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?