo bay and enter the crew’s quarters.


1. Enter the crew’s quarters. ("Crew’s Quarters")

Crew’s Quarters

The crew’s quarters consists of four sleeping berths recessed into the wall. The side panel of one of them is open.

Suddenly you notice something about the construction of the ship that hadn’t yet sunk in. The ship’s designed so that the assumed direction of gravity would be directly to the aft. The berth’s are lengthwise so that from your orientation it appears that a person would enter them standing up. Of course the ship would be constructed this way. With the mirror fusion engine the ship would probably spend half of its voyage in constant acceleration and the other half in constant deceleration. Not like your own ship with it’s revolving habitat ring to supply the sensation of gravity during long periods of constant velocity.

Bolted to the wall is a treadmill. Presumedly the crew would use it for exercise on their long voyages. You see other storage compartments. There is a radiation oven for cooking food. A water purifier intake and an outlet. Any water on board ship would be frozen solid at these temperatures.

You wonder what happened to the crew. You find the controls for the closed berths. Apprehensively you open one of the berths and find it empty (much to your relief).

The only other exit from this room is to the fore of the ship. You reason that the bridge is beyond the door.


1. Enter the Bridge. ("The Bridge")

The Bridge

As you suspected you find yourself on the bridge of the derelict ship. The mystery of what happened to the crew is solved. All three of them are on the bridge. The pilot is strapped into his seat. Another body hovers just above and to the right of you. Another body is slumped over a navigation console on the larboard side of the the bridge. Given the absence of gravity, you assume the body must be frozen in place. Assuming you do get the main power on, you’ll have to do something with the bodies. Give them a proper space "burial".

Of course you don’t know why they are dead or what killed them.

To get at the controls you have to share space with the dead pilot/captain. The controls are unfamiliar to you and labeled in a language you don’t understand. How are you going to figure this out? You could try just randomly pushing buttons to see if anything happens. Not very smart, you think; and not likely to lead to any productive outcome.

You have to figure out how to get the power on. The sleeper in the cryo-stasis chamber will die if you don’t bring the power back online, or provide enough power to the cyro-unit to allow the auto-resuscitation systems to work properly.

Have you checked the charge on your flashlight? How’s the old oxygen supply holding up? Pretty good?

What’s there to look at on the bridge? The pilot’s chair is occupied with the body on the dead pilot. You can examine the pilot’s console, but it doesn’t make sense to you. The navigation console is completely dead; no help there.

You notice that the floating body is holding something. Looks like some cable cutters. You notice a panel has been removed from the wall. You examine the panel and inside you see that a cable has been sheared in two.

Presumedly, the dead man cut this line. You reason that the ship’s power plant would have detected the open circuit and shut down, perhaps throwing a breaker.


1. Fix the mains. ("Countdown")


You fix the break in the mains. You return to the engine room and hit the reset switch. Violà! The ship comes to life. The lights come on. Life support hisses on blowing air from the vents. But something’s wrong. You hear the blaring of a klaxon. Red warning lights flash. A computer voice warns you that the ship’s auto destruct sequence has been disrupted and will automatically restart in ninety seconds if the deauthorization code is not entered within that time.

Your mind races. How much time do you have? Can you figure out what the deauthorization code is in ninety seconds? Ask Virgil about it. Virgil, your own on board ship’s computer, tells you that the deauthorization code must be entered by the captain and the first mate.

Not bloody likely, you think, given that they are both dead. Virgil and you agree that the best course of action is to return to your shuttle and get as far away as possible, as fast as possible. It will take you at least 90 seconds to get back through the airlocks.

It’s only after you reestablish the connection to the mains and bring the ship’s computer online that you realize that they last order issued by the now dead captain of the derelict craft was to initiate the autodestruct.

Your mind races. Why would they want to destroy their own ship? What happened to interrupt the countdown?

You have two options. You can stay and die in a fiery explosion or you can return to your shuttle and try to escape the fireball by rocketing away at top speed.


1. Return to your shuttle. ("Retreat to Safety")

2. Prepare to meet your maker.

Retreat to Safety

You ask Virgil how much time is left. Your shuttle speeds away from the derelict ship, but you can see a small imagine of the derelict ship in the viewer on your console.

"Ten seconds," says Virgil.

"Will we be far enough away?" you ask.

Virgil drones, "Insufficient data for prognostication."

"A simple, I don’t know would suffice, Virgil," you say.

Ten seconds pass.

The ship doesn’t blow up. You ask Virgil if the fuse on the auto-destruct was a dud. He drones his usual answer indicating his ignorance.

You wait an hour. Two hours. You ask Virgil if there’s anyway to tell if it’s safe to return to the ship.

Virgil tells you that the ship is fully powered. You speculate that maybe the dead crew member in the engine compartment was successful in disabling the auto-destruct.

You decide to redock your shuttle.

The first place you go after redocking is to the ship’s bridge. You still can’t read the Cyrillic writing on the screens and controls.

Virgil says, "According to the information displayed on the screen, there is a malfunction in the communication system between the bridge and the engine room."

"The crew man with the cutters," you say. "He figured out how to prevent the auto-destruct. The question is if we repair the ship. Will the auto-destruct reset?"

"Insufficient..." Virgil drones.

The first thing you do before trying to repair the ship is to collect the bodies of the dead crew members. Where do you put them? There’s only one cryo-sleeper and that’s being used. You decide the best thing to do is empty one of the containers in the cargo hold and seal the bodies in there. You open the container, breaking the seal, and find that it’s full of boxes. Each of the little boxes contain vials of liquid. The vials, according to Virgil, are labeled with some kind of chemical name.

You are tired and hungry. You return to your shuttle. You eat and then fall asleep.


1. You dream. ("Dreams of Your Father")

Dreams of Your Father

You are fatigued. Virgil reminds you that it has been twenty hours since you slept. You have stored the bodies of the dead crew members in a container in the cargohold. You put the container in the airlock. You ask Virgil about the burial rites of a few hundred years ago. Virgil locates a generic burial text. It’s not in Russian, but you don’t speak Russian. (Perhaps the language is Bulgarian, not Russian.) Virgil plays a recording of Pachabel’s Canon as you open the airlock and push the container into space.

The derelict ship is now empty of dead bodies. You are too tired to think straight so you climb into your berth on your shuttle.

As you sleep, you dream about your father. He had been ill for a long time back on Earth. Throughout the early stages of his illness he had stayed in Franca where you were born. However, he moved to Orlandia where you were stationed prior to your departure for Atalanta, the orbital station where the Endeavor was being constructed.

Your father had died from complications following a surgical procedure. You were unable to return to Travis to visit him prior to the surgery. When you did return to Travis several months after his death, you visited your family in Franca, but there was no point to returning to Orlandia. Your father’s personal belongings had been sent to a storage facility in Franca. You visited the cubicle that held the few containers of your father’s possessions. He had a number of books, actual printed books, a rarity. There was one book that he had marked for you. You have it with you on the shuttle. You keep the book sealed in a protective container and have taken it with you on this voyage. You keep reading the book, although much of it mystifies you. You have spent hours searching through historical records to uncover information about whales and whaling, but most extant source refer you back to the book that is in your possession: Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It’s written in an archaic language that is similar to your own. It’s only through much study of Archaic English that you have learned to read the book. You are aided by the notes written in the margins in your father’s thin, spidery hand.

You had had regular vee-chats with your father prior to his death. The only difference between now and before his death is that you don’t vee-chat anymore. But after the Endeavor left Atalanta you wouldn’t have been able to vee-chat often anyway since all communication between the Endeavor and Travis would have to go through the Foundation.

There is a folded note written on paper and slipped into your copy of Moby Dick. It is a letter from your father. He explains that the sea-going vessels of a millennium ago were cut off from civilization during their voyage much like the Endeavor will be (or is). Your father expressed a hope that while you were on your long voyage to the outer reaches of the solar system, that you would find comfort in reading about the exploits of Ishmael and Queequeg. At the end of the note, your father wrote the lines:

"This very world which is the world

Of all of us, the place where in the end

We find our happiness, or not at all."

--Wordsworth, The Prelude

You read from the book for awhile. Your eyes are heavy. You slip the book back into its case.

You see your father. He’s standing in your shuttle near the airlock. It’s odd that you can see him since you are inside your berth with the hatch closed, but this is a dream you realize. You try to speak to your father. At first he doesn’t seem to hear you. When you climb out of your berth, he notices you. He doesn’t appear to surpised or even glad to see you. The look on his face is more of puzzlement than anything else.

"I’m sorry," you say to your father. You are surprised not so much by what you say, but that your words sound loud and real.

"What is this place?" asks your father.

"It’s the Cimarron, my shuttle."

"What am I doing here?" he asks.

"This is a dream," you say, but even as you say it, you aren’t so sure. This doesn’t feel like any dream you have ever had before.

"Where are we going?"

At first you are puzzled by the open-endedness of the question. The way he has phrased the question doesn’t immediately make sense to you. We aren’t going anywhere, you think. The Endeavor is headed to the outer solar system, but unless you can rendezvous with your ship in a few days, you might not be going along.

"We’re just here," you say because you can’t think of anything else better.

"It was all black," he says, then shakes his head, "not black. It was just nothing."


1. Sleeper Awake

Sleeper Awake

You sleep in your berth on the shuttle. You have resealed the airlock hatch between the shuttle and the derelict ship. The berth is like a sock. The elastic fibers encase you and press you against the soft foam mattress. The foam responds to the heat of your body and assumes your contour. When you first started sleeping in berths such as this, you had difficulty with the constrictive cocoon that encapsulated you. Now you desire it. The experience might be womb-like you suppose, though you have no memory of ever being inside your mother’s womb.

You have been awake for a long time. Your sense of the passage of time has been skewed by the time you spent in the darkness of the derelict ship. As the berth gently holds you you nod off. You sleep. You know you must have slept even though you have no recollection of the exact moment you’ve lost consciousness. Initially, you do not know if you are awake or asleep. Have you slept? You don’t know. You are still in your berth. Something is wrong though. You closed the berth’s door after you crawled inside. Now the berth’s door is open. You don’t remember opening it. You are sure you closed it and that you didn’t open it.

The galley cabinet door is open also. On the open, flat side of the door is an glass oval pot. A Bunsen burner licks a blue flame at the bottom of the glass pot. The flame lolls and laps like the licks of a dog. Inside the pot is what looks like water. The pot is almost at a boil. This doesn’t surprise you half as much as the man standing next to the pot, watching the precursor beading of bubbles that signal the onset of the boil. The man you recognize immediately as your father. He has the short black hair and the thick auburn, gray-streaked beard he had when you were a child. He is not as old as when you last saw him. Not at all ill in appearance. In the last year of his life, he had aged what looked like ten or fifteen years as the cancer ate away at his insides. You regretted not having attended the funeral, but you were away, too far from the home world for a return voyage.

Your preliminary reaction of surprise at seeing the figure of your father in his comparative youth is immediately displaced by a sense that his presence is perfectly normal. You can’t articulate a reason, but you do not question the fact that your father is there watching a pot of water on the verge of a boil.

"You should stop watching that pot," you say.

Your father looks up. "I wondered how long you would sleep," he says. "Coffee’s almost ready, if you are interested."


1. Wake up. ("Wake Up Needing Coffee")

Wake Up Needing Coffee

You jerk yourself awake. What a strange and elaborate dream, you think. You feel a bit strange, not at all like yourself. The whole world seems to be vibrating, a side effect of waking so quickly.

You check the clock and decide that you aren’t ever going to get back on schedule if you don’t get out and do something. What you could go for right now is a good cup of coffee, or if you are luck, an espresso.

You grab the set of keys to the apartment and your iPhone and head out. When you step out onto the street the bright sun helps to wake you some more.

You walk down Hartnell Ave. and go north on Troughton Street. You walk a few blocks and see a place that just might fit the bill. It’s called Vox Pop.

Choose an action:

1. Enter Vox Pop. ("Vox Pop")

The Forer Effect

Physics is about predicting the future. The other sciences are not so concerned with predictions. Biologists don’t try to predict the next step in evolutionary development. Physicists want to describe nature, just like the other sciences, but the description must make predictions that can be tested. The value of a physical theory is in its power to tell us something about what will happen. Astrology lost out as a science, not because it wasn’t rigorously mathematical, but because astrological predictions didn’t hold up. The only aspect of astrology that survived to present times is the astrophysical. Few modern astrologers know anything about astrophysics. Astrologers might not know about the Forer effect, but they are masters of exploiting it.

Everything else on the street is closed. Dirty, gray concrete store fronts. Facades suggesting a 1950s remodeling. The shops are a collection of oddball retailers. Record shops advertising vinyl LPs in their cluttered windows. Costume shops with gaudily dressed mannequins. A sex shop pushing strap on dildos in its window display. Below this is spiritualist’s shop. A short run of steps leads down from the side walk to a closet-like courtyard. The narrow window next to the open door has a lit neon sign: Tarot, it says.

Perhaps because it is the only shop on the street that is lit up; you stop. Did you want to know your future? Have your fortune read? You don’t believe in any of that stuff, of course. Not for the reasons given to you as a child, but for reasons of science. You know that a deck of cards or your palm can not reveal the secrets of future events. Any correspondence between the predictions of the spiritualist and reality are products of the Forer effect -- the wish fulfillment of people desperately looking for answers.

Fortune telling was equated with Satanism in your household. You don’t know how many times your father and grandfather told you the story of Saul consulting the fortune teller before some battle to divine the outcome before hand. God wasn’t pleased with Saul. God punished him.

You don’t think that God really cares whether you talk to a Tarot card reader or a palmist. You just don’t think that there is any truth to it. You suppose this kind of spiritualism has entertainment value, but it’s not harmless entertainment. Like any kind of fantasy, if carried too far, it can be dangerous. Fantasy is something to be viewed with suspicion. If one doesn’t keep a foot firmly in reality, one can get lost in shadow world of one’s invention.

"You want to know the future?"

What do you say?

  1. Yeah, sure. Why not?
  2. No thanks. And you keep walking.

The future of divination technology

You suddenly notice a woman standing in the shadows of the doorway of the Tarot parlor. Where has she come from? You hadn’t seen her before. It’s like she appeared out of thin air. Too lost in your own thoughts. A flash of embarrassment sweeps across your face as you realize that the woman has been watching you. She probably saw your indecision, your subconscious interest. Just how much does your face reveal? You have been caught.

Stand there for a moment while the woman smokes and let me tell you a story.

When I was younger I wondered why other people didn’t know what I was thinking. It’s a natural question. Every child is curious about things. Also, I watched TV and it seemed that just about every show I watched (referenced some sort of mind reading, Mind Reading). I wondered how it was done. In principle (so it seemed to my child mind) that if I could know my thoughts, then so could others, if they were sufficiently sensitive. What were thoughts after all? I didn’t yet understand about neurons and the electrochemistry of thought. But even this advanced knowledge of brain science wouldn’t have negated my childhood musings. This scientific knowledge about electrical fields and chemical reaction merely limited the length scale over which thoughts could be detected. Science had not proved that mind readers couldn’t read the thoughts of others, on the contrary, all science had shown was that highly specialized equipment was necessary to accomplish the job. What was a functional MRI if not a sophisticated mind reader? What about PET scans? Crude, bulky tools for mind reading, but didn’t the existence of such wonders point to a time in the future when we scientists will have cataloged the electrochemical topography of the brain and compiled an encyclopedia of thought -- each physical state of the brain mapped on to a thought. As this dictionary of thought was compiled, the technology could be miniaturized. Computers used to fill huge rooms. Now computers a million times more powerful could be held in the palm of your hand.** A thought reading sensor in a hundred years might be the size of your iPod. A spiritualist’s shop at the beginning of the twenty-second century would be equipped with such devices. Hand held thought readers. Hold them up to the subject’s head. Take some reading of the physical states of the brain. Look up what those configurations correspond to and, voilà (!), you know what a person’s thinking.

Knowing the future, however, seemed to be a trickier business. One could make predictions. Some systems are easier to predict than others. It’s almost a trivial calculation to determine the positions of the planets in the sky a thousand years in the future. Scientists (and skilled astrologers) can know this kind of future to a high degree of accuracy. This is because laws which govern the motion of the planets are well-known, and easily calculable. But, in principle, detailed knowledge of the motion and actions of a particular human being should be possible. Given enough information and enough computing power, what would prevent a predictive calculation of a person’s future life? Something like Total Information Awareness could make it possible to do detailed calculations to predict the future of human events. How far such calculations could see accurately into the future would be a function of how much and how detailed the knowledge of the present state of the system. Again, we are limited only by the capacity for information storage and computing power. Perhaps in a hundred years (maybe sooner) we will have hand held quantum computers that can process such calculations with the same easy that a calculator can square a seven digit number.

Science didn’t undo magic. Science merely showed us how to reduce magic to the possible.

As the woman emerges from the door way and into the morning light you have a momentary rush of excitement. Your first impression is that this woman is Katelyn, but the resemblance is only that, a suggestion, a hint. Alas, she is not Katelyn.

The woman smiles at you. She is dressed like a gypsy, in a multi-colored wrap of fabric. She has a golden, jeweled belt around her narrow middle. A single diamond stud sparkles in her nose. She extends her hand toward you. "Let me show you something," she says.

