Next in our journey through the New Media Reader textbook is a short story by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges who wrote a very influential short piece of fiction called "The Garden of Forking Paths" (1941).
Here's the translation from my book, also the original translation by Donald A. Yates.
Here's another translation I found online that isn't as good by Helen Temple and Ruthven Todd.
The difference can be seen clearly in the final words between:
- "infinite penitence and sickness of the heart" (Temple/Todd)
- "innumerable contrition and weariness" (Yates).
Maybe I'm just partial to the words I read first. But the language in the first story was evocative enough that not only did I read the story twice, but created a cut-out poem from it.
Anyway, the heart of the story is a conversation about narrative direction (or directions) and possible alternate, simultaneous narratives, like Quantum Mechanics talks about.
The story is about an Asian soldier in the British Army during World War I. He is a spy for the Germans and is about to be discovered and arrested before he can send his final message.
He picks a very random but secret message delivery method and then goes about trying to make it happen. He encounters a random person who just so happens to have the key to a long-held family mystery of his and in the process of their conversation the man explains to him the idea of narrative forking.
The story itself soon becomes as an illustration of narrative alternatives and "innumerable outcomes."
Often referenced as ground zero for narrative forking, this story spawned the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books and similar digital variations.
It's worth checking out.