Here at Vertigo I often write about fiction with embedded photographs, but today I’m writing about fiction embedded within photographs. At least that’s one way to view Charles Cumming’s The 21 Steps, a short, admiring spoof of John Buchan’s classic (and early Hitchcock film) The 39 Steps. The 21 Steps exists at We Tell Stories, self-descibed as “digital fiction from Penguin.” As you read Cumming’s text and click from segment to segment, you are quite literally swept across rooftops of a city or the face of the globe via both the Satellite and Map versions of Google Maps as the protagonist moves through London (including the British Library, the National Gallery, and Heathrow) and parts of Scotland. The short mystery won’t win an Edgar award, but it’s plenty of fun.
Technically speaking this isn’t hyperfiction, which permits – or requires – the reader to approach fiction in a non-linear manner. (There are several examples of true hyperfiction among the other stories offered at We Tell Stories.) But I like the possibilities suggested by The 21 Steps as a straightforward narrative with an everchanging backdrop.