“Everything I typed on the keyboard showed up on a large screen which filled the entire wall at the front of the room. Five men in tan suits were sitting around the screen, watching the words as I typed them in.”
Once in a while in a lifetime, everything comes together. In 1986, it was my experience in database programming, the idea I had been working on since 1977 of using molecular narrative units to create nonsequential narrative, the availability of personal computers that would make what I had been trying to do with “card catalog” artists books more feasible, and the arrival of Art Com Electronic Network, a place to create, publish and discuss the work.
In August 1986, for publication on ACEN, I began writing and designing the interface and programs for the hyperfictional narrative database, Uncle Roger. And in the process, I created an authoring system — Narrabase — which I have continued to develop for my work for 27 years.
A seminal interactive hyperfiction for command line computer platforms, Uncle Roger is based on a narrative and creative use of links (originally called keywords from the database algorithms that informed this work). The composing of the three files that comprise Uncle Roger was influenced by my experimental artists books, by my experience with library database programming, by the slide-based narratives I performed at alternative art spaces in the early 80’s, and by scene-based Renaissance comedy.
"I pictured a whole line of men in tan suits
scampering around on a stage, singing
'The yield is down. I think we lost the process.'
The chorus was 'We lost it in the submicron area,'
which is what Jack said next.”
Files 1 and 2 are interactive hypertexts in which the reader actively follows chains of links through the narrative––either one link or combinations of links using the Boolean operator “and” (“men in tan suits” and “dreams”, for instance)––and then returns to the beginning to follow another link or combination of links. Simulating the diffuse, unsettled quality of the narrator’s changing life, the third file is generative.
The Three Files of Uncle Roger
What I type on the keyboard appears in green on the screen which is called the monitor. When the screen is full, the letters scroll up somewhere inside the machine.”
“A Party in Woodside”
During a long, mostly sleepless night after, a party is remembered fitfully, interspersed with dreams. Like a guest at a real party, you hear snatches of conversation and catch fleeting glimpses of both strangers and old friends. There are occurrences which you never observe. You meet people whom others may never meet. A fragmented, individual memory picture of the party emerges.
“The Blue Notebook”
In "The Blue Notebook," the story is continued by the narrator, Jenny. The narrative is framed by a formal birthday party for Tom Broadthrow at a hotel restaurant. Jenny’s fragmented memories — a car trip with David, a visit to Jeff’s company in San Jose, an encounter with Uncle Roger in the restaurant bathroom – weave in and out of the birthday party recollections. Some of the text is taken from Jenny’s blue notebook where, as she she explains: “The things I wrote in the blue notebook didn’t happen in exactly the way I wrote them.”
In January the narrator, Jenny, left the Broadthrow family and started working for a market research firm in San Francisco. As Jenny sits at her desk, memories of a Christmas party in Woodside, a trip back East for the Holidays and other things that happened come and go in her mind.
More about “The Blue Notebook”
We walked through a door into a vast expanse of gray cement floors. There were no windows. Rows of benches were covered with black and silver equipment; piles of cables; boxes of small objects encrusted with wires; microscopes; tv screens; clear plastic boxes with holes in them; surgical gloves. In the back exposed pipes alternated with ten foot tall machines.”
The story is framed by a formal birthday party for a microelectronics company president. His party––in a Silicon Valley hotel dining room––is punctuated by the narrator’s unlikely encounter with the eccentric semiconductor market analyst Uncle Roger. And while Jenny sits at the banquet table, other narrative threads––a car trip with a former lover, a visit to a semiconductor house in San––come and go in her mind.
Parts of the story are taken from her notebook where reality is difficult to separate from fiction and dream: “The things I wrote in the blue notebook didn’t happen in exactly the way I wrote them.”
"'It’s an FX-7000G ,' said one of the men in tan suits. He pulled a thin calculator out of his pocket. The other two men leaned over the calculator while he pushed some buttons. Small grey graphs appeared on the tiny green screen.”
Over the years, I have worked to keep Uncle Roger available to a public audience. A web version was created in 1995 and is still available at http://www.well.com/user/jmalloy/uncleroger/uncle.html.
And in 2012, I recreated the BASIC version of Uncle Roger for the DOSBox emulator. Access is available at my site.