Lost in the Story Space
Some simple comparisons tell the significant differences between the then and now of hypertext fiction. While Afternoon was distributed on a 1.4 megabytes floppy disc, Twilight comes on a 10-meg CD-ROM. Afternoon is almost totally textual - there are no pictures or sounds - Twilight has photographs, drawings, graphic fonts, sound effects and a twenty-second video clip. Although Twilight has visual components, and although Joyce himself has stated that the future of hyperfiction will be dominanted by visuals, Twilight relies heavily on written text.
Including audio-visual materials to text is always problematic. At worst they work as surplus effects with nothing to give to the text - and sooner or later they get on the nerves. Joyce, however, uses av-materials sparsely and productively. The sound clips especially create, with very small impulses, powerful atmospheres. But the graphics give nice insights into the story world. The photographs, though, seem a bit less motivated. They are interesting in themselves, and their mise-en-abymical use of mirrors, photographs, windows and shadows can be read as metatextual comments on Twilight's many temporal levels, but still there is a disparity with other elements.
The video-clip, "Apres nun" (or "noons", or "after, noon"), with its heavy guitar background and slow motion create a feeling of mystery - what is the paper found in the ground? And what is the spot on the paper? Ink? Blood? A hole? Still, it is the video clip that suffers most from repetition: after two or three times the reader is most likely to feel annoyed when suddenly he or she faces the clip once again.
It is possible to argue that Twilight is intentionally more exploratory than Afternoon, that it is not even attempting to offer different stories but different readings of the same story. This theory is obviously backed up by the expository lexia which clearly establishes the boundaries within which the text works. Seen from this point of view Twilight works, indeed, better, but this time the problem lies in the Story Space interface. Twilight uses a more complex interface than Afternoon, the one employed, for example, in Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl (Eastgate Systems [link to this site]). This interface gives to the reader several different ways to navigate the text. "The tinkerbell" keys (Command+Option) let the reader see the words that yield, that is, double clicking these words/ phrases takes the reader to alternative storylines. The toolbar has a button, which takes the reader to the next lexia in the default storyline (with Shift pressed down takes the reader to previously read lexia). There are also different kinds of menus in the text, allowing the reader to choose from a few alternative routes to follow.
The other two ways to navigate the text are more complex. First, there is a button in the toolbar, which opens a window containing several kinds of information: a list of lexias already read, a list of lexias with links to lexia currently read, and a list of lexias to which there is a link from the lexia currently read. In addition there is a little window, which shows the first lines of lexia currently open: this allows the reader to take a peek to other lexias when deciding where to go. Once the reader gets used to the interface, this option may prove to be the most useful one.
Finally, the reader can see a conceptual map of the hypertext structure. This map can be viewed in three different modes, of which the boxes and boxes-within-boxes mode is most usable (each box representing a lexia). The reader can, alternatively, click on boxes directly to open them, or use four arrow buttons in the toolbar to move between lexias. The structure is hierarchic Chinese box model: each lexia may contain other lexias, which in their turn may contain more lexias. There are about ten levels in all in Twilight. On the other hand, the links work independently of the levels, that is, lexias separated by numerous levels, or in different lines, may be linked directly to each other.
What is good here is that there are many different ways to navigate through the text. The problem lies mainly there, that these different ways don't work too well together. And also, especially the use of the toolbar is quite complicated since its method of mixing spatial and conceptual navigation is often confusing. It is obvious that an interface like the one employed in Afternoon is not enough for more complex hyperfiction text, but it seems to me that the navigation machinery here isn't really working. With text like Jackson's Patchwork Girl, which is not clearly fictional but blends fictional and theoretical materials, the hierarchical navigation map works much better. But here the interface is too mechanical, and it jumps too far out of the text. Even if it is possible to see poetical qualities in Joyce's lexia and link names (as hyperpoet Jim Rosenberg has said), and thus find the dialog box as some kind of metafiction (which may to a certain degree be possible even with the conceptual map), the switching between lexias, dialog box, and map is nearly fatal for the reading experience.
One possible resolution might be some kind of navigational device located in the fictional world. The map in Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden is one example of the possibilities - although its worth as a real navigational guide is almost none. And Deena Larsen's Marble Spring (written with Hypercard; Eastgate Systems [link to this work]) uses a graphical layout in an interesting way - something along this line might be developed.