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(Searching for) Solid Ground is a conventional novel, in that it runs consecutively and tells a story that is essentially linear. As published on the web, the only concessions to hypertext are that footnotes are placed at the end of each chapter and there are links between them and their references (as well as to the next chapter and so on).

Because of its structure, however, it would be amenable to a modified form of hypertext. There are essentially four different strands to it – Annie's story in 1990, Annie's story in 1970, Blackie and Whitey's story, and various somewhat detached illustrative or commentary pieces – which do not necessarily have to be read in the sequence I constructed.

One possibility, which I don't find terribly interesting, would be to read each strand separately. That's really no different than skipping chapters, and you can do it by looking up "Annie 1990" etc in the index. (The index is not just a wry joke.)

There is no chance of adapting the book so that the reader has control of what happens next. I'm not sure if that is actually possible for a literary work, even in theory, but it's certainly not going to happen here.

A more intriguing possibility would be to get the computer to present the chapters in such a way that they remained logical but not necessarily in the sequence I have devised.

If the chapters are numbered in four different sequences (A1, A2 ... for Annie in 1990; B1, ... for Blackie and Whitey; C1 ... for Annie in 1970; and D1 ... for the background or commentary chapters), then I could insist that each of the first three sets be presented in ascending order, while the fourth can be truly random (I think) – but instead of the sequence I created (D1, A1, B1, A2, B2, D2, A3 ...) they could be read in any of many other different sequences: B1, B2, B3, C1, D4, A1, A2 ... any order that ensures that A2 is not read before A1, A3 is not read before A2, and so on. And then at the end, I could insist that they all catch up – the resolution has got to be at the end.

Technically, this would not be hard to do at all (for someone who knew how to program it). All you need to do is to keep track of what the given reader has read (so some kind of log-in would be required) and then do a two-step process before going to the next chapter: first randomly pick between A, B, C and D; then if the selection is D, randomly pick from the unread D chapters, or if the selection is one of the others present the first unread one. (If any set is empty, go back and try again; and there would be some control near the end.) All of this should be done on the opening of the chapter, so it can take place in the background without disrupting the reader's experience, (or the whole sequence could be calculated at the start), but none of this is hard. I could have done with HyperTalk on a Mac plus ten years ago – I did do something quite similar that I discuss elsewhere.

What intrigues me about this is that it makes clear something that is perhaps less appreciated than it should be – that the book that is read is not necessarily, or even usually, the book that is written. No matter how clear any writer might be about the aim of writing even a non-fiction article intended to persuade, every reader brings an individual perspective to the piece; and that is even more true about fiction, in which the writer may not know what the book is about until after it is finished (or at least well under way). Every artistic work is in some sense a collaboration between artist and audience; and that is no less true when the two are the same. Surely every writer has had the experience of reading what they just wrote and thinking, "Where did that come from?"

[Certainly that's true of this project. I didn't realize (Searching for) Solid Ground was about identity until I was well into it. Maybe I'm slow.]

Just as the external experiences of the reader affect the way a given piece of writing is perceived, so too do the internal experiences that come from having read a part of the whole. I'm not sure what difference it would make putting these segments in a different sequence; but I find the idea interesting, and I like the concept of consciously giving up a portion of control ...

It's not exactly relevant to this work, because I think Annie's attitudes are reasonably clear from the start, but I can imagine doing a character study of a person over the course of a life where a randomized pattern really could make a difference. How you meet someone certainly colors your impression of them – we all put up a front but the front changes over time. Was this respectable middle-aged person wild in his youth? In training for the priesthood? Buffeted by his parents' divorce? Sheltered in a loving family? Coddled in inherited wealth? Held back by poverty? As you get to know him, you find out, and your understanding of him becomes deeper. Now, in a hyper-novel, you could meet him at any age, and find out about him from many different directions, and I suspect that your reactions to the character would vary, depending on what you knew first. We tend to forgive people we like, because that is the context in which we see their actions; and we are suspicious of those we don't; and sometimes we are surprised when someone else we like meets a person we have known for years and their impression of them is different. Now that's a hypernovel I'd like to write sometime. Done right, as a series of self-contained short stories presented randomly, I think it would evoke different reactions even from the same reader, depending on the order in which they were presented.

But this is not it. Maybe someday I'll get the programming done, and (Searching for) Solid Ground will become the electronic novel I have wanted it to be since well before the writing was completed, but for the moment that has to remain a thought experiment.