The woman turns. You follow her into the shop. The smell of incense replaces the sewer smell of the street. All around you are glittering things, small crystal figurines, hanging crystalline ornaments reflecting and bending light, a rainbow of colors streaming from their edges. You hear the quiet tinkle of wind chimes and the flow of water in one of those self-contained waterfalls. You follow the woman past a glass display case full of rings and necklaces. You follow her to the back of the shop where there is a small room lined with books. The room is about the size of a walk-in closet. You stop at the entrance to this miniature library and lean against the door jamb.

"You are a skeptic," she says. "You have the look of doubt about you. You are always questioning."

You narrow your eyes, smile slightly.

The woman turns away from you and studies the shelf of books. She selects one and takes it down. The book is black, hardbound. No dust jacket. She hands the book to you. You examine the cover and spine. No title. No author. Just a flat black surface, paper over cardboard with a cloth spine.

"It’s handmade," she says. "I make them myself."

You look up at the woman then back down at the book. You open the book. The pages are blank. It’s one of those blank books for keeping a journal. You flip through the unlined pages, textured and heavy weight.

"Nice work," you say.

"Thank you," she answers, then after a brief pause continues. "It’s a lab notebook."

You nod.

"You know about alchemy?"

You answer. "I’ve heard of alchemy. Transmutation of lead into gold. The philosopher’s stone. What about it?"

"Not all alchemy is about the literal transmutation of metals. Alchemy is a metaphor for spiritual transformation. Work in the alchemical laboratory is the outward sign of an inner mystery. A sacramental activity. The product of the alchemist’s work is not literal gold."

The woman looks straight into your eyes. Your heart beat quickens.

Finally, the woman says, "Ask a question."

"What kind of question?" you ask.

"What is most important to you? What is the one question that you want to answer with your life?"

"That’s a big one," you say.

"Why mess around?"

"If I ask the question, are you going to give me the answer?"

The laughs and shakes her head. "No," she says. "Only you can answer the question. However, even when you answer it, you will find that your answer is not really an answer, but the beginning of another question. An answer is never final; it’s the starting point for the next question."

After a pause she asks, "Do you ask enough questions?"


Then she changes her tack, "What do you want to do with your life? What is your prime interest?"

It’s one of those questions that you can’t give a quick answer to. How do you choose one thing? You settle for a weak and unspecific, "I could probably list a hundred things."

She persists, "Pick one thing. Whatever comes to mind first. What is the one thing you want to do before you die?"

"I want to do a lot of things before I die," you say.

She gives you a motherly smile. "Do you think it matters what one thing you pick? Is the choice so significant that you cannot possibly make a snap decision?"

"It’s complicated," you reply. "It depends on the circumstances. What I pick has a lot to do with how much time I have left." Maybe you are thinking you might have some incurable disease? "The choice has to be realistic."

"You’re looking for Mount Everest," she says. "You want to climb a mountain, but not just any old mountain. You want to climb the mountain. The one mountain that everyone else will acknowledge is the most difficult. But what’s more important is finding your own mountain. The act of choosing for yourself is the moment of creation. If you never choose, if you never pick one thing, you won’t get anywhere. You can’t climb all mountains at once. You can’t enter Eden by all five gates at once. You must decide. Each person has their own Mount Everest. The mountain is there. Climbing the mountain is not as hard as seeing it."

You smile politely. What is this woman talking about? That is the one thing that annoys you about fortune tellers, they always think they know who you are. They think that they can take one look at you and sum you up. They feed you this general, metaphorical line of bullshit and they expect that you will adapt it to yourself. The Forer effect. You’re not falling for it.

"I could tell you are a skeptic," she says. "Take it or leave it. You can either do something with what I say or ignore it. It’s your choice. Not choosing is also making a choice. The one thing that each of us must do is find out what we are most afraid of. That is the mountain. The heart of our fear is that which we must face."

Then you ask, "What if I’m afraid of death? Do I have to face death?" Immediately you regret asking the question.

"Everyone must face death. Most people ignore it, but to do that is risky. Facing death doesn’t have to be dangerous. You don’t have to risk your life to face death. Remember the Zen Master?"

How could she possibly know about the Zen Master?

Then you say, "It’s not death itself that I’m afraid of, but the preëmptive nature of death. I’m afraid that if I start something, death will prevent me from finishing it. Death is an intrusion, the ultimate ’game over.’ After death, nothing. Everything you work for, over."

"Do you think it is better to die while climbing the mountain, than to die wandering in the foothills?"

"That depends," you answer.

"What does it depend on?"

"What my mountain is."

"You know what your mountain is," says the woman. "Just speak it. Admit to yourself the truth that you know and have avoided."

You laugh and shake your head. "This is crazy. We are speaking in generalities. Where is this conversation going?"

"Each one of us is wounded," says the woman quietly. "Our wound is our source of power. If you find your wound, you will have found your mountain." Then after a pause, she says, "Use the lab notebook. It will help."

You look at the black notebook again. You feel its weight in your hands. It’s a good notebook. Well made. The woman’s sales pitch was unconventional, but it worked. "How much do I owe you?"

"That depends," says the woman. "You owe me your life, but I’ll settle for nineteen ninety-five plus tax."

That’s a bit steep for a notebook, but you don’t say that. If she really did make the notebook by hand, then it is probably a fair price. You hand the woman a twenty and a five. She makes change.

You are back out in the street feeling a little strange after the conversation with the fortune teller. Whatever amount of sustenance the orange had given you, it’s worn off by now. You are definitely hungry and could probably use another cup of coffee if you plan on staying awake.

The morning sun is bright and you have to squint when you step back out onto the sidewalk. You really are hungry now, but more importantly, you need another cup of coffee. You recall seeing a café a few blocks from here.

You walk down the street and around the corner. You see a café. You realize that you’ve come back to Vox Pop.

You decide to…

  1. Go into Vox Pop.
  2. Keep walking.

Vox Pop

You enter the Vox Pop. After a moment or two you’ve sized up the place. It’s a real café, not just a coffee shop. In the rear of the café are several book shelves. At the bar you notice three taps for draft beer. You see the espresso machine behind the counter.

It’s a bit early for beer so you decide to order a shot of espresso and a bagel. "Do you have San Pellegrino?" you ask. The barista says they do.

It takes the barista a couple of minutes to make your espresso. You take the time to have a closer look at the place. There are a row of tables along the east wall and set of high tables on the north, street side along the full length plate glass windows. You don’t count, but it appears that there about ten people in the café.

When you pick up your espresso and bagel from the barista you ask if the books in the back of the café are for sale.

"Yep," he says. "If you find anything you want, just bring it up here and I can help."

You thank the barista. Tucking the book under your arm, you carry the bagel and espresso to a nearby table and set the items down. You return for the bottle of San Pellegrino and ask for a glass of ice which the barista gets for you straight away.

When you finally sit down the crema has almost dissolved back into the black liquid of the espresso, but nonetheless, it’s still hot. You knock back the espresso and take a bite of bagel.

You sit for a moment chewing your bagel, looking around the café noticing more details. A newspaper stand near the entrance with a selection of national and internal papers including the New Socialist and Le Monde. A community bulletin board hangs on the west wall near a square table with two carafes (presumably filled with milk and half and half), a stack of napkins, some stirrers and a three bins with different types of sweetener. You notice in the very back of the café, beyond the bookshelves, is a children’s playroom.

This place is too good to be true, you think. Coffee, beer, books, food, and a play area for children (you like children). This is a regular community center.

At that moment you notice a large man on the other side of the café stand up. There’s another man thinner and with long hair sitting at same table. The thinner long haired man grabs the larger man’s arm and says through clenched teeth, "Don’t you dare!" in a stage whisper.

The larger man shakes off the thinner man. It appears that the rotund man (who is wearing a long scarf) is heading for table at the front of the café. You notice a red head in glasses sitting at the table. She’s reading a book, but from this distance you can’t tell what book it is.

The large man is almost to the table where the red head is sitting, but then he stops.

Then you notice that the thinner, long haired man has just leapt out of his seat and fled to the back of the café disappearing behind the shelves. You guess he needed the restroom.

Just as you read the words " ’Fuck off,’ she says." You actually here a woman’s voice in the café say or rather shout, "Fuck off!"

Everyone in the café looks up at this point and eyes the unfolding drama. The large man you spotted earlier is standing near the table of a rather zaftig and cherubic woman. From here you can see the red splotches forming on her face.

"What?" says the large man putting on a look of innocence.

"You heard me. Fuck. Off."

Instead of beating a swift retreat the large man clenches his jaw and leans down in the woman’s face and says something you can’t hear.

You used to collect books, but once your apartment was filled with books you started seeing these once beloved objects as a material burden. You’re less proprietary about books now. When you loan one out, you secretly hope that it won’t come back. If you don’t write your name in the book, then it increase the chances of never getting it back. You love your library, but when the library takes over and there’s no room for anything besides books... you don’t know. Some people probably think it would be heaven living in a library. But for you it’s just living with other people’s books.

Yes. But is it any good? This is not a question that the reader ever asks formally. The reader simply knows if it is any good. It’s good as long as the reader is engaged at some level and wants to continue reading. If the reader puts down the text and walks away then it doesn’t matter how good it is. An unread text is dead.

A hypertext is not the same as an interactive text. The reason for making such a formal distinction is so that classes and subclasses of text can be defined.

In truth a traditional "linear" text is just as interactive as the so-called Interactive Fictions. The only difference between traditional texts and interactive texts is the nature of the obstacles.

Traditional texts are arranged to present no obstacles to their being read and explored by the reader. Electronic texts which can respond to the reader’s interaction dynamically present obstacles. Each link or fork in the textual road is an obstacle. The reader is forced to make a decision: choose the right road or the left. As the complexity of the apparatus for interactivity increases, the character of the obstacles changes. Some highly interactive texts require the reader to solve puzzles before they can proceed with the narrative. While this might be fun for the gamer/reader, the pure reader who is interested in the text qua text experiences the obstacles as a restriction on their freedom to browse a text without impediment. Thus any truly interactive fiction will assist the reader with accessing whatever part of the text that the reader wants at any given moment instead of throwing up road blocks.

Form and a Void

The next major advance in the novel (as an art form) will come from scientists and mathematicians. A new generation of Internet-savvy novelists naturally will be interested in art that makes use of technology. They will write hypertext — text that is displayed on a the touch-sensitive screen of your portable electronic device with clickable links for navigation to other texts.

Fiction in the future will be read on a screen and that most new novels will be hypertextual. Hyper-novelists will work in a different way than their more linear (comparatively) predecessors. Hypertextual novels defy linearity with multiple branching options for the reader. The reader browses a collection of texts (or lexias) rather than reading in a predetermined order. The reader becomes a browser who is led by whim and curiosity rather than by the direction of the writer.

Then again, anyone can put together a body of text and pepper it with hyperlinks. The hard, slow work of the author is the deliberate selection and ordering of texts for presentation to the reader.

The hypertextual novel forces some of the authorial labor onto the reader, The reader becomes a coauthor through their choice of which material to read next or which parts of the text to ignore. Instead of the author making all the choices, the reader makes them. It may be that the author and the reader have different ideas about what is interesting. Haven’t you ever read a story that heads off in a direction that disappoints you or follows some character that you just aren’t interested in? In a hypertext novel, the reader can focus on those parts of the author’s text that are of interest and ignore the rest.

So why doesn’t every writer just buy a domain name and start putting up a collection of texts on the web as they write them? Why persist with archaic modes of publication?

Why not write a novel online? Why not just start writing lexias and linking them together? A reader could start reading whenever they like and stop whenever they like. They could come back a year later and find new things in the text that wouldn’t have been there before. This novel would be dynamic and evolving rather than static and fixed. Why not?

The problem is keeping the reader’s interest. If you encounter a longish block of text on the screen that requires you to scroll and scroll and scroll, you tend to give up and move on to a more manageable chunk of text. When you read from your computer screen you want a small chunk of text. A text-bite. Anything more than a few sentences is tedious and off-putting. This preference for brevity is engendered by the medium. The web browser is a tool for clicking links. It’s not about reading long columns of text. Each page exists for the sake of the link. A page without a link is dead, stale, stifling, suffocating.

Authorial Intrusion

You, Reader, are still sitting in Vox Pop. And, I imagine you are getting annoyed with me.

The amnesiac Jacob Letham has arrived at (in?) the Center and is about to embark on his journey of self-discovery when (for no good reason that you can imagine) I insert this seemingly unrelated meta-narrative on reading and writing under the chapter heading “Form and a Void.”

You flip ahead a few pages to see when I will get back to the story when you notice a man standing next to your table. He clears his throat to get your attention. Your first reaction is annoyance. You scowl as if to say to the intruder that you do not welcome this interruption in your reading and you would prefer it if you weren’t disturbed. But the intruder is undaunted by your obvious displeasure at his presence on the stage. He says in a casual voice, "Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but notice that you are reading a book."

You hold the book open when you look up at this person who has interrupted you. You want to send the signal that you are reading and you would prefer to continue reading. Closing the book would send completely the wrong message. If you close the book, I might think that you welcome the intrusion and would prefer to talk to me. I am breaking with all conventions here, disturbing your reading. I am pleased that you don’t want to talk to me because that tells me you are still interested in reading.

In response to my interruption, a statement of the obvious -- of course, you are reading a book. Such statements of the obvious usually are not meant to stand on their own. They are precursors to the statement that the stater really wants to say. But instead of just saying what one wants, one creeps up on a subject by making general statements of a purely phenomenological nature. This serves a purpose. It provides something for the two of us to agree upon. If I instead made some claim about which you are in doubt, we would be immediately placed in adversarial roles -- you would have to disagree with me. Instead, because I’ve merely stated that you are reading a book, you can agree with that.

Clearly, you want me to get on with it. You aren’t happy about this interruption, but if I insist on interrupting you want me to be quick about it.

You could say something like, "Who the hell are you?" coupled with a mildly contemptuous "What makes you think you can bother me?" This would get us back in our roles as adversaries. The story is going off in a direction that you, Reader, don’t want.

What are your options? You could stop reading. You could close the book and throw it across the room. You don’t do this because you are curious. So the story isn’t going the way you planned, but that’s alright. Maybe I have something in mind that will be interesting. You decide to go with me a few more pages.

What’s happening here? You are both reading and not reading. You are reading these words that describe your current situation as not reading, but in the state of interruption.

Alternately, you could respond with a more friendly reply. You could say, "Yes. I’m reading a novel called Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall." You could smile and hold up the cover for me to see as if to offer proof that what you said it indeed true. Your tone could be inviting or mildly patronizing.

These two possible responses set the foundation for a possible conversation. The first option might lead to a much shorter conversation, but because it signals a conflict, might be the more interesting path to take. However, the polite response might lead to interesting developments also. In a linear text you would be stuck with whatever the author decided was best for his story. If this were a hypertext, you would be able to select your response and follow the outcome.

Select your choice:

1. You don’t mind conflict, reply rudely. (See below.)

2. You dislike conflict, reply politely. ("The Polite Response")

The Rude Response

I begin a monologue about how I’m the author of the book that your are reading. Then I explain that I’m having some trouble deciding exactly how I want to present the events that I’ve dreamed up for this novel. I’ve actually made up a lot of things that just don’t (realistically) fit together into one nice, neat, tidy whole.

I have some feeling for what sort of reader you are. I’m guessing that you are the intelligent sort of reader who doesn’t need everything tidied and explained. In fact you probably enjoy it when the odd bit of nonsense pops up on the page because it takes you outside the main story line and prompts you to start imagining things and events completely outside my text, events that only you know about reader, events that are possible solutions to the impossible tangled web of text that you are so patiently navigating.

At this point you stop me. "Will you just stop," you say. "I know you say you are the author of this book, but just because I happen to be reading a book you wrote (and I’m not even admitting that I accept your claim to authorship) doesn’t give you license to come waltzing up to me and start nattering on about how insecure you are about what you’ve written."

You have a point.

You continue, "This book is all I’m interested in right now. I am a reader. I want to read it. I don’t want to be interrupted, not even by the purported author of said work. Now will you kindly, shove off and let me get back to my slow work of reading?"

"You’re quite right---" I begin.

"Kick the kid out of the house," you say cutting me off before I build up a rhetorical head of steam.

"Excuse me?" I say.

"Kick the kid out of the house," you repeat. "You’ve written it. Now kick it out of the house. Go write another book. Simple as that."

"Yes, but---"

"Zip it!" you say.


"Zip it!" you repeat. "Now scram. Go back to your writer’s loft, or hovel, or hole, or where ever it is you writer-types lurk and do your business in private and stop hanging out in cafés pestering your readers. Take a clue from Pynchon, disappear. Shoo!"

I know when I’m not wanted. I get the hint. I was the sort of kid who received this kind of treatment on the playground in elementary school. No one wanted to play with me so I had to---

"Will you just stop narrating and let me get back to reading!" you shout.


1. The old switcheroo. ("Book Swap")

Onwards and Upwards 1

I admire your conviction, Reader. While I’m mildly disappointed that you declined my offer, I am gratified that you wish to continue reading the story. Really it doesn’t matter to me what you choose; as long as you continue reading, you’ll still be reading...

Your choice:

1. ...my story.

Book Swap

As soon as I am gone, you realize that something is wrong. Up to this point you never suspected that I would play dirty. You know that there is an inviolable contract between the writer and reader and that the writer is bound to uphold his (or her) side of the bargain. If the writer starts cheating, then you, oh Reader, might put the book down, or chuck it across the room, and we don’t want that to happen do we?

