IFComp 2016: 500 Apocalypses

Spoilers follow the break.

This is essentially a themed sci-fi microfiction anthology, presented in a way that evokes both following a chain of links on Wikipedia and wandering through a cemetery reading epitaphs. The frame-story is that you’re browsing translated selections from the “Encyclopedia Apocalyptica”, a mysterious and ever-expanding document discovered in space, containing brief accounts — some just a few sentences long — of the collapse of various extraterrestrial civilizations. Some destroyed themselves with war, some were wiped out by disease or calamity, some simply withered away and forgot their history. For some, we get no indication of what happened; we just get a description of the panic, the desperation of the survivors, or the ruins discovered long afterward by baffled archeologists. Some entries read like a textbook, some like poetry, some like pleas for help. A few have twilight-zone twists. It’s all highly varied.

As the title indicates, there’s an impressive 500 stories in all, although we’re told that this is far from all the Encyclopedia Apocalyptica contains; indeed, we’re told that it gets about 26 new entries every day. I feel like some few of the stories we see are commenting on their context. For example, you might find a story about someone struggling to preserve some kind of record about his people before the disaster hits, that they might leave some kind of mark for others to find. Well, the Encyclopedia Apocalyptica has granted his wish. Would he be satisfied? Or would he be humbled by the perspective the Encyclopedia affords?

One of the work’s conceits is that the translators have taken some license to make the pieces more accessible. When a story mentions wild dogs roaming the streets, we understand that it’s not really talking about dogs, but about alien dog-analogs, or at least creatures that can be considered equivalent to dogs for the purposes of the current story. This extends even to using crude language when talking about sex, even as the story content reminds us that this isn’t human sex but distressingly weird alien sex — not a feature in most of the stories, but it does come up enough times to be one of the more striking features of the work as a whole.

I didn’t read it all during my two hour judging period. I’m not sure you’re even really meant to read it all. The hub area is an artful arrangement of dots, some of which are hyperlinks to the stories; this is referred to as a “memorial garden”, which suggests the sort of thing you visit repeatedly in a spirit of meditation, not something you plow through to reach an ending. In addition to the links from the hub, many of the stories have internal hyperlinks to each other, on the basis of some shared theme. As far as I can tell, that’s it for interactivity. It’s basically static hypertext, without even a pretense that choosing a link is something other than selecting which text page you want to look at next. It’s the sort of work that provokes questions like “Does it gain anything from being in hypertext at all?” But I think it does. The link structure affects the mood in ways I’ve already described.

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