Rebooting Electronic Literature: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Interview with Sarah Smith, Author of "King of Space"

In preparation of Amber Strother's Live Stream Performance of Sarah Smith's King of Space, we contacted the author to see if she would meet with us via Skype to share insights with us about her work. She kindly agreed to chat with us on January 28, 2017. At the time we did not consider capturing and making the interview available to the public, but the conversation was such a treasure trove of information into the work, its influences, and development that we decided it would be of value to others. The quality is not excellent, but the content is valuable. We hope to re-interview Smith at a later date and record replacement video with higher production value.

Sarah Smith's Interview about King of Space, Part 1
The interview with Sarah Smith starts off by declaring her past desire to write science fiction, referencing a couple of her influences - including Kathryn Kramer and fellow electronic literature writer Deena Larsen. After she finished writing a book, Mark Bernstein asked her to write something for him. This interaction led her to begin working on King of Space in 1988. Dr. Dene Grigar brings up the idea that Smith is among the unsung women heroes in the field of early electronic literature. Smith discusses the influences of quilting and collage and how collage art influenced her writing style. She also brings up the influence of choose-your-own-adventure books and how she desired to break the rule of consistency that often goes along with them, which is displayed through the notion of having characters within King of Space blending into each other. Dr. Grigar and Amber Strother begin to ask questions of her own regarding King of Space's ASCII art (which was done by Matthew Mattingly), the number of lexias within the work (there are at least 317 total), and particular pathways within the story.

Sarah Smith's Interview about King of Space, Part 2
The Q&A interview with Sarah Smith continues. Amber Strother asks questions regarding King of Space's many puzzles - including the ones where colors are to be chosen upon clicking on tabs with different words on each. Smith provides insight into the design choices and explains some background details. Dene explains that the lab has at least four machines that are capable of running King of Space, so scholars will be able to investigate it further. Visiting scholars to the ELL lab are named and Sarah Smith describes the computer she used to write the original test. It was a machine running CPM and the tool she wrote in was EMACS.

Interview about King of Space, Part 3
Amber Strother asks Sarah Smith about the perspective King of Space is written in. Sarah Smith responds that the entire work is written in the third person. Smith suggests that Strother play through more lexias in the story to see how the perspectives play out. The reproductive aspects of the story are discussed, specifically, questions of agency and sexuality in King of Space are discussed and contrasted with prevailing norms in contemporary society. The choices, or false choices, that players in a work of interactive fiction are presented with are compared with choices people do or do not face in contemporary society. Sarah Smith fills in the readers with information from storylines not yet experienced. The donation of the Sarah Smith Collection to ELL is discussed. Amber Strother asks about the total number of possible endings to the King of Space story. Sarah Smith answers that there are around twenty five endings. The contemporary game The Stanley Parable is compared to King of Space.

Interview about King of Space, Part 4
Dene Grigar asks Sarah Smith about the authoring tools used for creating King of Space. Sarah Smith explains that King of Space was not written in Hypercard, but was created in a tool custom built for the purpose known as KingWriter. Dene relates a recent show in London she curated called Beyond Gravatron. Amber Strother asks about the cucumber sandwiches and presentation of food included in King of Space. Smith explained that she wanted to include items that are femme and also represent British stereotypes in her narrative. Dene Grigar begins a question about tabs at the bottom of the King of Space interface that read: all, text, is, a game. 

Interview about King of Space, Part 5

The interview comes to an end. Amber Strother mentions that knowing the number of endings will help her explore the text and search for new endings. The alien priestess and her sexuality is commented on as a key and interesting part of the story. Traditional sci-fi tropes are discussed and the groundbreaking nature of King of Space, in the light of the work that came after, is remarked. Dene Grigar explains the role of ELL in preserving access to works like King of Space.

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