What you notice is that I swapped books with you. You aren’t sure how I did it since you don’t recall ever putting the book down; however, you conclude that I must have used my god-like narrative powers to instigate this grand switcheroo under your very nose.

Before you are able to get too peeved with me, I arrange for Lee Austin to distract you.

"Have you seen this new book that’s out?" asks Lee.

"Which one is that?" you ask.

"You know, the one by Stryker Greene."

You snort at the mention of the name. "Stryker Greene? You’re shitting me. What kind of name is Stryker Greene?"

"That’s beside the point," says Lee. "The book’s a masterpiece of commercial satire."

You take the bait. "Alright, what’s it about?"

Lee explains to you how Greene exposes the corporate lie that corporations are people too. "Greene deconstructs the artificial persona of the corporation and exposes it as the fraud that it is. In his book, Mr Peanut is allergic to peanuts, Betty Crocker is bulimic, the Marlboro man is on a lung machine, Aunt Jemima is diabetic, Tony the Tiger is lactose intolerant---"

"And Ronald MacDonald has heart disease. I get the idea," you say afraid that the string of examples won’t end. "But I don’t see what’s so great about it. So you take a corporate marketing icon and give them some physical limitation that undermines their ability to be a successful spokesperson for the corporate brand. That might be clever as a one line joke, but how do you play that out for an entire novel without boring the reader?"

"Patience, patience, my friend. That’s only the beginning. It’s what Greene does with these characters that’s amazing. By taking seriously the notion that these corporate icons are real people, Greene’s book forces the reader to realize the inequality of the corporation and the real human being."

"Yes, and...?"

"What may seem obvious to you and me, is not so obvious to culture at large," says Lee stroking his enormous belly.

"I don’t like it," you say.

"What do you mean? What’s not to like?"

"I think the whole idea just draws even more attention to the corporations. They don’t need any more promotion even if it is intended to be undermining satire. You can’t damage a corporation like you would damage a person. Corporations are immortal and indestructible. A corporation would be the first to satire itself if it thought there was a buck to be made."

You notice Lee is distracted. You aren’t sure that he’s even listening to you.

"Hey, what book is that you have there?" he asks.

"It’s supposed to be Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall," you say.

"Yes, I can see that by the cover," says Lee.

"In fact, I was just chatting with the author," you say.

"Really? The author?"

"Well, at least that who he was pretending to be," you say. "Can you believe it? He had some crazy idea about telling me the real version of this novel. Evidently, he had to make some cuts in order to get it published."

"Tell me about it," says Lee. "And what did you say?"

"I told him to clear off."

"Good for you!" At this point Lee takes a business card from his pocket. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lee Austin, the author."

You laugh. "There’s a lot of writers in this café," you say taking the card.

"Voice of the people!" says Lee in a booming voice. "This is where the revolution begins."

"I see," but you don’t really.

Then in a conspiratorial tone: "I’d like to introduce you to some friends of mine -- also readers. We run a little underground library. It might interest you. Meet me at the address on the back of that card in about an hour."

"Alright," you say not entirely sure you like that idea.

"Give me some time to clear out -- say five minutes -- then you follow."

Lee gives you a wink and before you can object or add anything he’s striding off for the door.

What next?

1. Read some of the new version of Into the Labyrinth. ("Romance")

2. Find something else to read. ("The New Novel")

The Polite Response

I introduce myself as the author of the book you are reading and ask you how you want the story to go. You see I have in mind many possible directions for this story. It is not a simple story of a man who has lost his memory. This story is not about how the man discovers who he is and then falls in love. While such a story might have some merit as entertainment, my plan is not to write a love story, not even a romantic comedy. You see, over the last few years I’ve tried to impose some order on the material that is this novel by fitting it into some recognizable genre like science fiction, spy/espionage, action/adventure, psychological thriller, confessional, fantasy; the choice is difficult since I don’t know how you would like this story served up. Black. With cream. With cream and sugar, or just sugar by itself. One lump or two?

At this point you stop me. "Excuse me," you say. (I guess you have selected the polite tack.) "Your first responsibility is to tell the truth. It doesn’t matter how you tell the truth, just tell it. You have to trust the reader to cut you some slack."

"I see what you mean," I say. "You, as the Reader, are a participant in the construction of this story. I, as the author, rely on you to imagine this world and these characters. The reason I think I need to make this story all nice and tidy is that we’ve all been told that good stories are nice and tidy. Would you like me to tell you the story? I could get a cup of coffee and join you at your table and just tell you the story that I wanted to tell."

You look vaguely disappointed.

I’m still standing next to your table in the café. You still have your finger marking the place where you stopped reading when I interrupted you.

"I could just keep reading," you say. You hold up the book.

"You see, the problem is that what you are holding is only one version of the novel I wrote. That novel," I say pointing with my index finger at the copy you are holding, "is one version that I wrote for the purposes of publication. I selected material and reworked it to make it look like a normal novel. I thought I had to do this to get a publishing company interested in my work. So in some sense, I didn’t really tell the truth when I wrote that, because everything in that book was written with one thing in mind: how to please an acquisitions editor at a publishing company. You see. The story I really wanted to tell is much more complex and has many more elements than you’ll find in the novel you are holding."

"I see," you say. Since you are an intelligent and inquisitive reader, my offer to reveal to you the whole unedited version of the story interests you. You’ve read a lot of novels. You’ve read a lot of good novels and ones that were pretty bad. You’re getting tired of the same old things. You are ready for something different. "How should we proceed?"

Select a choice:

1. You want to get the whole unexpurgated story. ("Something Different")

2. You’d rather just keep reading the version you have. (See below.)

Onwards and Upwards 2

Well, I have to say that you’ve been a good sport so far. I really admire the fact that you’ve been a polite reader and listener. Of course, you are absolutely right. I should just shove off and let you get back to the book you bought and not bother you any further.

Thus I leave you with a host of choices. You may...

1. ...continue reading. ("Book Swap")

2. ...return to your apartment.

3. ...go for a stroll. (if you haven’t already visited the fortune teller.)

The Unexpurgated Version ("Something Different")

"So you are interested in my proposition?"

You nod. "Let’s get on with it."

"There’s so many ways we could do this," I say trying to think quickly on my feet. "I really should make this interesting for you. I owe you that much." I have a sly grin on my face.

"What do you mean by ’more interesting’?" you ask.

Just then a pair of men in dark suits enter the coffee shop. We both turn. The men have on dark glasses. Their dark blue jackets are buttoned in front.

"Who are they?" you ask.

"The cops," I say. "Generic bad guys inserted into run-of-the-mill fiction by writer’s who lack imagination."

"What are they doing here?"

"They’ve found me out," I say. "They know I’m here, talking to you, giving you a choice about how this novel should go."

"Why should they care what we do? This story is between you and me," you say.

"That’s true, but they represent all the anxieties of the modern publishing world. The reason they are dressed up in those dark suits and those dark glasses is that they are essentially conservative. They are guarding the old way of doing things."

You scowl at me. "Hey, no explaining. I don’t need you to explain your symbolism to me. So far it’s hamfisted enough. You don’t need to insult me with an explanation."

I apologize. "Won’t let it happen again," I say.

These expressionless men in dark suits are almost to your table.

"Shouldn’t you do something?" you ask. "Can’t you make them go away?"

"I’m afraid that we are going to have to play their game," I say. "Just stay calm."

The two men stand within an arm’s length. The one on the right says to me, "You are under arrest." He flashes an official looking badge that he produces from his inside jacket pocket. The badge is in one of those black wallets that you see on police shows on television. You can’t see what the badge says before he slips it as quickly back to his inside pocket.

"What’s the charge?" I ask not expecting an answer. I want to buy some time more than anything else.

The man on the left produces some hand-cuffs. The people at the neighboring tables have noticed what’s happening. They watch warily to see if I will make any sudden moves. These guys in the dark suits are probably armed. Perhaps I’ll resist arrest. Maybe I’ll pull out a gun and start shooting. I’ll shoot my way out of this situation. I’ll take you, Reader, with me, and then I will tell you the real story. But this is not what’s going to happen.

I submit to being hand-cuffed. You stand up at this point and you say something to the men in dark suits. You assert yourself, become a participant rather than just a casual observer. "What are you doing? Where are you taking him?"

The man who flashed the badge wrenches the copy of my book from your hands. "I’ll take that," he says.

"That’s my book," you protest.

"It’s evidence," says the man.

"This is Émerika," you say. "This is a free country."

The man just laughs. "Where have you been for the last eight years? Not anymore it isn’t," he says. Then he pushes you back down in your seat.

You aren’t used to this sort of rough handling. You become angry. You want to punch the man, but you think that might cause more trouble than you are willing to commit to at this point.

The cold hand-cuffs cut into my wrists. They are too tight, but I don’t say anything because as we all know, anything I say could be used against me in a court of law.

As they lead me away, you ask, "Where are you taking him?"

"Forget this ever happened," says the man who flashed the badge. "If you know what’s good for you, you’ll forget this author. You’ll forget you ever started reading his book."

"But it was just getting interesting," you say.

"You’d better be careful," replies the man. "This author is wanted for violations of the Patriot Act. His book is unpatriotic. It’s un-American."

I can’t contain my laughter. "You should have seen the first draft," I say. "If you think this version questions the authority of the totalitarian state, then you would be shocked by what came before."

"We know about that version," says the man. "Evidently, you didn’t know that desecration of an American flag was punishable by having your eyes gouged out and eaten by crows."

"Is that in the Patriot Act?"

"Of course, didn’t you read the whole thing?" says the man. Then turning away from me, the man turns and addresses everyone in the coffee shop. Everyone’s attention is now on me, the two men in suits, and my arrest. The man says, "Everything’s okay. You can go back to your regular lives. We’re just making the world safe for democracy."

This statement puzzles you. Several things cross your mind that you might say at this point. You don’t say any of them for two reasons. You are so mad about being pushed that you are afraid that anything you say would be inarticulate, and second, that if you do say anything you’ll just make the men angry and you aren’t sure that you are willing to risk your neck for me. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that you didn’t even get to finish the first chapter of my book and you aren’t sure whether you were enjoying yet. I might not be worth getting in trouble over.

The men in suits escort me out the door. The coffee shop goes back to normal. The baristas return to making coffee. People at nearby tables talk in hushed tones about what they just saw. Someone speculates that I must have been a dangerous drug dealer.

You glance around the café and you see someone familiar. You realize (somehow) that the man sitting at the table near the window is none other than Lee Austin, the character that I chatted with about hypertext in the section labeled "Form and a Void."

Select an action.

1. You go over the Lee’s table and ask him what this is all about. ("Talk to Lee Austin")

2. You decide to leave the café and go back to your apartment.

Talk to Lee Austin

You glance around and notice that Lee Austin has finished his coffee. He’s folding up his newspaper, giving every indication that he will be leaving the café. You note the coincidence of your being at the same café that the characters in my novel are at on the same morning of the day in which all the action of my novel takes place. You aren’t certain how this is possible since I must have written this novel months before, perhaps even a year before today. You decide that you don’t have to explain the physical mechanism that makes your presence at this point in spacetime possible. Since you are here, you might as well make the most of the opportunity and find out whatever you can.

You grab your bag and walk over to where Lee Austin is. You introduce yourself. Lee smiles and politely asks how he can be of assistance.

"The man that was just arrested," you begin. "Do you know him?"

Lee frowns and looks around wondering if he is being watched. Maybe he thinks this is some kind of trap. You could be a mole for the bad guys. He doesn’t know if you are on the level or if you will ensnare him in some incriminating trap.

"I’ve seen him around," he says.

"I was just reading his book," you say. "You know, the one called Into the Labyrinth."

Lee nods his head.

In a conspiratorial voice Lee says, "Listen. We can’t talk about this here. Not in public. I can meet you later at a place where we can speak in private."

Lee produces a business card from one of his pockets. Using the table as a firm surface, he stoops to write something on the back. He clicks the pen and hands you the card. On the reverse side Lee has written out an address.

"Can you meet me in an hour?" he asks.

You nod.

"We shouldn’t leave at the same time," says Lee. "You go back to your table and wait a few minutes. After I’ve left, then you can go. Don’t go straight to the rendezvous point. Take whatever circuitous path you want."

"Okay," you say then return to your table.

Select an action.

1. Sit quietly for a few minutes. ("Shadow of the Waxwing Slain")

2. Find something else to read. ("The New Novel")

Find something else to read: "The New Novel"

Your coffee is cold. You set the cup down in disgust then take a bite of bagel. You wander to the back of the café and peruse their selection of literary magazines. You find an issue of a literary quarterly that you are familiar with. You flip through it and see an article that catches your attention. It’s a comparative study of the nouveau roman (or "new novel" -- a term coined by the French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet) and the nouvelle vague (or "new wave" -- cinema pioneered by Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others). The article is authored by an academic at Columbia University.

The early part of the article is standard introductory stuff. The academic, someone called Simon Beardsley, describes the nouveau roman as a "movement in French literature" then spends the next several sentences qualifying his use of the word ’movement’. You understand the necessity of such qualification because grouping such a wide variety of texts under a common signifier could be confusing to someone who isn’t one of the cognoscenti.

Beardsley quotes Michel Butor. You take a pencil from your back pack and underline the following: " I like to explore the arts as a whole and see world culture in the form of a gigantic weaving, with a profusion of individual strands and threads. There are spaces between them and tissue below the surface."

The article chronicles parallel developments in post-war French literature and cinema. 1955 to 1965 (roughly). Beardsley notes a reference to Proust in Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel Repetition. (A trip with Mother. Going to bed without the obligatory, customary bedtime kiss.)

Beardsley writes, "The nouveau roman is called elitist because the works tend to be anti-realist, make demands on the reader, and create a sense of confusion and disorientation." Why would anyone want to read something with those side effects? you think.

You disagree with the charge of anti-realism in the paragraph you just read. In Robbe-Grillet’s Repetition, his descriptions are almost scientifically exact (as if he were describing a set for a film). He describes a scene with analytical, photo-realism. True, the precisely, geometrically described world of Robbe-Grillet’s novel is shot through with inconsistency, contradiction, and acausality, but it is clearly not anti-realist. But then again, maybe the distortions of reality are precisely those elements that are anti-realist.

Beardsley’s essay concludes by drawing the connection between the literary work of Alain Robbe-Grillet and the graphic art of M.C. Escher. You are aware that Robbe-Grillet worked closely with visual artists and that his novel La Belle Captive is based on Magritte’s paintings.

A copy of Escher’s Belvedere accompanies the text. The base of the structure appears to be oriented along a line that is orthogonal to the orientation of the top of the structure. The trick of using two dimensions to make representations of impossible three-dimensional objects recalls Robbe-Grillet’s use of descriptions which loop through his texts, repeating in slightly altered forms. The effect of Robbe-Grillet’s writing is the literary equivalent of Escher’s painting, according to Beardsley.

Indeed the loops with theme and variation progressions that run like a ribbon through Robbe-Grillet’s novels could be compared to music as well. The composer will pick a theme, state that theme in the beginning of the work and then develop that theme through successive restatements.

Your choice...

1. Time to catch up with Lee. ("Theme and Variation")

Theme and Variation

You look at your watch. Just past eleven o’clock. You have an hour to find the address written on the back of Lee Austin’s business card. You want to look at the card again, but decide not to. You look around to see if anyone is watching you. No sign of men in dark suits.

You leave the coffee shop after purchasing the literary quarterly from the friendly barista who noticed that you marked a sentence in the article you were reading. On your wandering route to the rendezvous with Lee Austin you pass by a bookstore, Burns & Nettles. In the window several copies of my novel Into the Labyrinth are displayed. You remember your own copy, now gone, confiscated by the SS men, indistinguishable from these in the window display. The thought occurs to you that you could just buy another copy of my novel and continue reading. Then you wonder why my book is still on display in the window of this major bookstore if the book and the author are an offense to the Patriot Act.

Choose an action.

1. Keep moving.

2. Go into Burns & Nettles.

Keep Moving

You consult the address that Lee Austin wrote on the back of the card.

You will have to take a subway or you will be really late.

You hurry to the station and rush down into the warm, dank station and rush through the turnstile. You only have to wait a few minutes until the train comes into the station.

After a couple of minutes, you arrive.

1. "Chez Louise"

Burns and Nettles

You try the door, but its locked. You check the hours. The store doesn’t open until nine o’clock. You are annoyed. You put your face up against the glass of the door and see that someone is inside. You knock on the glass. They don’t seem to hear or they ignore you. You knock more insistently. Then you begin to kick the door. This gets the attention of the bookstore clerk who is annoyed with you. The clerk is a young multiply pierced woman with a haircut more suited for display in MoMA than wearing on the head.

The clerk’s words are barely audible, but you can read her lips with no problem. "We’re closed." She gestures for emphasis at the painted letters and numbers on the glass door that indicate the store’s "hours of operation."

"No shit," you say. You pull out a fifty dollar bill. "I’ll give you fifty dollars for a copy of that book in the window. You can keep the change."

The clerk frowns, then unlocks the door. The two of you are face to face. You still hold the fifty dollar bill in your hand. The clerk says, "Seventy-five."

You produce two tens and a five from your wallet. The clerk disappears for a moment then returns with a copy of Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall.

