253, or Tube Theatre
In the early days of the Internet, 253 (‘the story of seven cars and a crash,’ set on the London Underground) was conceived by Geoff Ryman as an online-only novel. Its innovative game-style format allowed the reader not only an omniscient look into the unedited contents of every single passenger’s mind, but also let them click on hypertext links to explore each passenger’s inner life as they hurtle unknowingly towards their death.
There’s a sustained sense of mourning that pervades the novel; it’s not surprising to find out that 253 is set on the date in 1995 that the author learned his best friend was dying of AIDS. While it was conceived long before July 2007 and I originally read it in 2005, the possibility of death on the Tube has always been a real one, and that knowledge gives 253 more immediacy and poignancy.
The html-only version of 253 is still live; it looks a bit clunky now, but still exciting. It actually feels less common today to see a writer exploring the possibilities of the internet for encouraging emotional connections; we tend to treat the online world as a place to create marketing add-ons for print books. Perhaps we need to look again at Ryman’s example. For me, 253’s print version emphasises the separateness and essentially unreachable nature of the passengers, while the online version- purely through format- reinforces their connections. I feel both versions are entirely valid in their own ways, and both are well worth exploring.