A million (little) Penguins

It’s a trainwreck, of course, but I can’t look away: Penguin Books and a creative writing program in Leicester have launched “A Million Penguins”: a crowd-sourced wikinovel.

Don’t worry, you know it’s a real wiki because all the usual Wikipedia pieces are in place, including the good old Mediawiki environment & some ethical guidelines evocative of the Neutral Point of View (TM): “Please be respectful of issues of decency and legality on matters of sexually explicit language, and potentially controversial areas such as race, gender and sexuality. Be polite.” Now there’s a recipe for great art!

As you might expect, chapters written so far are as squirming and oblivious of each other as a gaggle of hungry babies. The most entertaining thing about them may be their content-free structure-fetish, somewhat reminiscent of David Foster Wallace. For example, here’s “Chapter 8 1/2,” which currently begins: ‘”Did you know Fellini,” he asked. She couldn’t answer.”‘

“Meanwhile” is a popular word in these environs. Hard-core lurchers are sprouting alternative versions of the novel, providing alternatives to alternation.

The flurry of hypertext novels in the ’90s never amounted to much, it seemed to me, and this 2.0 sequel doesn’t seem likely to renew the genre. “A Million Penguins” does contain one gripping, downright chilling passage, though: the Terms and Conditions. It’s not editable.

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