The clerk pushes the door shut and locks it back, but you aren’t concerned with the clerk. You want to open the book right there and start reading. As if by reflex, you look around again. The events in the café an hour earlier have made you paranoid. You expect to see men in dark suits decending on you with guns drawn at any moment. You decide it’s probably not safe to read the book here on the sidewalk. Just before you stuff the book into your bag, you flip through the pages. You can’t resist taking a quick look at the reassuring regularity of rectangular text blocks. But something is wrong. You don’t see any text blocks. You realize with a sudden sickening horror that all the pages are blank. You rifle through the pages, raking at them with your trembling hands desperately searching for a page with any text on it. You almost give up in despair. You have an overwhelming urge to throw the book as far and as hard as you can. Then you notice something.

You see that the first fifteen or so pages of the book have printing on them. The title page is there. Chapter 1, check. You locate the last page and read the last paragraph. The text breaks off with "A page without a link is dead, stale, stifling, suffocating." The rest of the book is empty, void of any mark.


1. Give up and go meet Lee.

2. Bug the clerk again. ("Bug the Clerk Again")

Give Up

You consider trying to go back into Burns & Nettles and getting a proper book, but you’re running short on time. If you don’t hurry you are going to be late.

You consult the address that Lee Austin wrote on the back of the card. At this point you’ll will have to take a subway.

You hurry to the station and rush down into the warm, dank station and rush through the turnstile. You only have to wait a few minutes until the train comes into the station.

After a couple of minutes, you arrive.

1. "Chez Louise"

Bug the Clerk Again

You turn back to the glass door of Burns & Nettles and begin to knock rapidly. In a few moments the clerk is back at the door telling you to beat it. You hold up the book so that the clerk can see the blank pages.

"There’s something wrong with this book," you say. "This copy is missing the text after page fifteen." You flip through the pages of the book to demonstrate the lack of print.

The clerk sighs heavily and unlocks the door. You push your way in. The clerk objects, but you ignore her protestations. She half-heartedly grabs at your arm but you easily shake her off. The huge store is eerily quiet and the darkness gives the room a vaguely church-like feel. You walk straight to the window display with the copies of Into the Labyrinth and you grab the first one you see.

The other copy of the book is also misprinted. Another idea comes to you. Maybe these copies of the book are inappropriately bound. The first signature of the book accidently bound with blank signatures to fill out the book. You have not run across very many books that have been bound incorrectly in your career as a reader, but you do have one in your library where a signature from volume one is duplicated in volume two. The signature that should have been in volume two is just missing. So it’s possible that the publisher has made a simple binding error with this printing of the novel. You discard that copy and grab another. Empty. Another. All of them are empty after page fifteen.

"They are all blank," you say turning on the clerk and brandishing one of the books at her.

"It’s a new shipment," she says. "They arrived this morning."

"Do you have any older copies of the book? Copies that were here before this defective shipment?"

The misprinted book has evidently piqued the interest of the clerk. She picks one up for herself and examines it. "This is really odd," she says. "Maybe its one of those experimental novels where the blankness of the pages are supposed to tell you something. You know, like they are intentionally blank to make a literary point."

"You don’t understand," you say. "I had a copy of this very novel this morning. I was reading it in a coffee shop. I had read as far as page fifteen when I was interrupted. But the rest of my copy of this novel wasn’t blank. All the pages had text on them. There’s more to this novel than just the first fifteen pages."

The clerk continues with her line of thought. "I heard about this book where the publisher realized that no one had ever read past a certain page. Everybody who tried to read the book got bogged down on--oh, I don’t know--say page 120. So all the subsequent editions of the book were cut off at page 120. I guess it was to save on printing charges."

You think that the clerk wasn’t listening to you. She was just waiting for you to stop talking so that she could get on with her monologue about experimental literature. So you ignore her.

"You’ve got to have some copies of this book from a previous shipment." You turn and head off toward the literature section.

Spaniel-like the clerk follows you. She’s still got a copy of the misprinted or truncated novel. "Maybe you haven’t looked carefully enough," she says. "Maybe on page 87 there’s a random ’W’ two-thirds of the way down the page."

"What purpose would that serve?" you ask without pausing or turning around.

"None, I guess, but it would be kind of experimental. At least typographically speaking."

"This is not that kind of book," you say.

You locate an aisle marked "Literature (alphabetized by author, F-J)" and begin looking for the Hs. Right were you would expect to find Hall, you find instead a void on the shelf. The rest of the shelves are packed tight with books, no spaces. But right where Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall should be, there is nothing, nadda, zippo.

"This is where they should be," you say pointing at the gap in the line of books.

The clerk approaches and bends at the waist for a closer inspection. At last she says, "Maybe we’re sold out."

"Would you have any copies in the back?"

"The back?" she asks.

"The storeroom."

"Oh, shipping and receiving," she says with a smile. "No we don’t store anything back there."

"Shipping and receiving?" Suddenly, you are siezed by a sense of hope. "Shipping," you say firmly. "Is it possible that the copies of Into the Labyrinth that were here were packed up for shipment back to the publisher?"

The clerk appears to think this possibility over. "I suppose that might have happened."

"Do you think there’s a chance that the box might still be in the back -- sorry, in shipping and receiving?"

"It’s possible, I suppose," says the clerk.

"Could we check?" you ask.

The clerk leads you through the store and to a door marked "Employees Only." There’s a combination lock on the door. The clerk hits four of the five buttons in some pattern that you don’t bother to memorize and the mechanism clicks. You both enter shipping and receiving, a domain of cardboard and tape and packing material. The floor is a slab of concrete, not the tres chic hard wood of the main part of the store. You don’t wait for the clerk. You push past her and immediately start inspecting the boxes. You check the labels on the boxes and look inside the ones that are open.

"Where are the ones that would be out-going?"

"Over on that table." The clerk points to a long table near a metal door in the back of the room.

You step around several stacks of boxes to get to the table indicated by the clerk. Three boxes packed and taped shut wait by the door. You check the name of the publisher on the spine of the defective copy of Into the Labyrinth you still have in your hand. Zaftig Press. To your surpise and elation you see a small box on the table addressed to Zaftig Press.

"This is it," you say picking up the box. You reach for a box cutter lying on the table next to the box.

"What are you doing?" asks the clerk.

"I’m going to open the box," you said.

"You can’t do that," she says. "We have to send those back. They are already packed up."

"I don’t care if they are already packed up," you say. "I want a proper copy of this book."

You cut into the box. The clerk sighs heavily, but doesn’t try to stop you. You are holding, after all, a sharp knife.

After cutting the tape you pull back the cardboard flaps of the box. Inside are seven or eight copies of Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall. "Eureka," you say as you grab the top copy and open it. Success. You flip through the book. The text blocks are there. All the pages after page fifteen have text on them.

"Excellent," you say holding the book up for the clerk to see. "This copy is not defective."

The clerk hmmms and says something about it being strange that they are sending back the only complete copies of Into the Labyrinth that they had in the store.

"Oh shit," you say looking at your wrist watch. "I’m supposed to meet somebody in ten minutes." On your way past the clerk you hand her the misprinted copy of Into the Labyrinth. "Thanks for you help," you say.

You cross back through the store. You realize the clerk following you, but she’s not trying to keep up. You throw the bolt on the front door and push it open.

You put the copy of Into the Labyrinth into your bag. Then you consult the address that Lee Austin wrote on the back of the card.

You have to take a subway or you will be really late. As you sit in the subway car you consider pulling out your new copy of Into the Labyrinth and reading it. Only one more stop though.

What do you do?

1. Read a little bit. (see below)

2. Wait patiently. Do breathing exercises to calm down.

Chez Louise

The train squeals and screeches, moaning as it slows and halts. You close the book and head for the sliding door.

As you emerge from the subway car you look around in an attempt to orient yourself and to decide which way you need to go. You spot the sign that points you to the street level.

As you walk briskly toward your meeting with Lee Austin, you think that there’s something strange about this new copy of Into the Labyrinth. When you started reading the narrative was written in third person. Now it’s written in first person, in the voice of the protagonist.

You emerge at the street level. After identifying which direction is which you set out to find the address indicated on the card given to you by Lee Austin.

When you arrive at the address, you discover its a boarded up store front. The place used to be a French restaurant, Chez Louise. There are faded paintings of the French tri-color on the sign. The metal shutters are closed and locked. You check the address again. You are at the right place. You step forward and try the door. It’s locked. You knock. No answer. You step back out into the middle of the sidewalk to get a better look at the facade to see if that will give you some clue.

You check your watch. You are only about ten minutes late. You think that maybe Lee got tired of waiting and left.

What next?

1. Give up. ("Give Up")

2. Keep waiting. ("The Metal Door")

Give Up

You go back to your apartment and wonder what you should do next. You are tired. You could sleep.

You open the refrigerator. You see the carton of expired milk. Aside from a few cans of soda, three bottles of Brooklyn Brown Ale, and an orange, there isn’t much in the fridge.

You decide to...

1. ...eat the orange.

2. ...take a nap.

The Metal Door

Just when you think you have come all this way for nothing, you see a slip of paper taped to a metal trap door in the sidewalk. The slip of paper flutters in the breeze. You stoop and take the paper. You unfold it and read:

If it’s Lee you wish to meet,

then you must search below your feet.

You step back and look down at the metal door. You pocket the note, then stoop down. You grab the door’s recessed handle and pull up. The door is heavy. The springs of the mechanism are old and rusty. They pop and resonate, twanging as you swing open the door. There’s a steep set of steps that lead down into the basement of the abandoned restaurant. You try to see into the dark basement; you want to know what you are getting into, but you don’t see anything from the street.

What next?

1. Close the metal door and walk away. ("Afraid of the Dark")

2. Go down the steps. ("Go Down the Steps")

Afraid the Dark

You’ve always been afraid of the dark. It’s just too much for you to confront that terror today, here on a sidewalk in Belleville. You were curious to see what happened, but you aren’t willing to go this far. Besides, you trust me. You know I’ll come up with something for you.

Perhaps a...

1. ...trip to the island. ("The Encounter")

Go Down the Steps

Finally, you work up your courage to start down the steps.

Once you are most of the way down the steps you smell a damp, musty basement smell. The basement is essentially empty. There are metal shelves. Some dusty crates and broken palates. You see all this from the light spilling in from the street. Suddenly, a naked light bulb hanging from a cord looped through some pipes illuminates. The harsh light causes a momentary ache in your eyeballs. You look around.

You articulate a tentative, questioning "Hello?"

From the shadows at the far end of the basement, Lee Austin emerges into the light. "You took your time," he says. "We’d better get that door shut." He brushes past you and jogs up the steps you just came down and pulls the door down with a clang. He takes a padlock hanging from a nail and secures the door. As he comes down the stairs he says. "That will ensure that they don’t follow us."

"Who?" you ask.

"The bad guys, of course," answers Lee.

"Who are the bad guys?"

"Just bad guys," he says. "We shouldn’t talk here. Follow me."

Lee grabs a flashlight from one of the dusty shelves. He flicks it on then pulls the plug on the hanging light.

"This way," he says motioning with the flashlight.

"Where are we going?"

"Into the bowels of the earth," he says.

"Is that safe?"

Lee laughs and says, "Nothing’s safe."

You follow Lee through a series of small, cramped, dusty rooms filled with old food service junk. He opens a door and you see the top of a spiral stair case leading down into a well of darkness. The stairs are metal and they make a hollow, metallic ringing as the two of you make your decent.

You want to ask Lee about the new copy of Into the Labyrinth you found at the book store. Finally, you say, "I found two new versions of Into the Labyrinth."

"Only two?" says Lee.

You weren’t expecting this reply. From his tone you infer that Lee knows about the multiple versions of Into the Labyrinth. But you realize that Lee’s response is ambiguous. He might also have understood you to be referring to replacement copies of the version you started reading in the café. You decide to clarify.

"The two copies are different from the one I started reading this morning in the coffee shop."

All Lee says is "Yep."

"You know about these different versions?"

"Of course, I know," he says. "Why else are you here?"

"I don’t know," you say. "How many versions of Into the Labyrinth are there?"

Lee laughs. "Hard to say really."

"Ten? A hundred?" An order of magnitude estimate would be a start.

"I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many versions there are, but a hundred would be a good initial guess."

The staircase spirals down into a room full of books. At the bottom of the staircase Lee flicks a dusty light switch. The room is large. There are a dozen shelves forming rows. Each row of shelves are full of books.


1. Ask about the books. ("About the Books")

2. Ask about the bad guys. ("The Bad Guys")

3. Ask about the first person version of the book. ("The First Person Version")

About the Books

"What is this place? What are all these books?"

"This is an old fallout shelter," says Lee. "We’ve converted most of the old fallout shelters below the city into libraries."


"We are members of an underground literary society. Our mission is to save and preserve all the books that don’t get published. All the books you see in this room and in the other fallout shelter libraries have never been commercially printed. They are not bad books. Some of them are masterworks of literature. It’s just that for some reason or another, they’ve been missed by the publishing world. The books that are actually published each year represent only a fraction of what’s written. There are hundreds more books written for each one that gets a sweet publishing deal."

You approach one of the shelves. You brush your fingers across the spines of a few of the books.

"They are all printed and bound by hand," says Lee.

"By you?"

"There are many of us," says Lee. "We all help with the work. All of us share the work of writing, printing, and binding."

"What’s the purpose?" you ask.

"The purpose? To promote and conserve great literature. We live in a wonderful time of almost universal literacy, but the future of literature is not guaranteed. We’ve decided to become stewards of literature."

"How noble of you," you say.

"It’s not so much noble as it is self-interest. We all love books. We’d hate to lose them."

"You think there’s a danger of that?"

Lee shrugs. "It depends what you mean. As long as we keep writing, printing, and binding, we will have books. It doesn’t matter what happens up there."


1. Ask about the bad guys. ("The Bad Guys")

2. Ask about the first person version of the book. ("The First Person Version")

The Bad Guys

"Tell me more about these bad guys you mentioned," you ask.

"Ah yes. The bad guys. We don’t know exactly who they are, but they are attempting to undermine our efforts. You see what we do is intercept orders from major book stores like Burns & Nettles and we substitute our books, the books we print, for those that were ordered. Let’s say a book store orders a hundred copies of The Fatkins Diet. What we will do is intercept the shipment and replace that diet fad book with a novel."

"Don’t people notice?"


"Like the clerks at the bookstores."

"Why would they notice?"

"Well, for one thing," you say, "if they look on the packing slip and see an order for one hundred copies of The Fatkins Diet and they receive a box full of novels, they are going to know something’s up."

"We replace the packing slip too," says Lee. "We add our novels to the shipment. We revise the packing slip and insert a few copies the books we want to disseminate. These bad guys are sabotaging us."


1. Ask how the bad guys sabotage them. ("What the Bad Guys Do")

2. Ask about the first person version of the book. ("The First Person Version")

What the Bad Guys Do

"What do the bad guys do?" you ask.

"When they realize that people are starting to read the books that we are sneaking into the system. They print up defective copies. Editions with errors or substandard texts. It’s an effort to discredit the books we place on the shelves. Let me see the two copies of Into the Labyrinth you have."

You open your bag and take out the copies. Lee flips through one. He nods and makes a sounds like unhunh and mutters "I suspected that would happen."

"What happened?"

"You see this copy," he says holding up the copy that is blank after page fifteen. "This is a version produced by our so-called bad guys. They’ve produced a defective version that is mostly blank."

"I don’t see the point. Why print up defective copies? Why don’t they just take the good copies and destroy the good ones."

"The point is to confuse people. You see when one person reads a book and they like it, they tell someone else about it. That person goes out and buys the book. They get a defective copy."

"Yes, but won’t they just ask their friend for the good copy?"

"By that time the bad guys have either stolen the good copy from the original reader or substituted it with a substandard hack-job that the second reader will get. This has the double effect of turning the second reader off the book and discrediting the literary tastes of the person loaning the book."

You laugh. "This just sounds incredible. Why would anyone go to that kind of trouble?"

"Literature is dangerous," says Lee.


1. Ask about the first person version of Into the Labyrinth. ("The First Person Version")

The First Person Version

"What about the other copy of Into the Labyrinth? It looks like you are the narrator of that one."

Lee opens the book and examines is. He frowns. He face turns ashen.

"Is something wrong?" you ask.

"Where did you get this?" he asks.

"At Burns & Nettles. I stopped there on the way over. It was in a box packed up in the back room. What’s the problem?"

"This is not possible," says Lee.

"What’s not possible?" you ask.

"This is the beginning of a story I wrote this morning. I haven’t even printed it out yet. Something incredibly strange is happening. We need to get to the bottom of this."

Next, you...

1. Ask Lee if you can see what he’s talking about. ("Forty Days")

Real Time Fiction

You stop reading and look over a Lee. "Who’s this Adam guy?" you ask.

"He’s the guy who lives in the flat above me," he says. "He’s a physicist, or was."

You notice that while you’ve been reading Lee has been examining another copy of Into the Labyrinth.

"I think I found the right version," Lee says. "Does it fit with what you were reading this morning in the café?"

You walk over to where Lee is sitting. "May I?" you ask.

Lee holds out the copy of the book. You flips through it quickly leafing through the pages with your thumb.

"Well?" Lee asks.

"I think it’s the right one," you say. "It’s hard to tell since I didn’t read more than about fifteen pages."

