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Narrative Gymnastics, May 23, 2011
Zarf has a keen instinct for taking things -- code, puzzles, narrative structure -- to pieces, then seeing if they'll fit together in a different way. Here he's tinkering with CYOA. Written for a SpeedIF challenge that required authors to use unfamiliar IF languages, The Matter of the Monster is a highly experimental minor work, both deeply impressive and faintly disappointing.
The story itself is, consciously, nothing very special; three siblings set out on a quest to slay a giant monster. It's heavily framed as a bedtime story; there's a well-observed tension between the serious, insistent child and the mother, who thinks that heroic fantasy is a bit silly. The story is told mostly back-to-front, starting with the final success of the youngest sib and working backwards by hops and jumps; depending on the chronologically earlier events, the later sections change somewhat. This doesn't affect the final outcome; what's at stake is the shape of the story, and secondarily the nature of the hero's family. Although the writing has some fun details, it's very clear that content is secondary to form; the hacking of narrative is more important than the narrative.
Undum was, to put it mildly, not really designed for this, but it's made to work; the story jumps up and down the page, so there's a strong sense of thumbing back and forth in a text that should be static, even though it's shifting before your eyes. (Vorple may have been an inspiration here, but Undum has its own transcript-editing habits.) With the reading habits of conventional IF, however, it's easy to miss the changes, even though the total amount of text is quite small; what really matters is that it's intuitively clear which section of the text you've jumped to.
It's probably best to think of this as a hugely-expanded approach to The Girl and the Wolf, rather than as a hugely stripped-down version of a scarily flexible work of IF. It's hard to imagine a larger work built on TMotM's techniques. As an approach to short, dense pieces, though, it's intriguing.