100,000 years is a very short hypertext piece by Pierre Chevalier. I recommend you experience it here before reading the rest of my review, below the cut. (It will only take you a few minutes.)
As you have (presumably) now seen, 100,000 years is a super-short, sparse story about a cycle of civilizations. The blurb called the piece “the longest short story ever,” but it’s not what I would have independently categorized as a story. It feels like a skeleton of a story, an idea that needs more to it. I could envision this as the outline for a longer written piece or for a short film. Or, even more, I would like it to be a component of some sort of installation piece in a gallery, with experimental generative music playing while visitors press buttons to make an old-fashioned slide projector loop through the text fragments. As it is, it wasn’t enough for me. While I can’t think of a story I’ve read or watched with exactly this plot, the pieces are mostly pre-existing sci-fi tropes: the ark to flee a dying planet, the trade-off of physical abilities for mental ones, the experience of a super-advanced culture from space encountering a primitive one. Without more details or specific characters to flesh it out, I didn’t feel especially invested in the story. I also probably rushed through it more than the author intended, so by the time it started to sink in, it was over. (Partly this was my fault and because I had just finished with Who Among Us, which was very wordy and had put me into fast-reading mode, but I also think the blurb inadvertently primed me to expect that I was going to have to keep moving if I wanted to see the whole piece in the allotted time.) One minor tweak that might have slowed me down is just if the text fade-in had been about two or three times as long. It not only would have forced me to spend at least a few seconds longer on each page, but it would have set a slower mood.
I’ve been continuing to mull over the kinds of interactivity that can exist in fiction, and what kinds of experiences seem to work best for what kinds of fiction. This piece had very minimal interactive options: the reader can only hit the forward and back arrows. I think the author intended for this to underline the cyclical nature of the story, because traveling in either direction is a loop. However, since going forward a step and then back one takes the reader back where she started, this didn’t have a strong impact on me. It’s unsurprising for the piece to behave this way, just as it wouldn’t surprise you to hit the “back” button on your browser right now and see the page you were reading before this one.
I’ve become wary of saying that something “isn’t interactive,” but I have to admit that this feels like the very edge. My fiancé is sitting on the sofa nearby reading Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter* in paperback, and every time he gets to the end of a page, he turns it to the next page. If he wants, he can look back at something in an earlier chapter. He could even skip to the last page and see how the story ends. I don’t think any of these options make Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter a work of interactive fiction, though. Not that it suffers from that (more on this in another post soon), but if Lindgren had entered it in the IFComp, folks would have been puzzled. Nor do I think it’s substantively different if a piece is on a screen instead of paper.
I checked out some of Pierre Chevalier’s other work on his website, and while I’m still undecided about to what extent they fit into my schema of “interactive fiction,” I did enjoy some of the pieces quite a lot. More than 100,000 years, in fact. I found A cat entirely soothing, Hanoi Circus charming, and Seirenes impossible but still great. I recommend checking those out.
*On my recommendation, because I recently read it for the first time and was utterly in love! How did I go through my entire childhood bypassing this book at the library?