"It certainly looks authentic," says Lee.

"What about the copy with the section from a story you wrote?" you ask.

"Oh, that," says Lee, a hint of contempt in his voice. "That has to be a fake. It’s written as if I narrated the story. Which I could not have done for the simple reason the action narrated in the story is taking place right now and thus am not privy to the present action."

"How do you know that the action is taking place right now?"

"Well, there’s the account of the author being arrested for one thing," says Lee. "That happened in the café this morning." Lee looks at his wrist watch. "What time do you have?" he asks.

You look at your wrist watch. "12:16," you say.

Lee says, "They’ve probably put him in a holding cell by now."


"The bad guys," says Lee.

"I don’t see how something that happened this morning could already be printed in this book," you say. This statement is false. As the Reader, of course you know how what you are reading could be happening right now. It’s an authorial trick. The author has used the present tense. No matter when you read the novel, the action will be happening in the fictional now. The added trick of making you, Reader, a participant is yet another authorial ruse to appeal to your readerly senses, to acknowledge that together with the author you are a cocreator of the world, a world that is necessarily different from the one that the author envisions.

"I am also confused by the multiple versions of this novel," you add. "There are at least three versions. The one you have here. The one that is apparently narrated by me and the incomplete version that you found at Burns & Nettles on the way over here. How many more versions are there I wonder?"

What Next?

1. Someone enters the room. ("A Red Headed Woman")

2. ?

A Red Headed Woman

Just then a red headed woman enters the library. Without introducing herself or even acknowledging the fact that you are there, she walks right up to Lee. She has a book in her hand. "Look at what I found," she says.

Lee hands the copy of Into the Labyrinth that you were just reading back to you and takes the book from the red head. He flips through that book. "I don’t believe it," he mutters.

"What’s wrong?" you ask. "What is it?"

"Where did you find this?" Lee asks the red head.

"It was in the stacks in the Ramsdale Collection," says the red head.

"What is it?" you ask again.

Lee turns to you. "It’s another version of Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall. This one is different from the others."

"How is it different?" you ask.

"See for yourself," says Lee as he hands you the book.

It’s as if this writer, Donavan Hall, didn’t know what he was doing, didn’t know or could not decide. Or was it really the author’s fault that there were at least four (maybe more) versions of this story.

You flip through the new version of Into the Labyrinth reading select passages. You focus on the parts of the novel that you have read already.

Lee interrupts your reading. "I’m not convinced of the authenticity of this text," he says of the version you are examining presently.

"How do we know which version is the true version?" you ask. "Or is there even a true version?"

"That’s a good question," says the red head. "Why don’t we just find the author, this Donavan Hall, and just ask him? What do we know about him?"

What Next?

1. Tell her about my arrest. (See below.)

2. ?

Tell Her About My Arrest

"That will be difficult," you say.

"Why’s that?" asks the red head.

"While I was reading this morning in the café, he introduced himself to me. We hadn’t hardly exchanged two words when these guys in suits came into the café -- Lee must have seen them -- and arrested him. They also took my book. That’s why I introduced myself to Lee."

You try to gauge the red head’s reaction. You are eager to get to know her better. Who is this woman that has just entered with this new version of Into the Labyrinth that was secreted in the Ramsdale Collection? But she stands blankly without saying a word. She is like a character which an author introduces into a story for a purpose, then once that purpose has been fulfilled the author forgets about or ignores.

"Well, first of all," says Lee, "you didn’t meet the author of Into the Labyrinth."

This statement confuses you. "What do you mean?" you ask. "I think I know what happened this morning. I was there after all."

Lee gives you a patronizing smile and for a moment you want to punch him in the face. "Like I said, you didn’t meet the author."

"Then who was this guy that said he was Donavan Hall?"

"He was the narrator," said Lee raising a finger to make a point. "The narrator is also called Donavan Hall, but he is not the same as the author Donavan Hall. People are always confusing the two, but I assure you they are not the same person."

Suddenly, the red head interjects: "Then who is the author, this Donavan Hall? I’ve never heard of him," she says. "This must be his first novel."

"His first novels," (emphasis on the plural) you correct.

"You know," begins Lee, "I’ve seen something like this before."

"You mean multiple versions of the same story?"

"You will notice," continues Lee, "that each version of the story is in a different voice. The one you started reading this morning is in third person. The next version you got from Burns & Nettles was narrated by Jacob himself; it’s written as if it were his confession. Another version is narrated by myself, or written as if I am narrating. This new version that Marceline has just given to us," (here Lee nods at Marceline who smiles coyly), "is either written in the third person or is narrated by yet another character altogether."

"What about the truncated version?" you ask.

"That we can ignore," says Lee. "It is either a draft abandoned by the author, or a version fabricated by the bad guys to throw us off. So you say you have talked to the narrator?"

"Yes. This morning in the café."

"What did he say to you?"

"He wanted to know if I had any suggestions on how the story should go. He told me that the story was complex. He said there were many ways that he could tell the story. He could dress it up as some kind of genre piece, like a science fiction story or a spy thriller."

"Why would he do that?" asks Marceline. "Why would he ask you how you wanted the story?"

What Next?

1. Say you don’t know.

2. Tell Marceline you don’t like authorial intrusions. (see below)

Tell Marceline You Don’t Like Authorial Intrusions.

"I agree. It’s absurd," you say. "I’ve always disliked novels with authorial intrusions. A writer should just tell the story. I don’t want him hanging around on the page whining about this or that or checking with me every fifth or sixth page to see if I’m still with him."

"At least he sounds conscientious," says Marceline.

"He also told me about the multiple versions of his story. He told me that the one I was reading was the version he had prepared for publication. He said that there were other versions of the story, versions that weren’t published."

"So you’ve known about these multiple versions all along?" asks Lee. "Why didn’t you say something before?"

"I thought you already knew. You acted like you knew this Donavan Hall guy this morning at the café when I asked you about him and his novel Into the Labyrinth. The second version I found is apparently narrated by you, so naturally I concluded that you must have known something about all this."

"Like I said," says Lee. "I’ve seen him around. Sure, I know about his novel Into the Labyrinth and I know that the bad guys -- maybe they are the Novel Police -- were pretty upset about its publication. In fact, Hall suspected there would be trouble. That’s why he came to us in the first place. He said he had some material to deposit with us. He showed up one day with a box full of copies of Into the Labyrinth. At the time, I thought they were just multiple copies of the same novel. What we did was distribute them through our underground library network. We decentralized the copies on the theory that if the security of one of our branches was compromised, there would still be copies at other locations. We do this sort of thing all the time. It’s a service we provide to the community of literary readers."

You begin to think that Lee isn’t telling you everything. You remember that just before the men in suits came to take me away I told you that I would make things interesting for you. Perhaps I made arrangements with Lee ahead of time to confuse you. How did I know that you were going to approach Lee? What else could you do? I’m writing this story, after all.

Of course, Lee has been suspicious about you. He couldn’t be certain that you weren’t some undercover agent for the Novel Police. His obfuscation up to this point could be ascribed to that suspicion.

"You started telling me that you had seen this multiple version device before," you prompt Lee to resume his abandoned thought.

"That’s right. This is a common device used in literature and drama. The author tells the same story from many perspectives. None of the versions tell the same story because each character is different and each will have their own ideas about the actions and motivations of the other characters. Also each character can add things that the other character might not know about. Reading these versions asynchronously, in succession can produce a curious affect in the reader. You learn things later that explain events that were mysterious when told from a different perspective. The first time I ever saw this sort of device was in the theatre. I saw a play by the playwright Clyde Quinland called William the Conqueror. His play was actually three plays each staged on successive evenings. The first night we saw all the action that took place in the living room. The next night it was the kitchen. On the last night we saw all the action that took place in the garden."

"That’s an interesting idea," you say. "I’d like to see it some time."

"It didn’t play very long. Too difficult to convince people to buy tickets for three nights running."

"I can imagine," you say. "So you think that Into the Labyrinth is like Quinland’s three part play."

"Similar to a point. It appears that the versions in this case are told from the perspectives of each of the characters."

Suddenly, you recognize the red head (as if you didn’t already). "Wait a minute," you say to the red head that Lee addressed as Marceline, "you are the woman that Adam was looking at in the café this morning. He followed you down the street."

"That’s right," says Marceline. "Marceline Evans. Pleased to me you."

She extends her hand. You introduce yourself in return. With these pleasantries out of the way you get back to the business at hand: Into the Labyrinth by Donavan Hall.

Lee says, "If we want to know the whole story, we are going to have to read all the versions."

"That might take a long time," you say. You look at your watch. It’s almost 12:32. "We only have until tomorrow morning before this story will end. At the speed I read, it will take at least four hours to finish the version I’ve already started."

"We have two other versions. Three versions total. That’s twelve hours of reading," says Lee. "No problem."

"But we don’t have all the versions. We still have to find the remaining versions of the novel if we want the whole story," you say.

"That’s true," says Lee.

"Why don’t we read in parallel," suggests Marceline. "I’ll read my version. You read yours and Lee will read his. When we are done we’ll compare notes, so to speak."

"And the other versions?" you ask.

"So far we’ve had no problem finding more versions of the novel," says Lee. "I think Marceline’s suggestion makes sense. Perhaps we’ll find some clues about where to locate the other versions."

With that the other two make their departures each carrying a stack of signatures with them. You take a look at the pile of signatures. You examine several. One appears to be a continuation of Into the Labyrinth. But then you notice another signature with the words "Man in Black" written in pencil across the top.

Choose an action.

1. Read more of Into the Labyrinth. ("The Enchanter")

2. Read about the Man in Black. ("The Typewriter")

Lee Comes Back Into the Room

"How’s it coming along?" You hear Lee’s voice. He’s standing in the doorway of the reading room.

You lower this other version of Into the Labyrinth. You remain slumpped in an overstuffed reading chair. "This one’s different," you say. "It’s the third person narrator again. It’s skipped over a chunk of time, perhaps many days or weeks. I was expecting to find out what happened to Jacob after dinner on his first day, but this signature picks up after Jacob has been at the Labyrinth for a while."

"You know," says Lee. "We are dealing with individual signatures of this novel."

"What do you mean?"

"You know a signature is just sixteen or thirty-two page sections of a novel..."

"Yes, I know what a signature is."

"Well, this novelist, Donavan Hall, must have been so paranoid that the Novel Police were going to confiscate and destroy his novel that not only did he preserve different versions of the novel, but he distributed these versions as isolated signatures. All we have are fragments of multiple versions of this novel."

"We need to find the signatures that cover what happens to Jacob after the first day," you say.

"I have some good news," says Lee.

"What’s that?"

"Marceline called the curate of the Daedalus Collection and he’s coming over with a stack of signatures that are part of Into the Labyrinth."

"That’s great," you say.

And as if on cue...

"Here I am," says a short chubby guy carrying a box. He’s dressed casually in a tee-shirt and blue jeans.

"Ah, Derrick," exclaims Lee. "You’ve come with more fragments of Into the Labyrinth."

"Indeed," says Derrick setting the box down.

You stand up and look into the box. It’s full of loose signatures -- booklets the size of a piece of letter paper folded in half. Each signature is thirty-two printed pages. You verify this by picking out two of the signatures and flipping through them. Quick inspection leads you to believe that there are at least a hundred signatures in the box. Thirty-two times one hundred: three thousand two hundred pages.

"This is incredible. All that is part of Into the Labyrinth?" you ask.

"I don’t know," says Derrick. "I didn’t have time to check everything, but I remember several weeks ago that this guy came in with this box and asked me to keep it safe for him. I had him fill out one of our standard deposit forms -- I have it right here---" Derrick reaches into his jeans pocket and comes out with a folded sheet of yellow paper that he proceeds to expand. "See for yourself."

You take the form and look at it. On it in a neat block letters is printed the name Donavan Hall and the title Into the Labyrinth.

Derrick continues: "I told him that we normally only take bound books. I offered to sign him up for one of our book binding classes if he needed help, but he said he was in a hurry and it was really important that he get this stuff in a safe place. He was insistent. I took the box and told him that I would keep them in storage, but that they wouldn’t go into circulation until he had them bound. He said that storage was fine and then left."

"Did he say why it was so important to get the signatures in a safe place?" you ask.

"He didn’t offer and I didn’t ask." Then Derrick reaches into the box and lifts up a stack of signatures. He pulls out a bound volume of about five hundred pages. "This might interest you though," he says.

"What is it?" you ask.

"It’s called Fragments or the Book of Lost Time. Evidently, this guy, Donavan Hall, has been writing for something like fifteen years. This, I believe, is his first novel. I found it in our compact storage. I think it’s the only copy in existence."

You open the book reverently and examine the title page. You then flip through the front matter.

"Do you mind if I take a look at this?" you ask holding the book up.

"Be my guest," says Derrick.

"What about Into the Labyrinth?" asks Lee.

"I’m just curious to see what this is," you say. "It might give us a clue what the author is up to."

"Suit yourself," says Lee. "I’ll get started on sorting through these loose signatures and see if I can get them in some kind of order."

Choose an action.

1. You sit down and begin to read. ("Fragments or the Book of Lost Time")

2. ?

The Unraveling Thread

"You know what this reminds me of," says Marceline. "I reminds me of hypertext, or hyperfiction, also sometimes called e-fiction or iFiction. The way this author, Donavan Hall, has distributed his text across this city in our network of underground libraries and the clues that he’s left to connect each part of the narrative with another reminds me of those early experiments with interactive fiction that appeared on the web in the latter half of the 90s. I remember there was this group of writers--they were all a Louisiana State University, I think, called themselves the Subterraneans or the Ramblers--they wrote highly complex structured works that were intended to be read online."

"I’ve seen a few of those kind of stories," says Lee. "Didn’t like them very much. I don’t like reading fiction on the screen."

Derrick cuts in with a more pertinant question: "How does this collection of loose signatures remind you of hypertext?"

Marceline points to the table where the signatures are now arranged in neat piles all associated by common subject and common characters. "From what I can tell so far, it appears that this text can be read in any order. You can enter into it at any point and start wandering around, following one reference to another. Eventually, if we follow all the interconnections internal to the text we will have navigated the entire body of the work. I think hypertext because I’m thinking that reading this novel (or whatever it is) is like wandering in a labyrinth and the labyrinth is one of the central metaphors to describe hypertext."

"Why not the modern novel?" you ask. "James Joyce should probably be credited with the metaphor of the text as labyrinth. Joyce even named himself Daedalus in his own works. He saw himself as the builder/designer of a huge labyrinthian work in which the reader could wander for a life time. I would say that hypertext is just the technological solution for how to navigate such works. The technology didn’t create the art; art demanded the technology."

"I think you are probably right," says Marceline.

"So you think this Donavan Hall (whoever he is) thinks he’s some postmodern Joyce building his own labyrinthian text?" asks Lee.

"We have plenty of clues to suggest that this is the case," says Marceline. "For example, Hall casts the reader as the hero of the story. If the author is Daedalus, then the reader is Theseus."

"How is the reader the hero of the story?" you ask. "The story I want to read is about a guy named Jacob Ray."

"Yes," says Marceline. "That’s true, but the linking narrative is written in the second person, as if the reader were the one making the choices."

"But the reader doesn’t make any choices," you say. "The action is all predetermined, laid down in advance; its set down on paper by the author. The device of writing these linking narratives from the perspective of the reader is just a literary trick, an illusion."

"You do get to decide what order to read the text," says Derrick.

Then Lee says, "If this story is a labyrinth of text, then what we need is a map--some kind of plan of the work that we can look at that would help us which path to take. I bet there is a signature that serves as the map. A textual labyrith would have a textual map. If we could find or identify the map-text, then we could possibly find our way to the center of this labyrinth, kill the Minotaur, and get back out again."

"I see where this is going," says Derrick. "The true story is the solution to the labyrinth. Once the reader has found the true story then they will have solved the puzzle."

"It might not be a puzzle," says Marceline. "You recall that the Fortune Teller emphasized the distinction between a labyrinth and a maze. Perhaps the author wants to tell us that his story is not a maze, that there is no single solution. In short, there is no puzzle to be solved. My theory is that what we have here are multiple interlocking stories that can be wandered through in a labyrinthian fashion. We can lay down our Ariadne’s thread if we like, but we may not need it."

"Then what’s the point to all this?" you ask. "Doesn’t this story or collection of stories have a point?"

"Why does it need a point?" says Marceline (probably rhetorically).

Lee answers, "Wouldn’t the point of the story be to find the Minotaur and slay it? Assuming that this collection of labyrinthian texts really does draw on the classical narrative structure that Marceline suggests?"

"So what is the Minotaur in this story? How does Theseus, the reader, kill it?" asks Derrick.

"Maybe there is no Minotaur," says Marceline. "Didn’t the Fortune Teller say something about a golden flower at the center of the labyrinth?"

"So the Minotaur is a golden flower?" asks Lee.

"I don’t think its a simple as that. We aren’t going to `solve’ this text by mapping it on to a classical narrative," says Marceline. "You can’t throw away Ulysses once you realize that Joyce has mapped his tale onto The Odyssey. I suspect that the author of this text anticipated that the reader would not be satisfied with a simple retelling of the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. My point about this text being a labyrinth was not to suggest that the narrative itself is just a retelling of this myth. I don’t think that there is any key or solution to this labyrinth. There is no Minotaur, and we certainly can’t make the Minotaur into a golden flower. Forcing a one-to-one correspondence between elements of this story and classical myths will not allow us to dispose of the text."

