As part of “We Tell Stories,” the six authors/six stories/six weeks project from Penguin Books UK, Kevin Brooks wrote a kind of interactive fiction piece that tells you a Fairy Tale in the Hans Christian Anderson style. The piece first asks you to choose the names of the The Peasant’s Daughter and The King in the story you are about to craft, and then proceeds to introduce the conflict in the story: The Peasant cannot pay his rent to the King, who then decides to take the Peasant’s Daughter as a bride for the Ugly Prince in lieu of rent. As the story moves on, the reader is asked to choose from different variables like who to talk to, what qualities are most valued by you, and emotionally what kind of ending you would like to read for your story. While the story is fairly short (only about six sections), the interface in which the reader directs the plot is fairly interesting considering last week’s reading about the death of the Author and the inconstancy of the author in digital media, and especially the database form.
Fairy Tales directly relies on the reader to make creative decisions concerning the plot and details of the story, much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. This story, though, also allows the reader to choose character names, and at the end even append one’s own personally written epilogue to the story. In fact, when you finish the story (having written or not written your own ending), you are then asked to “Share your story, or make another fairy tale…” The wording of the language clearly states this is the reader’s story, even giving him/her the chance to title it and share with friends. While Kevin Brooks wrote the base narration and dialogue, and presumably the algorithm that displays the corresponding text to the corresponding quality/value/ending preference chosen by the reader, he does not take credit for the resulting story. This work does a great job of simplifying and making clear the idea that in digital media, and especially works that operate as a database where “the reader” is invited to sort and search data according to certain variables, there is not necessarily a clear, singular author. Meaning and “wholeness” are created as a product of the reader’s reading, which may (and often is) different from another reader’s reading (in this case, the different character names, the different individual choices, and the epilogue would likely vary from reader to reader). So, in that way, Fairy Tales is a work by Kevin Brooks, but it allows for new, different, varied works to be created by any number of additional authors. The reader/author is just as important to the meaning-making strategies of this work as the writer/coder/author.