Grant to study Portsmouth man's digital novel


PORTSMOUTH — A 20-year-old digital novel by Portsmouth science fiction writer John G. McDaid is among the works to be studied under a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant awarded to the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), the group announced recently.

According to ELO, the NEH awarded a $52,000 digital humanities grant to explore and preserve the first generation of digital texts, many of which preceded the World Wide Web. Among the works chosen were Mr. McDaid's "Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse" (1993) and two other works.

"I'm delighted to see the 'Funhouse' included," said Mr. McDaid, a science fiction writer and citizen journalist who writes a popular local blog, Hard Deadlines. "This was written on the Macintosh using multimedia software called HyperCard, and it was an attempt create a new kind of nonlinear fiction entirely through artifacts. The premise is that you, as the reader, have come into possession of a vanished science fiction writer's hard drive, and you need to piece together the story."

Mr. McDaid's novel uses hypertext, which links topics on the screen to related information and graphics, typically accessed by a point-and-click method.

"The early '90s were a rich time for hypertext," said Mr. McDaid. "There was a lot of experimentation in the days before the Web, and I was fortunate to have a publisher, Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems in Boston, who saw the possibilities of the medium."

Set in the fictional Rhode Island town of Pirate Cove, the "Funhouse" comprises a digital notebook, a screenplay, a set of hand-drawn fortune-telling cards, a "dictionary," the manuscript of an unpublished story and an audio cassette, among other artifacts. The frame for the fiction is that all these have been passed into the reader's hands by an attorney for the vanished author, Arthur "Buddy" Newkirk.

Mr. McDaid's fiction has appeared in Asimov's and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He won the 1995 Theodore Sturgeon Award for his first published short story, "Jigoku no Mokushiroku (The Symbolic Revelation of the Apocalypse)." The "Funhouse" was among the early hypertext fictions reviewed by Brown professor Robert Coover in the Sunday New York Times in 1993.

The NEH-funded project aims to build an archive of readings in which the authors and volunteer readers, using computers and software from the period, explore these early texts. The sessions will be recorded and made available through an ELO database to determine the best strategies for representing and preserving computer-mediated writing. The research will take place in the E-Lit Laboratory of Washington State University, Vancouver, beginning this spring.

For more information about "Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse" along with Mr. McDaid's other writings, go here.


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