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The Silent History

It’s quite possible that even if you’ve already heard a thing or two about The Silent History, the soon-to-be-released recently released interactive e-book that was largely created by the programmer and storyteller Russell Quinn, you might not really understand exactly what it’s all about, or exactly how it’s supposed to work. In which case: Join the club.

It’s probably fair to say that no interactive or electronic book in existence has ever come close to the creativity or the uniqueness or the altogether newness of The Silent History. Then again, considering that the project was only made available a few days ago, and that I haven’t personally been lucky enough to experience any of the pre-publication previews, I don’t imagine my opinion of the book itself should hold much weight.

In a feature for Wired magazine, however, reporter (and former ReadyMade editor-in-chief) Shoshana Berger described The Silent History as “a sprawling electronic novel that plays with the mechanics of how stories are told, taking full advantage of the tablet’s GPS and touchscreen, along with platform features like in-app purchasing.”

“Judging by samples shared with Wired“, Berger writes, ”The Silent History is part book, part multiplayer game, part Google map, and entirely revolutionary.”

Again, considering that I haven’t actually seen or experienced the book myself, I’m probably not the best person to describe it. So I’ll leave that to Berger, who, in her Wired feature, does a great job of explaining the project in simple-enough terms:

“One key difference in how this e-book works is that the narrative is serialized — reminiscent of the days when novels were introduced in magazines and newspaper episodes before they were published in full. The serial is broken into six parts, each one spanning several years in fictional time. (The story begins in the summer of 2011 and ends in 2043).

Readers can join at any time and absorb the back-story. A new episode is quietly synced with your device every weekday for a month and each piece is designed to be read in 10 to 15 minutes — on your commute to work, say. There’s a month break in between each of the six parts, so the entire project will take a year to unfold.

Then there are Field Reports. These digressions from the main plot are geolocated, meaning you have to go to a specific location to unlock the story. For example, the app might direct you to a house protected by a chain-link fence. Once there, the app would pop up a first-person account of an angry mob that rattles the fence.

Eventually, users of The Silent History app will be able to submit their own Field Reports, turning the experience of reading into a collective “choose your own adventure.”

And from the project’s own website comes this description: “The Silent History is a novel that uses serialization, exploration, and collaboration to tell the story of a generation of unusual children.” And: “The story is presented in two forms: Testimonials and Field Reports.”

In other words: Wow. 

To me, that sounds like a fairly even mixture of, say, the real-world outdoor treasure hunting trend known as geocaching, plus the GPS-enabled cell phone audio tours that some of the larger U.S. cities are now offering to tourists, multiplied by a book-length Kindle Serial project. (The Silent History is said to be roughly 500 pages long).

Let me ask you this: How much money do you honestly think a year-long experience like this is worth? If I had to guess the price, I’d probably say that given all the time, money and energy The Silent History has clearly already required of its creators, the cost would most likely end up being outside the budget of the majority of the book’s intended demographic, therefore being its ultimate downfall.

But I’d be wrong. According the project’s FAQ page, ”the text itself can be purchased within the app by volume ($1.99 USD) or as a whole ($8.99 USD). The app is available as a free download from the [Apple] App Store.”

And yes, that’s the bad news: If you don’t have access to an iPhone or an iPad, you’re out of luck for the time being, although the project team does hope to offer an Android version of the app eventually, according to the website.

If you’d like to read more about the project, there’s a bit of information in this brief New York Times piece. Also worth reading are these items from USA Today, Buzz Feed and Publisher’s Weekly. The Bay Area NPR affiliate, KQED, also has a great print piece about the book on its website.

As far as I know, the app was first made available on October 1; if any of you are actually reading/experiencing The Silent History, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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