Headline:Encyclopedia as a Storyteller
Date:Monday, January 06, 2020
Posted By:Plaid Hatter Games

I am thinking out loud here on the format for the storytelling in Iliad-07. I find myself unable to get a basic chapter 1 written, yet I can seemingly fill volumes in tangentially related history and lore dumps. And it has me thinking, could I structure the entire story that way?

This may not be a winning strategy. But with an interactive novel, I don't have to actually worry so much about narrating my story. In a normal novel the action is linear because the format is linear. Novels mimic the oral traditions of old where a storyteller would recite an epic poem, stopping for the occasional exposition. But the story has to be told more or less in event order, with a little bit of creativity allowed for things to divert from chronological order for the purpose of dramatic tension.

I am envisioning the sort of story that more mimics a evening's reading on Wikipedia or TV Tropes. Individual stories are cut down, opinionated, and highly summarized. However, the connections between these stories ends up painting a rich and detailed picture of a larger story.

But how would one explore? Simply having a massive lore-a-pedia at one's fingertips and following hypertext ad nausium strikes me as too easy. Especially with indexes and search engines at the beck and call of modern readers. Even if I were to disable the search engine in the Lore-A-Pedia for drama purposes, odds are some individual would probably hack the game engine, suck out the text, and write an index of their own.

There is the trope from the Hitchhiker's Guide where the characters have such an omniscient source of exposition at their fingertips. Only that omniscient source is a tad unreliable. In this setting, everyone on board is probably very busy, and odds are that any full-time chronologers would be more interested in niche areas of record keeping. The records that are well maintained are probably mundane events like crop harvests, and crew performance surveys, and meeting minutes from the local municipal government.

The sort of historians who set out to make History Fun, or at the very least study history as a vocation and seek their fortune in writing books, are likely to be non-existent in a ship with scarcely 3000 people. Even if you sell a copy to every man, woman, and child on board, the returns on that effort probably won't cover basic expenses. Odds are a historian of this sort would be more like a playwright, along the lines of Shakespear. They dip into history for material, but the bulk of their work is in fact basic story telling for entertainment purposes.

That leaves the possibility that some forward thinking individual may have stocked the vessel with libraries of books for these entertainers to study. Perhaps even an endowment for the materials and equipment to produce new copies of books as old books wear out, or some sort of futuristic project Gutenburg that scans and stores electronic copies of every book ever written, in an electronic form that is reliable to store and trivial to copy?

Ok, I've fed out enough fishing line. Lets reel it all in.

For starters: writing a giant encyclopedia is a hell of a lot of work. I end up having to generate a lot of entries for people or events that are simply referenced to other events and short of claiming some sort of highly selective mechanical failure on the reader, I'm on the hook to write a LOT of stories that have precious little to do with the actual story. That's going to be annoying for me. That's going to be annoying to the reader. While the occasional good book left out on a shelf might be fun, I don't need a massive starship to have an adventure largely centered in a library.

Second: I STILL have to come up with some sort of scavenger hunt or accomplishments inside of that system. Simply serving up world lore is not story telling. Story telling is getting the audience interested in something. Keeping them interested. Feeding them with just enough back story to be plausible, but not so much that we lose the main plot. I can see the merit of replacing what would be a lore dump in a monograph with a hyperlink to keep from interrupting the flow of the story. But I can't really make people follow every link. The story has to hold up on its own.

With all of that said, the ship is going to need some sort of Library. And given my personal love of libraries, I think this ship deserves a good one. Let us say that the ship is designed with a lot of seeming inefficiencies. Extras that are not purely for the mission it was designed for, but items that are installed mainly to assist in fostering civilization in the centuries that the ship will be operating apart from normal human communications.

Being the third ship design, and the first intended to make a one-way journey, some thought has gone into what kind of books people will "need".

I believe they will actually store some physical copies of books. The styles of books will no doubt be somewhat limited. They will probably have a sort of "library in a box" to print or re-print a more extensive library from electronic records. And the capabilities of that printing system will drive the format and taste of the book reading public.

My thinking is that for day-to-day reading purposes, a paper (or plastic) book is less maintenance overall than electronic readers. Given how much other paperwork is probably generated by society, paper pulp from bamboo is probably a regular staple. Paper can be recycled, or used a fuel for other processes. Paper doesn't require batteries. A paperback novel fits in a pocket. A paper copy of manual can be annotated and bookmarked.

An electronic tablet has a much more finite lifespan, and they are a hell of a lot harder to produce. Having used electronic tablets in my lifetime, and paper clipboards in my lifetime, I use a hell of a lot more paper clipboards. Yes, a computer is generating a lot of the paperwork for those clipboards, but the paper clipboard doesn't break if I drop it.

Of course, printers are also finite in lifespan. They are also complicated to build. They are also complicated to repair. Even ancient printing presses were troublesome to maintain. And typewriters are devilishly good at falling apart, getting their inner parts tangled, and otherwise stop working after a while. Also, storing large amounts of paper in one spot is a fire hazard. Some of the most involved fire protection systems I've ever seen are for libraries and book stores.

I always have the "this is science fiction" card up my sleeve. Things really could go either way. Or both ways. Perhaps there is a different organization that operates the computer system vs. the print system. Perhaps they even compete somewhat. Or, perhaps what medium dominates when is governed by the same forces that dictate when ladies' hem lines move from below to above the knee.

I suppose I'll have to address, or not address, these issues when I design the Ship's Library.