Stride Magazine -

Heronsbrook reviewed by
Carrie McMillan

The thing about multimedia format is that is supposed to most closely match the way we think, with our constant tangents, diversions and multi-layered commentaries to everything that's going on around us. Way back in the early days of computing that was the big thing, computers could more closely echo the way we think than books could, with their sequential pages and beginning, middle, end structures. Vannevar Bush is the most often quoted, wowing the post-war world with predictions of how like our own minds computers were, or would be, and the benefits that would have for the way we work, live, write and create.

But the thing also is, that way before computers, writers themselves had already started looking at the way the mind works and processes the stories it tells and gets told. The non-linear narrative is ages old yet it's all we're hearing about now, as though multi-media technology has finally made it possible for writers to do what Joyce was doing almost one hundred years ago, and of course others doing even earlier. Writers have been playing with the formal, chronological structure of narrative for generations so why is non-linearity a buzzword now?

Heronsbrook is a collection of non-linear stories available on cd and in reading these stories it's a little too easy to become disappointed by the lack of anything breathtakingly new being done with narrative in a selection of stories presented in this format, which has so many great white hopes attached to it. Heronsbrook is in danger of falling into the gap between the unrealistic hopes placed in multi-media technologies and their realistic possibilities. To those used to visiting hypertext narratives on the Web, Heronsbrook will look sparse, without any whistles or whirly bits.

What the technology does allow Edward Picot to do however, is write a startling range of vaguely interconnected stories and poems set in the fictional town of Heronsbrook. This structure is nothing very different from what Sherwood Anderson was doing in Winesburg, Ohio but the success of presenting the stories in this format is that the hypertext somehow allows the reader (and writer) to move smoothly between prose and fiction, first person and third, news report and letter, without the confusion that sometimes arises from more traditionally presented experimental writing. Because Heronsbrook is presented in an unusual format, we can deal more easily with the unusual structure the pieces fit into.

Many of the pieces are well written too, something that's too often lacking from the more visually exciting works of hypertext fiction available on the Web. Format aside, there are sensitive, introspective insights into a wide variety of characters here, all reflecting on the same settings and events as one another, but in different chronologies and with different takes on the same thing. In some cases the hypertext format becomes frustrating, disturbing a many layered story that a writer like James Sallis would have made work in a more conventional format by substituting links and clicks with paragraphs and forcing the reader to work that little bit harder. If the technology has done anything for non-linear narrative, it has perhaps made it easier to digest, ordering and structuring the leaps the writer's mind has made, putting everything into the right place for us. But Heronsbrook makes progress for this much heralded format of writing, if purely by combining the technology at its most simplistic with very good writing.

Carrie McMillan

Heronbrook is available from or PO Box 68, Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 2ZF.