Whatever the relative success of individual efforts, the idea of community-oriented digital fiction has taken root. Just ask Andy Hunter, publisher of the pioneering e-lit quarterly “Electric Literature.” Last spring, the journal launched “Recommended Reading” on Tumblr, a curated, weekly series of original stories by up-and-coming and established authors. Its audience has far surpassed that of its parent quarterly.
“Tumblr is great for fiction,” Hunter said. “It’s based on sharing, and users feel a real sense of community.” Those who doubt the Internet is good for literary fiction need only look to “The Devil’s Treasure,” an excerpt from Mary Gaitskill’s forthcoming novel that “Recommended Reading” published in July. According to Hunter, around 40,000 people saw the story— more than four times the number of people who bought her last collection.
“Digital fiction is out there,” Montfort said. “It’s not like Angry Birds in terms of its popularity, but it’s there.”
Whether “The Silent History” becomes a footnote or a touchstone in the long march of digital fiction could hinge on its platform. For now, it’s only available for the iPad and iPhone — not entirely by design. Coding an application for two different operating systems proved cost prohibitive.
“As per who’s buying weirdo experimental literary apps, people are getting them on iPhones,” Horowitz said.“It’s a drag to me — I don’t like the fact that you have to own a thing at all to buy into this project.”
At present, Android users have access to very few literary apps, weirdo experimental ones or otherwise. Mac users have more to choose from, but only by a slim margin. Most fall under the umbrella of enhanced e-books — novels or comics with supplemental videos or photos embedded within the text. The Poetry Foundation has created a free, comprehensive database of poets and poetry. And there are a handful of clever apps aimed at aspiring writers like Wattpad, where writers can upload their books and stories and receive instant feedback, and Verses, an app for poets with a built-in rhyming dictionary.
Real digital fiction — novels like “The Silent History” where a mobile medium plays an essential part in the story’s message — is very difficult to come by on any platform. But that could change. As the e-book market becomes increasingly lucrative and e-readers more technologically advanced, publishers and distributors just might start funneling money into ambitious digital works. In other words,“The Silent History” might have more company soon.
Horowitz hopes so.“The hardest part is getting people used to reading books in a new way, but I think it’s going to be easier and easier,” he said. “My dream would be that other people do this form of storytelling and people take this in new directions we haven’t even thought of, and then we’ll do something else.”
Eugenia Williamson, a writer and editor living in Somerville, can be reached at email@example.com.