GoogleLitTrips: extending fiction into the factual web

Paul Raven @ 26-07-2010

The Luddite old guard love to batter on about how the internet devalues the reading of books, but I’ve always thought that the internet had huge potential for extending the appeal and educational power of fiction. Here’s a good example, going by the name of GoogleLitTrips [via MetaFilter], a project that uses custom layers in Google Earth to show students the routes and locations featured in various “road-trip” literary classics. (GLT’s developer has done a similar project based on historical journeys of exploration, too.)

It’s still pretty basic at this point, but it’s not hard to imagine how this sort of thing could become incredibly deep, and perhaps end up becoming the standard extension of fiction into the multimedia sphere of the web. One could easily go beyond maps and into geotagged photography, both contemporary and historical, for instance, bringing locations and historical periods to life visually. (Would this lessen the imaginative input required from the reader, though?)

But let’s turn the idea up to eleven and apply it to science fiction for a moment. If you’re setting a book in the future, you can’t provide photographs of the settings… but you could create CGI composites (like the images produced by speculative architects), or build 3D environments using SketchUp or a metaverse platform like Second Life, which could then be populated with characters (pre-programmed, live-acted or both) for the reader to interact with, games for them to play, intrigues for them to get caught up in… something like what Neal Stephenson’s Mongoliad project is aiming for, perhaps.

The possibilities are endless, and all I’ve done here are list a few simple ideas that could be done with existing technologies. The underlying point is that there’s no reason the internet has to be the end of written fiction; with imagination and effort, fiction could become the core hook of a form of entertainment more complete, complex and immersive than anything yet created.

Sounds like a fun challenge, no?

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2 Responses to “GoogleLitTrips: extending fiction into the factual web”

  1. Wintermute says:

    An interesting idea. An immersive virtual sci-fi world filled with characters and narrative, is essentially what an RPG video game like Deus Ex or Fallout amounts to. Fallout in particular has that sort of non-linear, sandbox quality which feels like you are really walking around a real, real-time fictional world, engaging with the living story, as well as making choice that affect the course of the narratives.

    I would be wary about getting lost in the coolness of tracking down factoids and a sort of geeky over-fetishization which could detract from what Nicholas Carr would call the “deep reading” of seeing the inner meanings, making deeper connections, and generally going to that slower, de-mediated meditative state that is deep novel reading.

    Then again, if it steers the hyperactively flittering eyeballs of kids to books, hey, that’s a good thing. Kinda like Guitar Hero. It’s a silly watered-down karaoke version of music, but if it turns on some kids to pick up a real guitar and get into playing music, great.

  2. Chad says:

    I like the idea of adding stuff like this to non-fiction books. For example, Collapse or Guns, Germs, and Steel, both by Jared Diamond, would be even better with virtual maps and photos.

    However, I do not like the idea of novels adding visuals, especially novels set in the future. I like letting my imagination use the authors description to create the world.