Spring Thing 2022: Manifest No

Spring Thing 2022 has been over for a little while now. I said I’d post about all six of the Back Garden submissions, and I’ve only done five. That’s because I wanted to actually get all the way through the last of them, Manifest No, before commenting on it. But I think I have to admit at this point that it simply isn’t going to happen. It’s tough to get through. Much of the text is simply portentious and agonized word salad like:

Steerless plunging scratching the scoffing subterranean enforcement seal with fingernails to scrawl illiterate runes, wept named rebellion, in the wheedling yaw submission to the infinite. Encaged horror broke free in the recognition and beat my bones like war drums. Under the ceiling’s concavity hidden doctrines groaned themselves buttresses, spectral stems extending from what had once been sequestered; we ignore what we know until our touch knows. Acidic repetition, I cried out! Who had I been to be a cracked mirror? Where might I pray, where were the ashen hills that called out in pious grime?

It goes on in that vein for a whopping twenty-seven chapters. What makes it especially fatiguing is that it isn’t entirely meaningless. There’s a story in there, but it takes some effort to extract. There’s a setting involving a dock and a bar that exist in some relationship to a Tower (always capitalized). There’s a set of miserable characters who argue and toss insults back and forth and sometimes kill each other, but aren’t really distinguishable unless you take careful notes — sometimes the narrative viewpoint switches from one character to another between chapters and it isn’t clear at first that this has happened. At one point, a sea-captain recruits a crew for an expedition to find a legendary lost Tower, but I have no idea if the narration after that follows the expedition or not. Sometimes it’s unclear if a passage was meant literally or metaphorically.

I’d be inclined to think that the author is underestimating the difficulty of their text, has internalized their own worldbuilding and style so much that they’ve lost sight of how it looks to others less familiar with their thought processes, as so often happens… except that the blurb and disclaimers at the beginning suggest that the difficulty of understanding is deliberate, part of an effect that the author values for its own sake. And why shouldn’t the text require effort? Isn’t this part of what we like about IF, that it involves us in more than just passive reading? I’m sure there’s an audience that will appreciate this work, even if it doesn’t include me, and I hope it finds them.

One note on the interactivity: Pages are fairly long, which is how I like them, and each will have links on a few random words. Sometimes following a link will take you to a page with some obvious connection to that word, but just as often there will be no apparent connection at all; the choices all advance the story, but not in a way that’s under the first-time reader’s deliberate control. So there’s no meaningful sense of agency in the choices. Figuring out the story from the murky prose is the only source of agency.

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