Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts

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Deena Larsen's Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts was originally published on 3.5-inch floppy disk for Macintosh and PC computers in 1997; it was released later that year on CD-ROM for both platforms. Larsen reports that she produced the work on her Macintosh computer and had not seen the PC version until years later ("Interview"). The work was created with Storyspace 1.2C and requires 5.5 MB of space. It is the second major work by Larsen and follows two years after the success of her opus, Marble Springs(1993). Contained among the nine little hypertexts is Century Cross, a work that was published as a solo work two years after Samplers Version 1.0 was released.  

Samplers was sparked in 1993 when Larsen and Kathryn Cramer talked together at the ACM Hypertext 1993. A year later Larsen sent an early version to Eastgate Systems, Inc. and in 1995 showed it at ACM Hypertext 95. That same year one of the nine works, “Century Cross,” was published in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext Volume 2, Number 2. Larsen continued to work on Samplers in 1996 and finally saw it published in 1997. It came out first as a 3.5-inch floppy disk for the Macintosh computer with certain functionality (e.g. return key provides multiple links as default paths). A version for Windows on floppy disk followed. The CD-ROM version was published last. This version is advertised as formatted for both Mac and Windows computers, but Larsen reports that it is actually the Windows version since the return key functionality does not work for the Macintosh. She also confesses that she prefers the 3.5-inch floppy disk version for the Macintosh because it was the one that integrated functionality with content, navigation, and user interface. Also of note is that Larsen created the cover art for both the folio and the work: a quilt with nine pieces stitched together. Each piece of the quilt reflects a work of short fiction, each with a different structure. 

The nine hypertexts include:

Mystic Knot
From Eastgate Systems, Inc.: In Mystic Knot, "a traffic barrier in Golden Gate Park wakes up and finds itself."

Crossed Ends
From Eastgate Systems, Inc., “Charles Goodwine's retirement party begins the unraveling of his family. The hypertext pieces together the family story, as the family itself is torn apart.”

From Hipertula: This is the story of "a family that comes together for the celebration of the father´s retirement. The four main characters are together in the same room, hearing the same words and looking at the same faces, but each one´s thoughts wander away in totally different ways, so that we understand how really apart they are. We can also read what they think of themselves and of each other, more or less explicitly, and learn about the lack of communication to which people are condemned.

Seed Voices
This story was originally called “Conversations,” but Larsen changed the name because the title was too close to “Conventions”

From Hipertula: "Seed Voices is a conversation between two characters who don´t listen to each other. The woman (her text-spaces are green) is pregnant and tells the father (whose text-spaces are black) too late to take care of it. The reader can listen to them together or separate, life´s voice and selfishness´ voice are not likely to meet."

Century Cross
It shows up as its own work in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of HypertextVolume 2, Number 2 Winter 1995. This date verifies that Larsen had indeed sent the work to Bernstein that year. It was bundled with Judith Kerman’s “Mothering” and Michael van Mantgem’s “Completing the Circle.” This one is based in a true story.

From Eastgate Systems, Inc: In Century Cross, "a technical writer pulls an all-nighter at her government office building, and meets a force even more frightening and capricious than memos from Washington."

From Hipertula: “The story gives the key to this statement, and in a way to the whole work, as it is a story about creation and about telling, drinking from the deep well of Indian myths (Hopi, Navajo and others). A government employee is faced with ancient traditions that force her to reconsider the meaning and reason for her own writing, to understand that telling stories saves us from the Nothing.”

This is a story of chasing faux gods and the fox god chasing you.

From Hipertula: Firewheel is a story about "a foreigner in a small Japanese town at the turn of the millennium." The themes here are again isolation, this time because of the strange language, and what it means to be a foreigner. The style is also "Japanese", as few words carry much meaning and need calm thought to be understood.

This is a story of incest from the past locking up the present.

From Eastgate Systems, Inc., “In Interlocked, Larsen explores how sexuality and fear connect through the years.”

From Hipertula: Interlocked tells terrible stories from the past, stories of sex and punishment and fear. For the main character, memory is as real as the present, and everything keeps on happening not to let her rest. "Click here to hypnotize my memories", says the author, as if the reader could exorcize her dark thoughts.

Caught Out
“Caught Out” is about a child caught up by too much technology. This one is Laresen's favorites.

The story structure locks you in or out.

This story is about what happens to dreams when adulthood sets in.

From Eastgate Systems, Inc.: In “Conventions,” Leah and Claire, once best friends, meet in a convent garden, separated by years and by the cloister walls.

From Hipertula: “Conventions” shows the intertwined lives of two very different women: a catholic young girl who becomes a nun, and her Jewish school-friend who wants to be "a wanderer". Larsen contrasts the women´s opposite longings for freedom and security, with voices that need each other and envy each other. They will meet after years of separation. Which form of life has been better?

Devil’s Claws
This is about the chaos that occurs after a family inheritance goes wild. It’s also about a couple of masks set on the loose to an unsuspecting town.

From Hipertula: “'Devil´s Claws' is about responsibility and what happens when you forget about it. A family has a terrible legacy: two strange masks who have watched over the family for years, ready to destroy everything should responsibility be forgotten."

Larsen says that every title in Samplers involves a pun. This is the second major work by Larsen and follows two years after the success of her opus, Marble Springs (1993). Contained among the nine little hypertexts is Century Cross, a work that was published as a solo work two years after Samplers Version 1.0 was released. Versions of the work include:

Version 1.0: Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts for Floppy Disk, copyrighted in 1997
Version 1.1: 3.5-inch floppy disk for Macintosh

Version 2.0: Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts for Floppy Disk, copyrighted in 1997
Version 2.1: 3.5-inch floppy disk for PC (Windows 3.0 or Windows 1995)

Version 3.0: Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts for CD-ROM, copyrighted in 1996
Version 3.1: For both Macintoshes running System Software 7.x-OS 10.6 and PCs running Windows 3.0 and Windows 95

Contributors note: 

I also had access to interviews I conducted with the artist and personal papers she donated to the Electronic Literature Organization. These resources changed dates and other publication information. This material comes directly from the chapter on Deena Larsen's Samplers, written by Grigar et al and published in Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 2.

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Jill Walker Rettberg