I am not a fan of reviewing other authors. Writing is tough enough without the criticism, and, like all art, book appreciation is rather subjective. But SilkWords Publishing is building their reputation as the go-to publisher for a “chose your own adventure” style novellas (aka “branched fiction” or "pick your path"), and I could not resist checking out their latest release, A Heart for Copper.
SilkWords is doing the 21st Century version of the old “hypertext” books. Hypertext cropped up at the very early stages of the internet as we know it. But they did not live online—they were purchased on CD and then read on your computer. It was cumbersome. If you are the type that likes to unwind on the couch or in bed with a book, hypertext was impossible unless you had a laptop. But it was created for a niche (and academic) market, and there it remained.
Fast forward 20 years. The new sophistication of eReaders make the promise of choosing your own adventure a reality for millions who use Kindle and Nook (devices or apps). SilkWords is driving this new way of reading.
Sharon Lynn Fisher's A Heart for Copper is a steampunk romance about Copper, an automaton created by a young inventor. When he implants a heart into Copper, she comes to life. But whoever holds the heart’s key decides Copper’s fate. Will she become human or will she remain a automaton? Will she find true love with her creator, or will she strike out on her own to find more like her?
Here the reader decides.
I took several paths, curious to see the story play out differently as many times as I could. It was a fascinating way to read, although I missed the author’s guidance. She knows her characters better than I do. Most authors, myself included, have backstories for their main characters — and mine can get very specific. So it felt strange to make Copper’s decision for her. I kept wondering who the author would have wanted to take the key. But I had to chose—did I want a love story, or one of empowerment? I chose the road I assumed would be less taken.
This direction I took introduced me to a magical world filled with other automatons as she searched for the alchemist that created the heart that brought her to life. It was a world I wanted to spend more time in and get to know better. Depending on the road you take, you may not spend much time here. But even with taking the path that explored this world more, it felt like I was leaving too soon. I wanted more time there.
The writing itself was beautiful, with lush descriptions that helped create this fantastical steampunk world. In a way, that felt like the antithesis of the reading medium. I was so engrossed in the world, and the characters that Sharon Fisher created, that I wanted her to guide me through the story she wanted to tell.
That said, I think “branched fiction” is something to keep an eye on. Culturally, the signs are pointing towards audiences that want to be more involved in the art they are consuming—the rise of interactive theater, the appeal of “virtual reality” gaming (once again, Oculus took CES by storm), audiences want to experience their chosen art and entertainment in a very personal, individual way.
Check out SilkWords' website for more offerings, where they offer loads more branched fiction stories as well as "reader vote" stories, where readers decide where the book goes next. A Heart for Copper is definitely Rated PG, but their other stories are very much for the over 18 set, many are downright steamy.
For more on SilkWoods their work in branched fiction, check out Jill Archer's terrific interview with Sharon. There's some great info in there about the future of their company and upcoming website changes (including heart shaped "game currency") to boost reader interaction even more.