"What’s the point of our being here then?" asks Lee. "Isn’t it our job to figure out the author’s puzzle and solve it."

"If there is a puzzle," says Marceline. "I don’t think there’s a puzzle to solve."

"But there is a labyrinth," says Derrick. "That much we can agree upon. And to get through the labyrinth we need to find the map-text."

Lee says, "I thought we were trying to find out who arrested the author and where they are keeping him so we could help him get free."

"It must have been the Novel Police," says Marceline.

"Yes, but why would the Novel Police arrest this author and confiscate all the published versions of his novel?" asks Lee. "I haven’t seen anything yet that would upset anyone. This text is sprawling, self-referential, and multiply connected, but that’s not unusual; that alone would not attract the attention of the Fiction Police."

There’s a momentary silence, as if everyone is thinking.

At last you say, "My only interest is to get my copy or a copy of the novel I was reading. I’m not particularly interested in finding the author. To tell you the truth I don’t really care about the author. I just want to read the story."

"There you go," says Derrick sweeping an expansive hand over the table of stacked signatures. "It’s in there somewhere. Just get reading if you want to read."

You sigh. "In principle, I agree with you, but my calculations show that we’ve collected at least five thousand pages of text at this point. I’m not sure I want to commit to reading five thousand pages of text. I want to read the version of the story I started this morning. There’s a lot of books I want to read. Life’s short, and I’m not prepared to spend the rest of my life wandering in this particular labyrinth."

"What’s wrong with this labyrinth?" asks Marceline.

"It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it," you say. "Like I said, there’s a lot of books I want to read. This one, or the copy I bought at the bookstore, looked interesting. I am willing to commit to a couple of hundred pages, but more than that is just too much."

"Maybe Derrick is right," says Marceline. "Maybe you should just start reading if that what you want to do. Just read until you’ve had enough and then stop. That’s the real novel."

"But I want to read the novel that the author wrote," you say.

"He wrote all this too," says Derrick indicating the boxes of papers on the table.

"It’s too much," you say.

"My point is that you don’t have to read all of it," says Marceline.

"Okay, let’s assume I read a part of it. How do I decide where to start and where to stop?"

"Does it matter?" asks Derrick.

"It matters to me," you say.

"Maybe the author needs some help," says Marceline.

"What do you mean?" you ask.

"Maybe we are supposed to lay down our own thread as we read. The resulting path through this collection of text would represent the preferred readerly path through the text. If we arrange the text as we read, then when we reach the end of the story, we will have helped the author come up with his novel."

"But I had a version that the author prepared for publication. He’d already done this work. The writerly path has been established. Why would the author need our help at this point?"

"He needs our help, because the Fiction Police have got him," says Derrick. "And if you are so interested in reading his published version then we’ll need to find him."

"Couldn’t we just post his bail, bring him back here and ask him what’s up?" says Lee.

"If we could find him," says Derrick.

"Where’s the Novel Police HQ?" asks Lee.

"It’s all covert, special operations," says Derrick. "Their HQ is secret. It’s not like they cruise around the city in uniforms. The office is run like a detective’s bureau."

"I don’t think that’s necessary," says Marceline. "There’s nothing special about the text that the author prepared for publication. We have something better. We have the complete text."

"You might be right," you say. "When I talked to the author in the café this morning, he did say something about finding a better way to tell the story. Maybe this is the better way. If he left good enough directions, then in principle we should be able to find our way through the labyrinth."

"So we don’t need to find Novel Police HQ and post the author’s bail?" asks Lee.

"Whatever scrape the author has got himself into is not my problem," you say.

"You’re going to read through this pile of text then?" asks Derrick.

"What the hell," you say looking at your wrist watch, an enamel-faced dial with Roman numerals around the rim. You notice that the hands are missing. "Apparently, I’ve got the time."

So you...

1. Start reading. ("White Space")


Lee and Derrick walk into the room. They are in the middle of a conversation. You decide to listen.

"You really think I should resurrect Bloomsday?" asks Derrick.

"All I’m saying is that your creative energies are better spent on a worthy project like adapting a great literary work to a new medium rather than rehashing the same kind of political opinion pieces that appear in the newspapers and magazines everyday."

"I suppose you’re right," says Derrick.

"I’m curious," says Lee. "How’s the market for interactive fiction nowadays?"

"Market? What market?" says Derrick. "There hasn’t been a market for text based interactive fiction since the early nineties when the graphics based games displaced text. But I don’t think there has ever been a commercial market for literary adaptation. That’s more of interest to academic types."

"I mean outside the commercial end of things. Do people still read interactive fiction?"

"I do," says Derrick. "Sure. There’s a lot of people still into it. Most of what you find out there on the Internet is text-based adventure games, but some of the writing isn’t bad. The people still reading interactive fiction are pretty committed to the artform. They are real readers. They haven’t been suduced by the moving image."

Then Derrick adds, "You know; your stuff would be ideal for adaptation into an interactive literary form."

"What my books?"

"Sure, you write science fiction and fantasy. That’s the staple of the market," says Derrick.

"But alas, there’s no money in it," says Lee. "The artistic worthiness might be there but I and my publisher need to make money. I’m not blessed with a day job."

"Blessed? It’s a curse man. I hate sitting in that stupid bank all day adding up columns of stupid numbers. It’s mindless and boring. I’d love to sit in my apartment all day writing."

"Then you should write hard science fiction. The market is good for that."

"Yeah?" says Derrick actually looking interested.

"Sure, Gil, my editor, said the other day that if I could crank out twice as many books, he could sell them. Readers are buying hard ess-eff."

Just then Marceline rushes into the room. Lee and Derrick stop talking and look to see what all the excitement is about. You assume it has something to do with what she is holding. In her right hand, held aloft in much the same way one would wave The Sayings of Chairman Mao at a Communist Party rally, is a hard bound note book. Instead of being red, it is black and has a textured cover.

"I’ve found something," she says.

"Do enlighten us," says Lee.

"Pray tell, what it this volume?" asks Derrick.

You are about to join in the chorus of exhortations, but Marceline speaks. "We’ve found his diary!" she says triumphantly.

"Who’s diary?" you ask.

Every one looks at you like you are a complete idiot.

"The narrator’s. This Donavan Hall character," says Marceline.

"Gadzooks!" says Lee. "Have you read it?"

"I read the first few entries," she says. "Then when I realized what it was I came straight here."

"Good thinking," says Derrick.

"Maybe we’ll find out what this is all about," you suggest. "Shall we read it?"

"We can’t all read it at once," says Lee.

"I’ll read it aloud," says Marceline.

"A capital idea, my dear," says Lee. "Let’s just get comfortable and you can start."

Lee and Derrick flop down into nearby chairs. You are already sprawled on a couch.

Marceline commences her declamation standing.


1. Listen to Marceline. ("The Author’s Diary")

A Breakthrough

You look up from this new book. You can see that Lee has arranged the loose signatures from the box into stacks on the table.

"Is everything in order?" you ask.

Lee frowns and parks his hands on his hips. "This is getting more and more complex. I’m beginning to believe that this author is functioning without limits." Lee sees that his statement is not clear. "I’ll explain. From what I can tell from a cursory reading of these signatures is that we are dealing with at least four different, but related and interlocking novels. Each of the novels can be read independently of the others, but when read as a whole, the author’s intent is that a larger story emerge from thematic resonance in each of the works."

"You can tell that just from a cursory look at more than three thousand pages?" You are impressed.

"It’s just a guess. It appears that the author method of composition was haphazard. Judging from the quality of the prose, it is clear that he wrote quickly and without much rewriting. That’s why I say he’s functioning without limts. He’s just writing down whatever comes into his mind and in whatever order it occurs to him."

"Perhaps that’s just a rough draft," you say.

"You are probably right."

"The version I was reading this morning in the café, the one the author said he had prepared for publication, was carefully written."

Marceline enters. She is holding a signature by the corner between her thumb and forefinger. The signature flops as she waves it for emphasis.

"I’ve found something," she says.

"What is it?" Lee asks.

"We’ve found his diary."

You get up from the comfortable seat where you are reading to get a better look at the signature that Marceline just laid down on the table.

"Have you read it yet?" you ask Marceline.

"I’ve only skimmed it. Once I realized what it was I couldn’t sit still. I had to tell you."

"As well you should," says Lee.

"Who gets to read it first?" you ask.

"Why don’t I read it out loud?" suggests Marceline.

You agree. You return to your comfy chair. Lee sits down at the table. Marceline commences her declamation standing.


1. Listen to Marceline. ("The Author’s Diary")

The Author’s Diary

Note: These entries could be collected in a special section at the end of the book.

Wednesday, June 30

Last week I started reading Stanley Karnow’s Paris in the Fifties hoping that I would get a flavor for the culture in which the writers of the nouveau roman and the filmmakers of the nouvelle vague worked. Early in the book Karnow mentions Robbe-Grillet and Michel Butor, but Nathalie (or as he calls her Natasha) Sarraute emerges a major character. Sarraute was the mother of Claude, Karnow’s first wife. Karnow lived in the same house as Sarraute. Karnow reports that he never learned to appreciate Sarraute’s writing. Unfortunately, the copy of the book I have at the moment is the audio version. I will try to find a print version and reread the pertinant section for good quotes. Such as...

"She follows Proust, but as a gleaner."

The first sentence that I underline is: "It used to be said that everyone had a novel in them."

I think I have a novel in me. I hope I do at any rate. I’m thirty-five and I’m still trying to pull the first one out of the hat. I’m vaguely disgusted with myself for not attending to this earlier. Finishing my first novel, I mean.

To the left of where I’m sitting now is a stack of the manuscripts I’ve written in the past few years. I’ve finished two fiction pieces and a non-fiction book. The rest of the stack is composed of collections of fragments. The finished pieces are not really finished. They are first drafts. Once through and then set aside.

Connections: Anyone who reads or writes discovers (especially novelists, at some point in writing a novel the novelist will reach a point when he believes...) that everything is connected to everything else. You will notice this if you try to read several books at once. It’s difficult not to find something that is connected to everything else. Apart from being a possibly banal observation about how our brain processes and classifies information, the interconnectedness of all things at least feels like some profound discovery or realization into the true nature of things. When we make connections we feel like we have glimpsed behind the veil or popped the hood to peak at reality’s engine. Douglas Hofstadter writes about Indra’s Net in his GEB:

Here, Lee breaks in with a question. "What’s GEB?"

You know the answer to that one. "It’s an abbreviation for Hofstadter’s book, Gödel, Esher, Bach."

"I see," says Lee. "Pray continue."

"This is the quote from Hofstadter’s book," says Marceline.

The Buddhist allegory of "Indra’s Net" tells of an endless net of threads throughout the universe, the horizontal threads running through space, the vertical ones through time. At every crossing of threads is an individual, and every individual is a crystal bead. The great light of "Absolute Being" illuminates and penetrates every crystal bead; moreover, every crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net--but also every reflection of every reflection throughout the universe.

"End quote. Then the author adds:"

Hofstadter connects Indra’s Net with M.C. Esher’s Three Spheres II and renormalized particles. I can’t help seeing a lattice of atoms in the flux of unfolding and folding in the Bohmian sense.

What Next?

1. Read more of the diary. ("Saturday, July 12")

2. Ask what is meant by "Bohmian sense."

Saturday, July 12

Here’s what Robbe-Grillet says about "the new novel":

"If in many of the pages that follow, I really employ the term New Novel, it is not to designate a school, [cf. Barthes’s essay The Robbe-Grillet School] nor even a specific and constituted group of writers working in the same direction; the expression is merely a convenient label applicable to all those seeking new forms for the novel, forms capable of expressing (or of creating) new relations between man and the world."

I’m in the thick of writing my own novel (technically my first). Many voices tell me to abandon the project. The loudest voice is the one that says that I have nothing new to say. Everything that I’m putting into my novel has been said before by some other novelist. Perhaps, my treatment of the subject matter is different, but nevertheless I’m covering well-traveled ground. Every novel I’ve picked up to read lately has had some of the same thematic elements that I treat in my writing. Indeed, Don Delilo’s novel, White Noise, is principally about the fear of death---this same theme runs through the 2nd rough draft of my novel. Nicole Krauss’ novel, A Man Walks Into a Room, opens with a test of an atomic bomb and is about a man with memory loss. (I couldn’t find the energy to finish this novel. I abandoned reading it while in Montréal.)

I suspect (my thesis is) that the French writers and filmmakers discussed in this (proposed) literary/cinematic reference work were looking for something new to say and a new way to say it. The new novelists intended to develop a new form of the novel, one that was not bound up in the forms of the past. The filmmakers of the new wave wanted to create a first-person cinema. (This is perhaps most clear in the work of François Truffaut.)

The question for a novelist (or filmmaker) of today is: Why deal in traditional forms when those forms have been done well many times before? This question is relevant because most young artists would like to make a living with their art. To get paid for your work you are told to write a "novel that sells." The guides that tell you how to write a novel are full of tips on how to properly use the traditional forms: setting, characterization, plot, point of view, dialogue and scene, beginnings and endings, description, voice, etc.

An argument for making use of these traditional forms is this: Traditional forms can provide endless permutations and combinations for the expression of the novelist’s unique situation or perspective. Deciding not to write a traditional novel because such novels have been written before would be like deciding not to live your life because others have lived before. An absurd argument. I live because it is my life. I write my novel because it is mine to write. I will write it in the language I choose, using the forms that are most natural to my needs. If those methods are the traditional ones, then so be it.

Another reason for today’s novelist to write novels, to add to the already huge number of novels available for the today’s reader, is to keep the tradition alive. If we stop writing novels, and the form dies, we risk (as a culture) losing our taste for novels. The fact that people still write novels helps to keep the old classics alive.

However, Alain Robbe-Grillet argues that just writing more traditional novels will not preserve the novel, but kill it. Without innovation and adaptation, the form will die. The new novelists believed that their novels would eventually become the standard.

After I first learned of the New Novel (in reading a discussion of Hiroshima Mon Amour in a collection of articles from Cahiers du Cinema) I looked up the term New Novel on the Internet. I found this:

"The New Novel or Nouveau Roman refers to a movement in French literature that flourished in the mid-fifties and early sixties which called into question the traditional modes of literary realism. It is seen by some commentators as standing mid-way between modernism and postmodernism. Associated with the works of Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor, Claude Simon, Phillipe Sollers, and Nathalie Sarraute, the new novel is characterized by an austere narrative tone which often eschews metaphor and simile in favour of precise physical descriptions, a heightened sense of ambiguity with regards to point of view, radical disjunctions of time and space, and self-reflexive commentary on the processes of literary composition."

What Next?

1. Next. ("The Last Chapter")

The Last Chapter

You wander through a gigantic shopping mall looking for some way out. Every branch you go down opens on to yet another shopping concourse. Shops without end selling cheap junk designed to fall apart after a single use. You can’t even find a decent place to order a beer. Suddenly, you feel a hand on your shoulder; someone is shaking you and saying your name.

It’s Marceline. You open your eyes and stare up into her face. For a moment you think that she is the most beautiful creature in the world.

"We have a lead," she says.

"I must have fallen asleep," you say sitting up on the couch. There are papers all over the floor and stacks of books all around you.

"It doesn’t matter," say Marceline. "We’re going to need your help if we are ever to find out how this book ends."

"You know where the last chapter is?" you ask.

"No, but we found out where the Novel Police are holding Donavan Hall."


"In a cell on top of the Eden Tower," she says.

"What are waiting for?" you say trying to display a little enthusiasm despite the sleepy fog that still grips you.

You follow Marceline out of the reading room and down a hallway to a spiral staircase that leads up. You walk up and up and just when you are starting to feel so dizzy that you are just about to ask Marceline if you can stop and rest, you come to the top.

Marceline opens a door and sticks her head out. She looks both ways and then opens the door wider and motions you out.

You step out into some kind of underground hallway. It’s well lit and painted white. In the distance you see a sign for a subway line.

"We’re in the subway," says Marceline closing the door behind her.

It’s a thick metal door. On it, you see a sign that says, "Danger. Electrical. Keep Out!" There’s a little icon of a lightning bolt and a stick figure falling backward.

Marceline smiles and says, "Crude, but effective."

Marceline motions for you to follow. You walk along side down the hall.

"Where are the others?" you say.

"Lee and Derrick are picking up some equipment and will take the van."

"What kind of equipment?" you ask.

Marceline glances over at you. "Have you ever used a gun?"

You and Marceline catch the O train up to Eden Plaza. When you come out of the station into the Plaza, you see that the sun has just come up. You can just feel some of the evening coolness still in the air.

The subway exit puts you right into Eden Plaza. It’s a large square surrounded by high walls with three enormous gates on each wall. Eden Tower itself is in the middle of the square. The base of the tower is a rectilinear field of granite cubes of all sizes. Around the cubes are square streams, pools, and water falls. "It’s call the Water Garden of Eden," says Marceline.

"Very modern," you remark.

You have to cross a rectangular suspension bridge to a flight of about a hundred granite steps that lead up to the entrance of the Tower.

"We’re just going to go through the front door?" you ask.

"I doubt they are expecting us," says Marceline. "We’ll meet Lee and Derrick inside. They are going to bring in everything we need through the service entrance."

