Notes Reading Notes

Arcadia

By Ian Pears, 2015

Unique reading experience as a custom designed iOS app allowing readers to explore the story strands in the order they prefer. Themes of time travel, parallel universes, and cause and effect engage with the presentation on multiple levels which functions to bind everything together into a coherent whole.

I wasn’t blown away at first, but the more I read, the more I appreciated how significant an achievement this is. The branching structure collapses conventional notions of genre and enables wildly different aspects of the story to be linked together thematically as well as via plot. The premise of bringing imaginary worlds into real existence leads to some interesting meta-textual possibilities which don’t feel heavy-handed because they’re woven into the structure of the story itself. Genre-bound stereotypical things that seem not to work on their own—like the fawning, idealistic relationship between Rosie and Pamarchon—start to make sense in a deeper context when the idea emerges that these events could have been written into the world deliberately or precipitated accidentally by the actions of other characters.

My reading strategy was jump between following a single character strand deep into the story, and backing up and untangling the plot by joining up the other characters and filling in their back stories.

Given the nasty, typographically stunted frustration of reading standard ebook formats on iOS, the custom app provides a much more pleasant reading experience. The interface is modal and flips between the main text and a map view where the branching narrative is beautifully laid out in a graph visualisation.

Having to consciously choose a reading strategy reminded me that I used to read books in this way a lot more than I do now. One of the best things about having each passage in the story represented as a node in a network of branching and converging pathways was that places where different strands split off or rejoin are easily visible, meaning that I could pause one character’s journey right at climactic moments where multiple branches converge. I was tempted to read right through to the end with one character, but it was too much fun being able to orchestrate these pauses and synthesise the supporting strands.

I appreciated the minimalist style, despite finding some usability issues. My preferred way of navigating led to frequently losing the currently selected passage on the map. The way state tracking and reading history was implemented felt a bit brittle. This part of the app could have benefitted from more precise and explicit UI controls. Another minor usability problem I ran into was that the story was difficult to read in reverse as the branching selection only worked in the forward direction. A shame, as I found some sections of the story worked really well when read in reverse.