Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Old Scary, Humanized

Dracula HD Original Papers, by Bram Stoker, Created by Intelligenti Publishing, 2009-2010

With the advent of e-books now really and truly upon us, it would be helpful to make some categorical distinctions. There are e-books which merely ape print books, but in electronic formats (PDF or EPUB or Amazon's less well-known but market dominating proprietary AZW). These titles may allow you to magnify the page or alter the font or make a few other minor formatting tweaks, but they are, for all the excitement, words on a page, rendered digitally.

Then there are enhanced books which bring a level of interactivity to the experience. A good example that made quite a bit of headlines after Apple's iPad was released is Alice for the iPad. Here, by changing the way you held your iPad, you could make things happen within the book -- make Alice grow or shrink. This is a new kind of book and one I suspect we'll see more of in the future especially in the children's market especially in the children's market, but for now many enhanced books tend to be failures of the imagination, texts that include sound effects or music or an audio version of the tittle read along. These are great for children, but offer little to adults who are lingually proficient and not blind.

Intelligenti Ltd's Dracula HD - Original Papers Edition is neither fish nor fowl as per the above two categories, though it does have elements of both. (It's also, of course, one heck of a title.) Taking the original Bram Stoker classic, they've gone and done something rather interesting, something a printer could have done long ago if he'd thought of it (and maybe someone did).

For those who are unfamiliar with the novel save as an adaptation to film or by name alone, Stoker's novel is written in a style greatly popular in his day, that is, epistolary. While typical novels of this style tend to be between two people with one or two additional minor voices chiming in, Stoker's novel boasts four major voices. We begin with young solicitor Jonathan Harker's account of meeting the infamous Count in Transylvania where our English hero has come to assist the vampire in emigrating to England. He leaves behind his fiancée, Wilhelmina "Mina" Murray, who writes frequently to her dear friend Lucy Westrena, who regales her with tales of her suitors. Jonathan escapes from Count Dracula's clutches, but does not beat the vampire to England's shores.

After Lucy is taken ill, one of her former suitors, the sanitarium owner Doctor John Seward, calls in his old mentor, Professor Abraham Van Helsing. Despite Van Helsing's work, they are too late, and Lucy dies from Count Dracula's nocturnal attentions. Seward, Van Helsing, and two other of Lucy's suitors, are joined by Harker as they band together to hunt down the Count and rid the world of the fiend.

With a clever layout conceit that offers up two pages in landscape mode and one large page in profile, Dracula HD presents the story as though we had found a collection of original documents (hence the long name). Jonathan Harker's diary is then handwritten appearing with blotches on the page and stains and marks where a wet cup of tea or coffee has perhaps sat.

Lucy and Mina Loy's letters alternate on their respective stationary and handwritings. Newspaper clippings in the story are presented in typeset style, and so on.

It's a simple idea, but immensely effective. Stoker's sometimes lurid sometimes prim Victorian style can often read flatly on the page when neatly printed, but here it seems to come alive with personality. Let us be quite clear, Stoker isn't really a masterful writer in any sense of the word, though he did manage to tap into something very nearly universal with this novel. The fake handwriting font humanizes the text's characters, gives them a kind of real world analogue that adds a layer of interest to them beyond the novel. That it is a font is clear the moment you spend any great time staring at the individual letters, but you can easily forget that despite a lack of any irregularity that handwriting might present. Never does Harker's penmanship betray his fear or terror at his fate, nor does Seward's typewritten transcription ever show signs of a faded typewriter ribbon. Instead, we are given stains, foldings, and ink drips. What I wouldn't give for a very small erasure still visible behind the text.

To be sure, these are very small nits to pick, the kind most readers might not even consider. Overall, the developers did a lovely job transferring the material to its present incarnation and the novel moves briskly along. Too much fiddling with the font to suggest a nervous condition and perhaps it'd not be legible.

If there were improvements or enhancements to be made I could only think of two. First, let readers turn off the sound effects of the page turning. That technological little tweak to the work is cute at first, but rapidly becomes annoying over the course of 400 pages. Certainly we can mute our iPads if we wish, but this seems like something we should have as an option.

Shhh, I don't need to hear this part.

The second feature takes Dracula HD out of the realm of the first category and brings it closer to the second. In the novel, Dr. Seward records his diary then has it transcribed to paper. Obviously this is not something that could be presented in a printed book, but here's an ample opportunity to embed small recordings that the reader could choose to employ if they so wished. A scratchy sounding recording of the doctor relating the horrors of their encounter with the vampire could be a lovely addition to the terror of the story.

Even without my suggestions, Dracula HD etc. is a lively experience and well worth the $1.99 price tag. It's a Halloween treat you shouldn't pass up.

1 comment:

Dave said...

HOLY DAMN IT CHRISTMAS!! You've posted a new blog!! Welcome back.