The entrance hall of the Eden Tower is just as impressive as the Plaza. You feel the cool but humid interior air as you push through the revolving doors. It’s like you stepped into a jungle. Huge trees of every kind are planted in the entrance hall. Each tree is in its own square of earth. You hear the rush of a water in the distance. You and Marceline follow a wide granite path toward a set of glass doors.

Two security guards wait on the other side of the glass doors. The entrance reminds you of the security screening area at the airport. There is a metal detector you have to walk through and an x-ray machine with a conveyor belt.

The guards do not smile. One directs you to empty your pockets into a plastic bowl.

"Remove your shoes and belt," he says to you.

You follow the instructions and you are waved through the metal detector.

Marceline is right behind you.

On the other side, one of the security guards asks you some questions about who you are here to visit, name, driver’s license number.

Marceline says, "We are here to see Dr Goldburg. We have an appointment."

"Both of you?" asks the guard.

"Marriage counseling," explains Marceline. She reachs over and squeezes your hand.

"Sign here," says the security guard pushing a three ringed binder toward them.

The guard encodes two cards. They look like credit cards. He hands one to each of you. "This will get you to the twelfth floor and give you access to the public restrooms. Return them to this desk when you check out."

Cooly you walk with Marceline to the elevators. Marceline inserts her card key into the slot below the controls and hits the up button. It takes just a little over a minute for the elevator to arrive. The door chimes, opens, and the two of you step on. You note that above the control panel on the inside of the elevator is a camera. You assume that there is also a microphone.

You look at Marceline. You say, "Everything will turn out already, dear. With Dr Goldburg’s help we will get through this difficult time."

Marceline smiles and gives you a wink.

The elevator stops at the twelfth floor and the doors open. Dr Goldburg’s office turns out to be in suite 1208. You hesitate. Marceline shakes her head.

"I have to powder my nose first. Perhaps you could step into the Men’s at the same time."

You take the hint and follow Marceline a few more doors down to the public restrooms. Between the doors is a recessed area with a water fountain. You swipe your card key in the track next to the handle and the door unlocks. You step into the Men’s at the same time Marceline steps into the Women’s.

As far as bathrooms go, this one is pretty ordinary. One urinal, two stalls. One handicapped accessible. Two wash basins. You enter the smaller stall and close the door.

You wish you had brought something to read and then you remember the booklet that you had stuffed in your back pocket.

What do you do?

1. Wait quietly. ("In the Washroom")

2. You read the booklet. ("Debugging")

In the Washroom

After a few minutes of waiting in the men’s washroom, you hear a noise: the sound of the locking mechanism on the door actuating in response to a keycard being run through the strip-reader. The thunk echos sharply in your tiled environment. A moment later the door opens and you hear footsteps, the hollow tapping of leather soled dress shoes.

Since you are in a stall, there is no danger of the person (you assume it is a man) seeing you. But you aren’t too worried, since you have access to this floor and the bathroom and your cover story seemed to work with the guards at the entrance, so why should anyone else in the building care if you are in a men’s room stall?

You are startled though when the man who has just entered the washroom calls your name.

"Is everything all right?" he asks.

You aren’t sure whether to answer or not.

You decide to:

1. Play it cool and remain silent. ("Stalling")

2. Speak up. ("Break Cover")


You figure that it’s probably best just to sit (or stand) tight and remain silent. No use giving yourself away needlessly. Perhaps this guy will give up.

"It’s time for the appointment to start," says the man. And after a pause, he adds, "I know you are in here. Security registered your arrival and your keycard was last used on the lock on this bathroom a few minutes ago."

The man is now standing in front of the stall where you are hiding. The man knocks.


1. The game’s up. You open the door. ("Dr Goldburg")

Dr Goldburg

You recall the name of the person that Marceline told the guards you were coming to see: Dr Goldburg. You open the door and say, "Dr Goldburg I presume."

The man standing in front of you is dressed in a navy blue suit. His tie has red and yellow stripes. His hair is longish for someone in a suit and he’s sporting a goatee.

"That’s me," says the man. He checks his watch. "It’s time for your appointment. Are you ready?"

At this point you are going to have to go along with this guy’s game.


1. Go with Dr Goldburg. ("Therefore")

Break Cover

The man is looking for you. The washroom is not large. You figure you might as well get it over with and see what the man wants. At this point you haven’t done anything wrong, so you figure you have nothing to fear. You could probably try to get rid of the guy.

"I’m in here," you say. "I’m not done yet."

"Oh, I see," says the man. "Sorry to disturb you." Then after a pause. "Do you think you’ll be long?"

"Hard to say, really," you reply.

"You do plan on coming to the appointment then?"

You lie. "Of course, I’ll be there in a second."

"And your wife," adds the man.

"Yes, Marceline and I will be with you presently."

"Very good," says the man. "I’ll just go back to my office and wait then. You know where the office is I take it?"

"Of course," you say. "I won’t be long."

"In that case, I’ll see you in a few minutes."

"That works for me," you say.

Then you hear the man’s footsteps as he retreats to the washroom door. The door opens and, you presume, that the man steps out.

"Well, that was close," you mutter to yourself.


1. Next. ("Mission Impossible")


Psychotherapy is part of your court-ordered rehabilitation. You call your psychotherapist your "shrink" because characters in films talk this way and because you are resentful that you have to be here. You feel fully justified for having done what you did.

"Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator before?" Dr Goldburg asks.

You answer, "Sure. I had to take it as part of a productivity enhancement seminar at InterNex."

"Do you recall what your personality type was?"

Several years had passed since then and you can not remember what the types were. "No. It’s been too long," you say.

Goldburg pulls some stapled sheets from the clip board, a copy of the fifty questions that, when answered, will determine your personality type. Goldburg refers to the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator as an "instrument" for revealing your personality type. There are no right or wrong answers. Just give the answer that comes to mind first or seems to fit the best. No second guessing. Don’t think too hard about the answers. Fifty questions. Two hundred multiple choice answers.

Your "shrink" gives you the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator, an "instrument" that has its being as a register trademark of some psychotherapeutic corporation. You don’t tell your shrink that the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator is a parlor game no better than the crystal ball of storefront fortune tellers. You restrain yourself from being too mocking of this process. Dr Goldburg will, after all, have to sign your release forms. You don’t say anything about Forer effect: the desire of ignorant and gullible people to want to believe the things that charlatans say about them. The Self is so mysterious and impenetrable that people will fool themselves into thinking that they’ve had a glimpse into that inner sanctum. You wouldn’t be surprised if your shrink tried to cast your horoscope next.

Your shrink either doesn’t know about the Forer effect or chooses not to say anything.

The Forer effect is the willingness of people to see themselves described in vague generalities. You learned about the Forer effect when you started thinking about the daily horoscope in the newspaper. Twelve horoscopes. One for each Zodiacal sign. How could one horoscope apply to everyone born during a certain time of year? Millions upon millions of people summed up in a few sentences. Their only common factor is the proximity of their birth dates. What about the people at the edges? If you are born at 11:59 p.m. on October 22, you are a Libra. One minute later, and you will be a Scorpio. Two different horoscopes. Why make a distinction? Each horoscope is written in such general terms that it could apply to anyone. The Myers-Briggs is the psychotherapeutic equivalent of casting a horoscope.

Everybody wants answers. Everybody wants to be described. We want to know who we are and what makes us tick. Science can tells us about the physical-biological mechanism, but who do we turn to for knowledge of the spirit? Priests, psychotherapists, astrologers?

You do the fifty question test in about ten minutes. There is no such thing and a right or wrong answer.

Answers are what people who use the Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator are looking for. We want to know who we are and what makes us tick. The spirit filling the mechanism.

In the Fellowship of Nazarites United being spirit filled was a gift from God. You would dance and sing, raise your hands and weep until God filled you with the Spirit. Now you know this is a type of spiritual insanity. A loss of control. A ceding of the will to the expectations of the community. The annihilation of the individual to make them conform to the will of the community. If you can get somebody to cluck like a chicken, then you can influence them in more conventional ways, like telling them what kind of liquid detergent to use to wash their dishes, or getting them to take out that loan for a new car.

Goldburg evaluates your answers and writes a something at the bottom of your answer sheet. "Very interesting," he says. "I would have guessed differently."

"What is it?" I ask.

You’re an INFP, your shrink tells you as he hands you an open booklet that gives a description of your personality type. He wants you to read it and tell him what you think.

You’re not going to fall for it. You know better. Everything about the INFP type is you. You read the ET-J type too. Everything about the ET-J type is you. Not a controlled experiment but you’re back down to earth. You are all sixteen types and you can prove this fact by induction. You would have to be all sixteen types or the Myer-Briggs would be obviously false. The "instrument" is merely obscurely false.

You smile and agree with your shrink.

The phone rings in the other room.

"Excuse me," says Dr Goldburg as he stands. "I’ll be back in a moment."

You decide:

1. ...to read more of Into the Labyrinth to pass the time. ("The Square Inch Field")

The Square Inch Field

[rewrite the following replacing "Jacob" with "you" and connect with fortune teller option above]

At the next intersection Jacob crosses the avenue. In principle he could have taken the jog over to the next avenue at any point below Nth Street. The decision to alter his course to go along the street comes from somewhere below his consciousness and he does not accord any significance to his new course.

The distance between the avenues is larger than between the east-west running streets. The street he is on now is narrower than the avenue. Parked cars line both sides of the street. The buildings appear to have been houses, the places where people once lived, but most have been converted into businesses, at least at the street level. It is possible that people still live on the upper floors.

Few of the businesses appear to be open. They are the sort of offices that close at five o’clock. Lawyers, dentists, an Impossible Worlds travel agent.

When Jacob arrives at what he judges to be the halfway point between the avenues he passes a cluster of odd-ball retailers whose shops are open. The first window he passes has an arrangement of vinyl LPs on display. Jacob catches a brief glimpse of an overweight man standing behind a counter, a newspaper spread out in front of him. He has a full, bristly brown beard. Jacob sees all this in a instant as if it were a photograph or the sudden illumination of a scene by a flash of light.

Behind the next window is a collection of gaudily dressed mannequins. Some of the mannequins are old and missing fingers. One with a bright pink feather boa is missing its nose. It leans slightly to the left as if blown by a wind. Jacob concludes that this is a costume shop. He notes the body of a gorilla suit with a Richard Nixon mask where the head should be.

The costume shop is next to an adult entertainment shop with a triple X in the window and a sign advertising adult videos. This shop is above the street level and set back from the side walk. To enter this shop one would have to mount a short flight of stairs.

Below the sex shop, in a closet-like courtyard is an open door and window with a lit neon sign, a single word in a cursive like script: Tarot. A set of narrow steps leads from the sidewalk to the court yard. A figure emerges from the relative darkness of the shop’s interior. Jacob sees that the figure is a woman. As her face is illuminated he has an immediate sensation of recognition. For a fleeting moment he sees the face of someone he recognizes. His surprise at seeing this face makes him stop. He had already started to raise his hand to wave when the sensation of recognition ended and yielded a realization that he has never seen this woman before in his life. Now Jacob feels awkward. He can’t now pretend that he hasn’t seen the woman. She looks directly at him. She smiles softly. His hand is partially raised. He has already stopped and turned; so now, to turn away from the woman (who clearly sees him and perhaps expects him to say something) and continue walking would appear strange. It would be even more strange for him to wave at the woman like she is an old friend. His mind races, formulating possible actions. He cannot explain his feeling of discomfort. The mistake of his feeling that (at first) he recognized the woman surfaced a memory of shame. He is a young school boy. He stands with his friends in front of the school. A long yellow bus full of children rolls slowly by. A girl hangs out of a window in the bus; she is about half of the way down the bus, closer to the rear than the front. The girl waves her arms wildly. She yells out a greeting. She repeats the greeting more and more insistently. Jacob turns to see who it is that is waving. At the instant he turns he believes the girl is someone that he knows. It’s Angela from his Math class. He has been working up the courage to speak to Angela for several weeks. Impulsively, Jacob (who thinks that the young girl is Angela calling out to him from the bus window) waves back. Just as he begins waving he realizes that the girl is not Angela. Immediately, the girl calls out from the bus window: "Not you!"

Before Jacob can act on any of the thoughts prompted by the turmoil of emotions called to his mind as a result of this situation, the woman speaks.

"Would you like to know your future?"

The woman is dressed like a gypsy in multicolored layers of gossamer fabric. She has a golden, jeweled belt around her waist. The clasp has a red jewel the size of a coin. A single diamond stud sparkles on the surface of her left nostril.

"Can you tell me where I’m going?"

The woman laughs. "Come in. Let me show you something."

Jacob hesitates.

"Don’t be afraid. This won’t take long. And besides, you might learn something."

Unsure about how he can extricate himself -- he could not bring himself to enumerate his excuses for why he would not enter the shop -- he doesn’t want to be rude. He feels that the woman likes him. He doesn’t want to make her angry with him. He cannot think of any specific reason for why he should want to please her aside from her obvious beauty.

"I suppose I could come in for a second," he says. "I am supposed to meet a friend for dinner."

"So you already know where you are going. Come in, please."

Jacob moves toward the steps that leads down to the small courtyard. When he is at the bottom of the steps, he is almost face to face with the woman. She turns. As she does she motions to him to follow her.

His nose registers his entrance into the shop before any of his other senses. The odor of incense and burning candles replaces the street smell: a cocktail of sewer and car exhaust. The cramped shop is full of glittering things on shelves: small crystal figurines, tiny glass bowls, and multi-colored stones. From the ceiling hang crystalline ornaments reflecting and bending light, rainbows of color stream from their beveled edges. Jacob hears the quiet tinkle of gently blown wind chimes and from the rear of the shop the soft flow of water bubbling over pebbles in a table top waterfall.

On the right, next to the cash register is a glass display case with silver rings and jeweled necklaces laid out on plate glass tiers.

At the rear of the shop is a small room. Across the entrance is draped a curtain of suspended strings of jewels. The jewels are formed pieces of colored glass (dark red, ice blue, clear) in various shapes: lozenge, diamonds, oblate spheroids, etc. In the center of the room is a low round table covered with a white lace cloth. There are two striped, upholstered chairs: one on either side of the table. About half way up the back wall is an illuminated light fixture shaped roughly like a sea-shell or perhaps a blossoming flower. The three walls are a deep almost purplish red.

The woman extends her hand and pulls the strings of jewels aside so that he can enter.

"Please sit down."

He sits. The woman sits down across from him.

"No crystal ball?" he asks.

"Do you want me to get a crystal ball?"

He laughs. "Not necessarily."

"You are a skeptic," she says. "You don’t believe in spiritualism."

"The sign on your door says ’For entertainment only.’"

"That’s right."

"Do you have to have that sign? Or is it something to do with your licensing?"

"It’s my choice," she says.

"That’s interesting. I would think that most fortune tellers would want their clients to think they had some real connection to the spiritual realm."

"I don’t usually worry about what people think," she says.

"All you do is entertain people." Then he adds, "I respect that."

"Is there no value in entertainment?"

"Sure there is value in entertainment. I like to be entertained." Through the jeweled curtain Jacob sees the cash register.

From beneath the table the woman produces a black velvet bag, cinched closed at the top with a braided, golden cord. When the woman places the bag on the table, Jacob hears the clatter of objects settling into a new position. He cannot tell what might be in the bag: small marbles? dominoes? jewels? gold-coins? Not coins, since the clattering sound is not the clink of metal objects. He can almost believe they are dominoes since the sound is almost the same as what he remembers from his childhood when he would play dominoes with his grandmother. He can here the hum of a fan blowing the humid air in his grandmother’s kitchen. He is eight years old. The table is wooden. On it are a pile of dominoes. In front of his grandmother, on a glass coaster is a sweating glass of iced tea.

"Choose five stones." The woman loosens the golden cord. "Pick the first ones that you touch; don’t worry about digging around for the correct stone."

Jacob leans forward and removes five stone, one at a time transferring each stone from one hand to the other. The stones are not really made of rock. They are small enameled chips, rounded cream-colored rectangles -- not unlike lettered pieces used in Scrabble. On one side of each piece is a figure or symbol etched into one side and painted with black lines. Jacob lays out each piece with the symbols visible. When he finishes, the woman says "Good," and removes the bag.

The woman reorients two of the pieces. Now the pieces are in a row on the table between them. The symbol on the leftmost piece is a circle bisected with a horizontal line and a vertical line descending from the center -- essentially a circle inscribed with a capital T where the horizontal line is twice as long as the vertical line. On the next piece is a triangle oriented so that the point is toward the woman. An inscribed horizontal line about a third of the distance between the tip and the base creates the impression that a small triangle has been placed on top of a trapezoid, not unlike the profile of the pyramid of Osiris that decorates the dollar bill. The symbol on the center piece is composed of five strokes: a central vertical stroke and two curved strokes sagging from the top of the vertical stroke -- like the capital letter T where the horizontal lines sag similar to an oriental parasol. The additional two strokes are like an arrow superimposed on the sagging T. This symbol could be a Chinese character if it appeared by itself; however, in this context the similarly probably is accidental. The next two symbols obviously are astrological signs. Jacob has seen these symbols first in the old almanacs at his grandmother’s house. He had seen them again in his freshman astronomy class used a symbols for planets, though he can not remember which planets these two symbols are supposed to represent. The first planetary symbol is a small cross on top of a semi-circle. The next, right-most piece, is like an inverted lower-case h with a horizonal line through the stem where the vertical line is shortened and the curved portion is rounded, terminating in a small flare or twiddle.

