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About the Story
Bus Station: Unbound is a fable about about finding yourself in-between places and times: a 'choose your own adventure' for grown-ups, in which the narrative lies in your own hands. Is it about an iconic building under threat from a short-sighted council or a horror story about infernal retribution? Or is it a tale of guilt, grief, home and forgetfulness? You decide.
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You're going home for Christmas, for the first time in years, if only to make up for all the damaged relationships you've had over the years. But the snow is coming down hard, and your next coach is likely to be delayed.
The authors describe this substantial, large work as primarily an interactive novel, but it works as a vaguely open-world exploration as well. There are lots of optional 'side quests' and characters with whom you can interact; exploration opens up different endings and storylines.
But this is built on an emotional heart, reflected in the parallels between the PC and the building. The location's brokenness reflects the PC's own. The shoddiness of the building itself, the glitchy machinery, the inertia of the buses, even the irritable, argumentative NPCs: aspects of these are reflected, in some way or other, in the PC's own relationships with their family and in their own life decisions. Perhaps even the liminal nature of the bus station - a space characterised by transition and impermanence - reflects how the PC stands on the cusp of something new.
The theme of symbolically rich buildings, buildings as containers for ideas, is not a new one. This idea, for instance, is taken more literally in Bruno Dias's Four Sittings in a Sinking House. In both, the titular building reflects brokenness elsewhere: it is the PC themselves in Bus Station, Unbound, while it is the owners' material worship in Four Sittings.
Something else I enjoyed in reading this were the contrasts and almost-contradictions in the bus station's 'characterisation'. It is described in ways that sit uneasily with each other. It is at once a "monstrous waste of money", but also a structure of "pale concrete petals", "heartlike" in its action. The storylines invite comparison between Preston Bus Station's mundanity and terror, human warmth and mechanical coldness.
There's a lot to explore here in Bus Station, Unbound.
All of the haunting majesty of its subject, and a must-read-thrice plot, July 23, 2019
Perhaps it helps to be as intimately familiar with Preston Bus Station - in many ways, the subject of the piece - as the protagonist. This work lovingly and faithfully depicts the space and the architecture in a way that's hauntingly familiar to anybody who knows it personally: right down to the shape of the rubberised tiles near the phone booths, the forbidding shadows of the underpass, and the buildings that can be surveyed from its roof.
But even without such a deep recognition of the space... which, ultimately, soon comes to diverge from reality and take on a different - darker, otherworldly - feel... there's a magic to the writing of this story. The reader is teased with just enough backstory to provide a compelling narrative without breaking the first-person illusion. No matter how many times you play (and I've played quite a few!), you'll be left with a hole of unanswered questions, and you'll need to be comfortable with that to get the most out of the story, but that in itself is an important part of the adventure. This is a story of a young person who doesn't - who can't - know everything that they need to bring them comfort in the (literally and figuratively) cold and disquieting world that surrounds them, and it's a world that's presented with a touching and tragic beauty.
Through multiple playthroughs - or rewinds, which it took me a while to notice were an option! - you'll find yourself teased with more and more of the story. There are a few frankly-unfair moments where an unsatisfactory ending comes with little or no warning, and a handful of places where it feels like your choices are insignificant to the story, but these are few and far between. Altogether this is among the better pieces of hypertext fiction I've enjoyed, and I'd recommend that you give it a try (even if you don't share the love-hate relationship with Preston Bus Station that is so common among those who spent much of their youth sitting in it).
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This is version 2 of this page, edited by RichCheng on 27 March 2015 at 11:05am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item