February 15, 5:30pm: Loss Pequeño Glazier (University of Buffalo, author of Digital Poetics: The Making of E-Poetries, numerous digital works, and Anatman, Pumpkin Seed, Algorithm) joins Penn’s own Jim Carpenter (creator of the Electronic Text Composition system) to take the Writers House to the limits of computing and poetry. The program will be hosted by poet and critic Charles Bernstein (With Strings, My Way: Speeches and Poems, Republics of Reality: 1975-1995). The February 15 “Constructing Poets” program is co-sponsored by the Penn Creative Writing Program.
April 19, 5:30pm: Stuart Moulthrop (University of Baltimore) will read from early and recent work. For more than fifteen years Moulthrop has been writing digital works, which include Victory Garden, Hegirascope, Reagan Library, and Pax. One of the most-discussed writers from what Robert Coover called the “golden age” of hypertext, Moulthrop continues to innovate. He has developed his electronic writing in HyperCard, Storyspace, HTML, Quicktime VR, and Flash.
Both events are free and open to the public, no registration required. The Kelly Writers House is at 3805 Locust Walk on the Penn campus.
“Fibonacci’s Daughter” by M.D. Coverley (a pen name for Marjorie C. Luesebrink), published originally in New River in 2000, is a narrative and architectural puzzle. The main character, Annabelle Thompson, is the daughter of gamblers and a new-age opportunist. She sets up shop in California’s Huntington Beach Mall, where she uses numerology and Fibonacci numbers to peddle insurance policies to high school cheerleaders and football players — insurance against failure, that is. But probability is always chance, and the mystery that lurks here can be resolved in several ways. This piece is part of a larger collection, Fingerprints on Digital Glass, Web-native Fictions. Coverley is also the author of Califia from Eastgate Systems and the recently-released The Book of Going Forth by Day. See the Directory entry for more about this work and author.
James Meehan’s Tale-Spin, created as part of his 1976 dissertation, The Metanovel: Writing Stories by Computer, was the first major project in the area of story generation. Like one of Calvino’s invisible cities, it creates an alternate landscape in which the inhabits live in a manner evocatively different from our own — with all actions the result of plans, the locations of items only learned by convincing someone to tell you, and no one feeling an emotion without knowing it. Like Aesop’s fables, Tale-Spin‘s view of human nature was communicated through the interactions of iconic animals. But unlike the worlds of Calvino or Aesop, Meehan’s world wasn’t simply described — it was made to operate. In fact, its operation, rather than its description, was Meehan’s primary work. (The text describing the world was produced by a bare-bones language generation program, called Mumble, designed primarily to fit in the small amount of memory left on the Yale AI lab’s computer system when Tale-Spin was already running.)
In 1981 a simplified version of Tale-Spin was published as part of the book Inside Computer Understanding: Five Programs Plus Miniatures. This version, Micro-Talespin, was then translated into Common Lisp (a programming language used in many artificial intelligence projects) by Warren Sack in 1992. It includes the settings for five default stories, simple text output from Micro-Mumble, and also the ability to interact with the simulated world. The ELO website now hosts Sack’s version, which requires that the computer running it have Common Lisp installed. GNU CLISP is an implementation of Common Lisp that works on Unix, MacOS, and Windows machines. To experience Micro-Talespin, start Common Lisp, load Micro-Talespin, and then, at the “?” prompt, type: (micro-talespin-demo *story1*). Next, try starting up with one of the other five stories.
Jordan Mechner is the writer and designer of groundbreaking cinematic games such as Karateka (1984), Prince of Persia (1989), and The Last Express (1997). His most recent, in collaboration with a small team within Ubisoftâ€™s Montreal studio led by producer Yannis Mallat, is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The gameplay is based on acrobatics, spatial puzzle solving, the manipulation of time, and swordplay. This gameplay connects to the story of the Prince through the Dagger of Time, which Mechner characterizes as “at once a weapon, a receptacle, and a MacGuffin.” The story is told in past tense narration — perhaps for the first time in a video game — with a noir flavor. As one progresses through the game the situation of the narrator’s telling is slowly revealed, pointing to influences such as Thief of Baghdad and, further back, to the traditional frame tale of 1001 Nights.
Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is the 18th century’s answer to Douglas Adams — irreverent, funny, and surprisingly hypertextual. Shandean Ambles (drafted at the Shandy Hall under Sterne’s imposing nose) parodies this work of nine volumes in nine short steps. Come explore indecent ghosts and sexual harrassment, quills and LCD screens, marbled papers and marble halls where the sauce and the plot never thicken.