A couple of days ago Marieke Hardy’s mobile book, “Vigilante Virgin”, began transmission. The project is being sponsored by Borders, who have called it “an Australian first”. Me, I’m a bit dubious. But let’s have a closer look at what they mean by “mobile book” first.
From a technological perspective, what Marieke’s doing sounds quantitatively different from the cell phone/mobile phone novels that have had their most success in Japan, and which have been around since 2005. Those things are little java-based applications specifically intended to be used exclusively on mobile phones.
It sounds like what they’re talking about is a 20-part story on the web. The “mobile” bit really only comes into play because subscribers will get texted the web address of each new chapter. And most likely then access the page using the web browsers on their mobiles. I’m guessing you could probably access it via computer too.
If you take the question of delivery method out of the equation, then, what you’re left with is an online story told in installments. And there’s already been a few of those – one that readily springs to mind is Australian author Max Barry’s Machine Man, a subscription-based online story told in daily instalments, which has been going since March 2009.
There’s other online serial fiction out there too, like Joshua Allen’s Chokeville (currently on hiatus but well worth the wait), Gentleman Adventurer Othar Tryggvassen’s twitter feed, and the twitter novels Small Places, Russet and the now-defunct The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer. Oh, and I’m doing one too, via Twitter, called Aramis Fox, with an online story-so-far archive for those who came in late. And that’s just some of the ones I know about. There’s bound to be plenty more out there.
(To draw another comparison, “Vigilante Virgin” will cost readers 55 cents per instalment (which comes to $11.00 for the whole story), while Machine Man is free up to the first 43 instalments, and then $US6.95 for the rest of the story, which is expected to come in at around 200 instalments in total. The other ones I mentioned are all free.)
So. Not really a mobile phone novel, at least as the phrase is commonly understood, and not really an Australian first, either. I guess technically “Vigilante Virgin” might be the first password-protected Australian-authored online-story-in-instalments accessible via mobile-phone-delivered subscription. It’s not as sexy a phrase for the media release, but it’s possibly a bit more accurate.
There’s no crime in being the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota, even if there is a bigger one in Arkansas. The second-biggest (or even tenth-biggest) ball of twine is still a pretty damn big ball of twine, which is impressive enough in and of itself. You don’t need to go around telling everyone it’s the biggest in the country.
Seriously, the more people muck around with story-telling experiements like this, the more likely it is that something interesting and exciting will come out of it. Godspeed to all of my serial-fiction-writing colleagues.