We're super excited to have just received the print edition of The Silent History, a serialized, collaborative novel that was initially released as an app for iPads and iPhones last year. In its original form, it also incorporated hundreds of location-based stories that could only be accessed when your GPS coordinates matched those of the story.
Okay, you're saying, but what's the story about, right? And does it work as an old-fashioned 500-page novel on pulp-based paper? The answer to the second question is a resounding YES! As for the first question, well, the premise is both high-concept and brilliantly simple, recalling the likes of John Wyndham, Stephen King, JG Ballard, and especially P.D. James' Children of Men: a generation of children are born without speech, and in fact without any understanding of language whatsoever. First in isolated cases, but quickly recognized as an epidemic, they become known as "Silents", and as they grow up, they communicate only with each other through an intense form of face recognition.
Since Silents cannot speak or use language, the story is told through a myriad of testimonials (all roughly 1,500 words) by various older observers, from concerned parents to politicians, businessmen, scientists and inventors who all see various kinds of threat or opportunity in the Silents' quiet presence.
The conceit of the digital version of the story is that these testimonials were solicited from the app's reader-participants, who collaborated in authoring the story as they added to the texts produced by Horowitz, Moffet, and Derby. However, as the UK's Independent newspaper observed: "Stripped of its videos, interactive gee-gaws and bonus material, the plot more than stands on its own, driven by classic narrative virtues: chases, hints of the supernatural, and bits of the dystopian thriller, intellect mystery and cosmic jigsaw puzzle. The finale asks the biggest questions of all, suggesting that here is a novel at once fun, clever and humane with the scope to outlast its hipper-than-thou origins."
Indeed, it's clear that the novel's theme of wordlessness and its dispersed character address the very anxieties that a collaborative, app-based novel elicits: for example, can literature or literariness survive massive, generational sea changes in the nature of communication? If The Silent History is any indication, our prospects are pretty good.