Melvyn and Manson

On the night of Mr. Melvyn’s murder is a hypertext murder mystery, the sort of thing people got very excited about at the dawn of the HTML age. I remember very clearly there was a strong current of belief that hypertext fictional webs had the potential to be as rich and widespread a medium as the novel. Instead they became a novelty, and Mr. Melvyn’s murder illustrates why. The “story” is a complicated thread that winds through perhaps a few dozen character pages, including fictional creeps like Moe and Mr. Earl as well as cameos by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and
Elton John. Each page has a portrait of one character and their part of the story. The story is convoluted, but the artwork is very good, so I clicked and clicked in an absent-minded sort of way, watching the pictures go by until I found Mr. Melvyn at the end of the maze. That by itself didn’t reveal the mystery, but I wasn’t motivated enough to go back and unravel it.

Serendipity brought me, in less than two week’s time, to a different web of pages in much the same format: the Manson Girl Info Center. The gruesome backstory of creeps linked together by murder is nonfiction this time, but the shape of the site is very similar to Mr. Melvyn’s. Despite this similarity, I was extremely compelled to read my way through the Manson Girl site. Why was Susan Atkins called Sadie? Did Squeaky Fromme really intend to kill President Ford? Why were these women so infamously dedicated to Charles Manson?

The hypertext format works well with facts, because the world is endless and complicated. But when it comes to stories, you long for a single burning fuse. The point here is not so much the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. The point is that I know the basic story of the Manson murders and am curious to learn about the context, whereas I don’t know why I should care that Mr. Melvyn was murdered, and so the labyrinth of background information is merely wearying.