Fiction Crowd

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Fiction Crowd is a new website that describes itself as an “alternative, interactive literary zine”. It’s probably a misnomer to describe it as a zine for interactive fiction, though: the interactivity is mostly with the zine rather than with the fiction itself.

What I mean: the first story up in the table of contents is “The Bad Hotel”, which consists of a sort of “about this hotel” page and then three write-ups of different rooms in said hotel, all posing as hotel website copy. There’s a very zoomed-in Google map of the hotel’s location, which you can zoom out enough eventually to discover that it’s meant to be on a dead-end road on the India-Pakistan border. You can also participate in a customer-satisfaction poll rating your stay experience from “Fatal” to “Euphoric”, and leave your own guest book comment. Some of the guest book bits left by other users are cool:

I didn’t think I would have to pay extra for the faceless man that is always in the periphery of my vision.

…but some of them don’t hit the mark so well, which I suppose is to be expected when you invite a bunch of people to come along and riff on your premise.

“The Infinity Corporation” is a story that consists of three nominally unrelated documents from different viewpoints; it’s basically a straight epistolary short story. “Collective Dream Journal” is a page on which several different authors have contributed dream narratives. “Doomsdates” is a collection of flash fiction about really unpleasant dates. “The Parallels” does have a point-and-click interface for exploring part of the story; but this felt a bit clumsy to me, a rather rough picture linking objects to descriptions on another page. Many of the stories are illustrated or supported by mocked-up images of Twitter exchanges and text screens from phones — again, something of an epistolary instinct.

Then: the “literary” bit. The writing in these stories often feels self-conscious and effortful to me:

An increasingly lucid gaze over moonlit wavelets provides a spacious interlude of counterpoised anxiety and calm. (“Collective Dream Journal”)

Or they tell jokes that are mis-paced and land wrong:

It seems that while he was President, Lincoln would frequently engage in inappropriate, some might even say randy chit-chats via telegraph with women of ill repute. Several of the women were so scandalous they were over the age of 13 and not yet married or widowed. (“Urban Legends”)

Or stretch too hard for their whimsy:

This week, a Roman Centurion and a Zeta Reticulan from the 23rd century are among the guests discussing Russell Brand and the apathetic masses that lap up his cheeky Dickensian fop banter. (“Tune In Next Week”)

These are by various authors, and some have a tighter style than others, but overall the type of prose featured here suggests an editorial taste that I don’t quite share.

This overview feels like it’s come out largely negative, but there are some things about this website that do attract me. The cues for future writing feel a bit like a rolling version of the IF community’s themed minicomps (ShuffleComp, ECTOCOMP, the Apollo 18 Comp, the cover art comp, etc). The design itself is rather slick. Some of the work is that style of speculative fiction that uses a few brief references to suggest an alternate universe very different from our own. It’s Patreon funded, which I think is not always a great model for every type of endeavor (specifically, I worry that it encourages some creators to do shorter, less ambitious works than they really want to because Patreon rewards creators with a steady stream of frequent output), but Patreon makes a certain amount of sense for a regularly-released zine.

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