"I’m sorry. I should have inverted them so they are right side up for you. I’m so used to looking at them this way." She says this as she turns each piece one hundred eighty degrees.

"I wouldn’t have known the difference."

"The orientation in this set is only crucial for this triangular symbol. It’s the difference between Earth and Air," she says.

"A big difference."

"This is what you have: Salt, Earth, the Peacock’s Tail, Mercury, and Saturn."

"I recognized those two," he says pointing to Mercury and Saturn.

"Very good," she says. "You’ve heard of alchemy, of course."

"Of course. Transmutation of lead into gold. The philosopher’s stone."

"And you also know that not all alchemy is about the literal transmutation of base metals into precious metals."

"Sure. It’s a metaphor for spiritual transformation. Jung was into alchemy, I think."

"That’s right. Work in the alchemical laboratory is the outward sign of an inner mystery. Alchemy is a sacramental activity to transform spiritual lead into spiritual gold."

"An easier task than the transmutation of metals, I should think."

"Not necessarily," says the woman. "Just look at the stones. Each symbol has a meaning. The order and arrangement of the symbols with respect to each other adds to the meaning as a progression. From your left to your right the position of each stone corresponds to past, environment, present or self, transition, and future."

"And you’re going to tell me my spiritual history and my future."

"If you like," she says. "A basic five stone reading is twenty-four ninety-five and since you are new customer, I’ll throw in this handy alchemical reference booklet for free."

From under the table the woman brings out a small booklet with a black and gold cover. The title is Transforming Your Life Through Alchemy.

Jacob shifts in his chair. "I’m not so sure about this," he says. "I don’t really believe in all this spiritualist stuff."

"Do you believe in the movies you see? Do you believe in the books you read? Or do you watch or read them for the pleasure of it? Like it says on the door: For entertainment purposes only. Don’t expect that I think you will leave here, quit your job and move into a monastery. This is for fun. If you learn something about yourself in the process, then that’s a bonus. What do you say?"

After a pause, "You want me to pay now?"

"No. You can do that when we are finished."

"The first stone is Salt," she says pointing a the circle with the inscribed (now) upside down T. "Salt represents your past. For the alchemists salt was a catalyst. In spiritual terms salt will help you make a decision. You may have had trouble making decisions or deciding what you wanted to do with your life. Salt is what helps you choose between various alternatives. Now, I can’t say exactly what role Salt played in your past, nor can we consider the meaning of Salt without considering its context. So we must look at the next stone: Earth. Earth represents your environment. Not just your past environment, but your present as well. This conjunction of Salt and Earth suggests that your decisions in the past have always been of a practical nature. You have made good choices based on good information and you have managed to achieve your goals by remaining realistic. We can’t stop here, though. We must now look at the third stone, the Peacock’s Tail, that in this arrangement represents the present or the self. The Peacock’s Tail is both good and bad. On the one hand it says that you still have lots of opportunity, not all of the paths that interest you are closed off; however, there is a danger here--you run the risk of pursuing an illusion. What this tells me is that you are probably dissatisfied with your practical choices and you may be tempted to give up your practical course. This is not necessarily bad though. Creative choices that go beyond the practical can be immensely satisfying; however, what you pursue could turn out to be an illusion. What will help you avoid making a mistake and wasting a lot of time is the next stone, Mercury or Quicksilver. This is a good stone. In this position is represents a transition. You couldn’t have picked a better stone for transition. Mercury is the quintessential stone for transition. Here I would say that Mercury is telling us that you should trust your intuition. You have made practical choices, your are now ready to make a creative choice, and because you have so much experience with the practical aspects of life, you can have confidence that your creativity and intuition-- your instincts will take you where you want to go. Now, where you are going is here represented by Saturn or Lead."

"That can’t be good," he says. "If alchemy is about turning lead into gold, and if I’m heading toward lead, then I’m going in the wrong direction."

"Not necessarily," she says. "If Saturn had appeared in your past or in your environment, I would have said that the choices you have already made might not have been good ones, or that you might have destructive habits that you need to correct; however, as a destination, Saturn can have a completely different meaning. What I see here is that you will find that in the future as a result of your present creative work, some wound that you suffered will be healed. I would even say that your situation is not dissimilar to that of the Fisher King in the Grail legend. Are you familiar with the Fisher King?"

"I saw a movie with that title," he says. "You know the one with Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges."

"I saw it too," she says. "The Fisher King wound is a wound in your creative center that you probably suffered when you were a boy. Mercury giving way to Saturn suggests to me that you will find the cure for your Fisher King wound."

"Is that it?" asks Jacob.

"Unless you have any questions."

"Everything you said is pretty general," says Jacob. "This is the problem I have with fortune telling. It could really mean anything and apply to any situation. You could say the same thing to anybody else and it would apply equally well. If I were reading the stones, I would say that salt in the earth is pretty bad. When salt is sowed into the earth, it ruins the field. No plants can grow in a salty field. So I’ve had a conservative past, that focused on preservation rather than creation. My fields are sterile and produce no more fruit. The peacock’s tail suggests to me that my current problem is pride. I’m just too proud to admit the mess I’ve made of things and therefore change would be too little too late as I’m heading for lead anyway which seems like a metaphor for death."

The woman’s smile fades. "You’re right. The stones provide a vocabulary and a structure, but you provide the content. I can only tell you a possible reading of the stones. If your preference is to turn that reading around, then I can’t stop you."

"I understand you have to give the most positive reading possible. I suppose it’s bad for business if you tell your clients they are all worthless failures headed for a quick grave."

"That’s true. People don’t want to hear that," she says. "My job is to tell them that there’s always hope for salvation. Most people live miserable lives, that’s true, but my clients pay me to show them a bit of magic, a way out of their ordinary existence and to come in contact with the eternal. I can’t make you accept my reading of the stones, but I would encourage you to accept the possibility that a more positive reading is possible."

"It’s possible," he says, "but like all religion, it relies on the gullibility of the recipient. If I take your positive reading, then I could walk out of here feeling happy and hopeful. I could go on living out the rest of my life thinking that something great is just around the corner when all there is really is this great black hole sucking everything up."

"If you could do anything, what’s the one thing you would choose to do?"

"That’s a pretty open question."

"It’s meant to be," she says.

"And it’s not practical. The fact is that no matter what I answer, I’ve already lived out my life. No matter what I answer, I can’t make a mid-course correction to pursue my impossible dream in the hopes of finding something meaningful in my life."

"Humor me," she says. "What’s the one thing you want to do before you die?"

"That’s an artificial question. There’s so much I’d like to do before I die. I could think of a hundred things I want to do, a thousand maybe. How can I pick one of them?"

"Do you think it matters which one thing you pick?"

"It matters to me," he says.

"What the stones tell me," she says, "is that you are ready to choose something. This is the time to look at that list of a thousand things and pick something."

"What if I pick an illusion? I’m supposed to watch out for illusions right?"

"My guess is that the illusion you are pursuing is that you can keep your options open. You want to do everything on your list. You want to enter all five gates of Eden at once. If you are going to enter Eden, you must choose one gate."

For some time Jacob sits silently. The woman reclines in her chair, legs crossed, lost in the folds of her dress. Her clasped hands rest in her lap. Her fingers are thin, bone-like. Her nails are long and painted a deep purplish red. Jacob stares for a moment at the cluster of tiny jewels on her ring finger.

Jacob shakes himself. He stirs in his seat. "I’m sorry," he says. "I should get going." As he stands he reaches for his wallet. "How much do I owe you?"

Jacob pays at the cash register. The woman gives him the booklet on alchemy and her business card "should he desire a future consultation."


1. "Mission Impossible"

You Read the Booklet: Debugging

Writing a novel is not much different than programming a computer. A novelist sits at the computer typing symbols into a file. The symbols form a set of instructions to be interpreted by a reader. The instructions when read produce images in the mind of the reader. The real difference is that the programmer writes instructions to be read by a computer, not a human, and the resulting images are displayed on a liquid crystal or cathode ray screen. The reader is conscious, aware and makes allowances for ambiguity and error. The computer, being unaware, is literal and will break if it cannot follow the instructions.

The interesting part of this analogy is the debugging stage. A computer programmer will go carefully through each line of his computer code to check to see if every character is just right. Every instruction, every line, every symbol must be perfect, without error. The programmer will run his program over and over again, testing every aspect of its function until he is sure that it will not crash the computer running the program. The novelist should take the same amount of care for every line in his novel that the programmer takes for his code. The human reader crashes when they lose faith in the novelist’s instructions. The reader sets aside the book.


1. Next. ("Mission Impossible")

Mission Impossible

Suddenly you hear a commotion over head. Someone is removing a panel from the drop ceiling overhead. You see Derrick’s face poke through the dark square above you. He puts a finger over his lips before you even think of saying anything. In a moment a rope with a loop through the end comes through the square. You slip your foot through the loop and grab the rope. The robe goes tight and then it takes your weight pulling you up through square and into some kind of large service duct. Lee, Derrick, and Marceline are all there.

Quickly, Derrick replaces the square just as Lee is helping you off the rope. Then Lee grabs the battery powered winch they just used to pull you up. It had been attached to a beam at the top of the service duct.

When Derrick gets up he motions for you to follow.

Derrick leads the way. You follow behind Lee and Marceline. You see that Lee is carrying quite a bit of equipment. A cutting torch is strapped to his back.

The service duct branches in many places. It’s like a maze in here, you think. Fortunately, Derrick has some kind of electronic map, maybe a GPS (though how a GPS would be working inside this duct you aren’t sure).

Then Derrick stops. You all stop. Derrick waves around the thingy in his hand like he’s scanning for something. He takes a step forward and lowers the device to the floor. You see it start blinking green. Derrick looks up with a smile and points emphatically at the floor. He and Marceline step aside to allow Lee past with the cutting torch.

Lee lights the flame, adjusts it and then applies the torch to the duct floor. It take a long time to cut a person sized hole in the floor of the duct, but eventually the job is complete.

Derrick uses a suction up to pull up the section of flooring that Lee just cut away. Lee rigs up the winch on an overhead beam.

You notice that everyone is now looking at you. You shrug. Marceline points at you and then points at the hole. You point at yourself and mouth the word "Me?" Everyone nods yes.

Silently you mouth the words "Why me?"

Marceline mouths back something that you are pretty sure is "You are the Reader." And she’s right, you are the protagonist of this little adventure. I’ve given you helpers to get you this far, but it’s up to you now.

Choose an action.

1. Go down the hole. ("No End in Sight")

2. Refuse to go down. (See below.)

Chickening Out?

I’m disappointed in you, Reader. I thought you were more intrepid than that. You should be simply bursting at the seams for some adventure. Show some backbone and get down that hole. There’s all kinds of interesting things that I’ve laid out in store for you.

Go on. Or there’ll be...

1. ...no end in sight.

No End in Sight

Lee offers you the rope with the loop attached to the winch. You slip your foot in the loop and slowly transfer your weight to the rope. When you are dangling over the opening, you nod to Lee and he flips a switch on the winch and you glide smoothly downward.

Instead of being lowered into some kind of sparsely furnished holding cell, you are surprised to find yourself entering a large opulently decorated penthouse. You are quite high up. You crane your neck around to get a better look as you gently float to the wood floor.

The penthouse is richly furnished. The couches, chairs, and tables are all of a modern angular design. A spiral stair case leads from the main level up to a landing that leads (you assume) to bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting rooms, a study perhaps. The front room, into which you are descending, has one side constructed of full length windows that give a commanding view of the city. The Eden Tower is taller than it looks. You must be forty or fifty stories up. (You think, it’s interesting that each floor in a building is also called a "story." The Eden Tower contains how many stories? You’ve only seen what’s above the ground. How many stories below ground are there?)

Your rope has arrived finally at the floor of the main room in the penthouse. You step off the rope and look up. You don’t see Lee, Derrick, or Marceline through the dark hole. The rope just disappears into a dark spot in the ceiling.

You think, if the Novel Police are holding this Donavan Hall guy in a place like this, then maybe it’s not so bad to be a prisoner. You make note of all the books on the shelves that line the back wall. The shelves are so high that there is one of those movable ladders to assist with access to the books on the highest shelves.

What next?

1. Explore the level you are on.

2. Go up the stairs. ("To Be Continued")

To Be Continued

You decide to head up the stairs reasoning that if Donavan Hall is here, he might be up there since you don’t see anyone on this level and the open construction of the room gives up a full view of the space.

The stairs lead up to a landing with a choice of three hallways: left, right, and center. You examine each of the hallways in-turn beginning with the closest (left). You listen for some sound, some indication where I might be.

None of the hallways appears to be any more promising than the other and you start to get the feeling that your search is being needlessly protracted by some unseen power that takes delight in having you wander through service ducts, underground tunnels, and a seemingly endless network of hallways, elevators, and streets.

You really want to get to the bottom of this, find this author, Donavan Hall, and find out how this story ends so you can get back to your apartment. Despite your nap at the Underground Library, you still feel exhausted. On top of that you are starving. That bagel you had earlier this morning is long gone. With any luck, you might find something to eat here.

Determined to find me, you start down the left hallway and begin checking doors. The first couple of rooms are guest bedrooms and you don’t see anything of interest in them. Then there is a linen closet, a large bathroom with two sinks, a toilet, a shower stall, a hot tub, etc. Not bad, you think.

Eventually, you come to a room that looks like some kind of office or study. There is a desk with a mechanical typewriter on it. In the typewriter is a sheet of paper. You go into the room and approach the desk and the typewriter.

Now that you are in the room you see that there is a thick stack of paper next to the typewriter. You sit down in the chair in front of the typewriter. You look more closely at the sheet of paper in the typewriter. You see that it is a letter address to you.

Dear Reader,

Congratulations for making it this far. I commend you for your persistence. You’ve made it further than any other reader. I wish I could have stayed to shake your hand in person, but unfortunately, I was called away on urgent business. (Although, if you are interested, I’ve left enough clues that you should be able to track me down.)

Since you’ve come this far, I feel like I owe you some sort of reward. Since I’m the Author and you are the Reader, the only way I can reward you is by giving you a good, satisfying ending to this story. Unfortunately, at this time, I don’t know how the story ends. In fact, this story has no end. I’m sorry to disappoint you like that, but I’ve designed this story so that there are many entry points, but there is no true end. This is a textual labyrinth. You are to wander around as you see fit and read what you want. When you’ve had enough, you can just quit reading and go on to something else.

This labyrinth contains many stories, many characters, many places, and many things. You could probably wander here for a lifetime -- I certainly have. During my wanderings I’ve written down many things in my diary and my notebooks that might be helpful to you. If you look on the shelf, you’ll even find an Encyclopedia which provides an alphabetic list of all the people, places, and things contained in this labyrinth.

If you’ve had enough wandering, I’ve left a key card in the desk drawer that will get you out of the building. Also there is an envelop with some instructions on how to get a proper copy of my novel, Into the Labyrinth.

If you are still up for more adventure, take the manuscript next to the typewriter and return to the front room. Lee, Derrick, and Marceline are still waiting for you.

Best of luck,

Donavan Hall aka The Author

Choose one.

1. You’re done. You’re ready to go home. ("The First Ending?")

2. Take the manuscript back to Lee, Derrick, and Marceline. ("Volume Two")

The First Ending?

This novel only has endings that you make yourself. And since you decide how our association will come to an end, you take the key card from the desk drawer. You see the envelop. On the outside, you see "For the Reader" written in my almost readable scrawl. Why not? You pick it up.

You go back downstairs. You see the rope still dangling from the ceiling. For a moment, you feel bad about leaving Lee, Derrick, and Marceline waiting, but you figure that they will be okay. After all, they are just characters in a novel and it’s not like they have lives of their own. No one will miss them if they are stuck in a service duct above the penthouse at the top of the Eden Tower.

You find the entrance to the penthouse. It’s an elevator. You use the key card and the doors open immediately. You step in and press the button for the lobby.

The security guards don’t seem interested in you as you sign out and return the key card. You leave the building and take the subway back to the Belleville.

You collapse the bed in your apartment. You are exhausted and you are hungry. You can’t decide which bodily necessity is greater, sleep or food. You lay there for a moment.

The letter I left for you is still in your pocket. You take it out and read.

An up-to-date version of Into the Labyrinth is available from The Author’s website: labyrinth.donavanhall.net. You can order additional print copies from the publisher, or read the book online. Interactive editions are also available.

Great, you think. An advertisement. Oh well.

You decide you are hungry and that you’d probably sleep better if you had some food. You force yourself to get out of bed and go to the kitchen. You remember there was a piece of fruit. What was it?

You open the refrigerator door. You see an orange.

What do you do?

1. Eat the orange. ("Eat the Orange.")

Volume Two

I’m glad to see that you are still up for more adventure. Go ahead and grab that manuscript next to the typewriter. Good. Now do a quick search for the Encyclopedia. You’re going to need it.

Found it? Excellent.

You’ll now take all that back with you up through the hole in the ceiling. You’ll have Lee, Derrick, and Marceline to interact with as you try to learn what is really at the center of this labyrinth.

Since this volume is already quite large, you’ll have to get into volume two. To find out the status of volume two, visit my website: labyrinth.donavanhall.net. The story continues there.