HAMLET ON THE HOLODECK by Janet H. Murray

HAMLET ON THE HOLODECK

The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Murray (who has the seemingly oxymoronic title of senior research scientist in humanities at MIT) has produced a provocative yet cautious meditation on the possibilities and ramifications of encounters between traditional literature, characterized by the Melancholy Dane, and emerging computer technologies, represented by the holodeck, a form of virtual reality enjoyed by characters on Star Trek. ``The computer is not the enemy of the book. It is the child of print culture,'' declares Murray. A good portion of this effort ``to imagine what kinds of pleasures . . . a cyberliterature will bring us and what sorts of stories it might tell,'' is concerned with clarifying this emergent field's terminology: for instance, ``constructivism'' is a situation of collective authorship between creator and end-user; and ``cyberdrama'' is a catchall term for digital story forms. Many of Murray's ideas are based not in technology but in literary theory and history. Russian formalist Vladimir Propp's folktale morphologies, Murray suggests, might provide the basis for an algorithm that would allow computers to write stories unassisted, and quotes from Forster's Aspects of the Novel are sprinkled throughout the work. Furthermore, both television and computer programs such as the Artificial Intelligencedriven psychotherapist ELIZA (the subject of the book's most amusing section) are acknowledged for their contributions. The well-known ``fourth wall'' of theater and the attempts of playwrights to subvert it serve as a strong metaphor for Murray in trying to describe how virtual reality and MUDs (Multi-User Domains) may affect the future of narrative. Unfortunately, it is here that her insecurities about authorship are most apparent. Statements on behalf of authors such as, ``If we give the interactor complete freedom to improvise, we lose control of the plot,'' give the reader the strong feeling that, to quote the Bard, Murray ``doth protest too much.'' This control issue notwithstanding, Hamlet on the Holodeck suggests some truly fascinating possibilities for the future of narrative and the imminent arrival of the first ``Cyberbard.''

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-82723-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1997