Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts is an early hypertext-fiction written by pioneering author, Deena Larsen. Although the packaging indicates 1996 as the year it was published by Eastgate Systems, Inc., provenance was discovered in the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver that clarifies the work was not actually released until 1997. Its folio cover featured a sampler quilt designed by Larsen herself, which acted as both its namesake and structural metaphor- nine “vicious” little hypertexts stitched together into one, intricately structured anthology. The individual works inside are “Caught Out”, “Interlocked”, “Conventions”, “Devil’s Claws”, “Century Cross”, “Firewheel”, “Seed Voices”, “Mystic Knot”, and “Crossed Ends”. Samplers itself is what Larsen calls an ideological stepping stone in the field, as it was the first work to utilize Storyspace 1’s ability to name the link structure in a way that told another layer of the story. The work was her proof of concept that “structure equals meaning”.
Each hypertext has its own independent narrative, unrelated to the other squares on the quilt in little other than their structural exploration.
• “Caught Out” is about a young girl who has broken something inside a store and her anxieties about what will happen to her.
• “Interlocked” is a painful story about incest and traumatic memory.
• “Conventions” is a story about two childhood friends, completely opposite, and meeting again after many years.
• “Devil’s Claws” is the story of two magical, but evil, masks that come to life to wreak havoc upon a town.
• “Century Cross” is a story rooted in American Native mythology and is about a government employee who, after meeting a mysterious coyote, considers the deeper meaning of storytelling. In 1995, this hypertext was also published separately in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext Volume 2, Number 2.
• “Firewheel” tells of a young woman alone in Japan, and the loneliness, isolation, and unfamiliarity she feels.
• “Seed Voices” is a conversation between a man and a woman, where both are speaking but neither is hearing the other.
• “Mystic Knot” forces the reader into the perspective of a traffic barrier, whose own routine thoughts are intermingled with those of the people who pass by it each day.
• “Crossed Ends” is a story about a family who has come together to celebrate their father’s retirement.
While the stories Larsen tells are each beautiful in their own right, the true beauty of this work lies in her experimentation of what she could do beyond the words on the screen. The work in its entirety is less about great writing, though there’s plenty of that too, and more about how this form of storytelling is inherently connected to structure and infrastructure. Here, the story map for each hypertext matches the design on its respective quilt square, and carries its own layer of meaning. In the truest sense of hypertext, it isn’t the lexia themselves, but what connects them that makes Samplers so interesting.
For example, the lexia in “Caught Out” are mapped in 3 downward-pointing narrative bands. Each represents a band of linear time and has distinct “dead ends”. To progress through the story, you must move outside of the bands to get to the next set of lexia. You become “caught out” of the narrative. At the same time, the story focuses on a young girl who is concerned about being punished for breaking something. The reader being caught in the structure mirrors the worry she herself feels about being caught in her crime. “Interlocked” is structured into two interlocking narrative bands, one red and one blue. The story is about incest and unfolds through painful memories that bleed into the present. The red band represents the lover; the blue, the protagonist’s father. The bands are interlocked because her sexuality cannot be removed from the memories of her father. “Mystic Knot” winds and knots circularly, in the same way the days of a traffic barrier might- cyclically, but also tangled with the thoughts and events that happen to the people around it. “Crossed Ends”, a story of a family who is together in celebration, is structured in the shape of an X. The four intersecting lines represent how the family may come together but their thoughts all wander in different directions, illustrating how far apart they are even when they’re in the same room.
This entry was composed as a part of Will Luer’s course, Special Topics in Electronic Literature, at Washington State University Vancouver in March 2019.