About Garden of Venom

By Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

I wanted to write a hyperfiction with some "depth"--most of the work I have done is "shallow" in that it has has multiple parts all of which are linked from the top page, but which may be read in any order (for example, Montauk or Belle). I hit on the idea of two lovers, each writing a short story about their affair, one direct, the other disguised in a fantasy setting. Each author then annotates the other's story. From the top page, you can reach either story; from each one you can follow a link to the annotated version or to the other story.

The one other work of mine with depth--most of the content hidden behind the screen--was Kazoo Concerto, but that was a disorderly collection of stories and fragments, and I wanted to do something this time that had some structure. In addition, in some slight way I would be aping the more dynamic qualities of the web, as by clicking a link you would appear to expand the story in front of you, adding the annotations to it.

Another feature involves forcing the reader to start in a random place. Every-one starts reading Kazoo Concerto at the same place, and then branches out; in later hyperfiction, by arraying all the links on the top page, I allowed the reader to decide where to start by choosing a particular image or part of one, for example, a picture of a hairbrush or toy soldier in Someone to Lean On or a petal of a sunflower in Belle. The top page image in these works therefore constituted a sort of visual menu.

Here I wanted to put the reader into a particular story randomly. In other people's hyperfiction I have seen this done by the use of a software routine making a selection. I am no coder, and I found a simpler solution: the top page illustration, of a coral snake, is bitmapped like a checker board. By clicking randomly anywhere on the image, you are sent to one of the stories.

Hyperfiction is a good way to present the Heisenbergian uncertainty of life, by giving differing views of an event and letting the reader try to "triangulate" the truth. Garden of Venom presents four views of a love affair, communicated by the two participants: each tells her story directly, and then reveals a somewhat different tale in the course of commenting on the other's account. If I've done my job well, not everything is revealed: sometimes no-one, not ourselves or an observer, can say why we act the way we do.

December 3, 2000