Digital novel 'The New World' offers more than a good story

"The New World," a digital novel by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz, tackles topics like love, grief, memory, and immortality. Special e-book design elements add to the immersive experience.

The New World

We don't often cover individual e-books here, but since this one has a little bit of a tech-related twist, I thought I'd check it out. "The New World," by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz, is a digital novel available from Atavist Books.

It's also available as a text-only e-book, but the Atavist version, which you can read in the free Atavist app (available for iOS and Android) or in the browser on your computer, adds an immersive quality that I really got hooked on.

I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I always got a kick out of books that played with convention, from the Choose Your Own Adventure books to puzzle novels like "The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)" and even surreal experiences like Thomas Rockwell's "The Portmanteau Book," which I adored even if I had the distinct feeling that there was a lot going on in there that I was missing.

Now that I have a tablet, I no longer need to pack a separate bag for reading material on any extended trips. That said, I do miss the participatory feeling I got from some of those books. (You miss those too, right?)

I've been a little disappointed there aren't more e-books that take advantage of the medium, much in the same way that I wish more Wii U games really made use of the GamePad.

Amusingly, among the few I've seen are updated versions of some of the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Horowitz and Russell Quinn, who handled the interaction design for "The New World," had (along with authors Kevin Moffett and Matthew Derby) previously wowed readers with "The Silent History," an interactive serialized novel that earned a number of accolades, including being named by Apple as one of the Best Apps of 2012.

Alas, as I am rocking a Nexus 7 and not an iPad, I have yet to get sucked in to that one. On the positive side, that's probably good for my productivity.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned anything about the plot of "The New World" yet. That's not because I'm lazy, I assure you; I want you to be able to enjoy as much as possible without me accidentally giving anything away, so I'll direct you just below to the very blurb Atavist Books intrigued me with.

The New World is the story of a marriage. Dr. Jane Cotton is a pediatric surgeon: her husband, Jim, is a humanist chaplain. They are about to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary when Jim suddenly collapses and dies. When Jane arrives at the hospital she is horrified to find that her husband's head has been removed from his body. Only then does she discover that he has secretly enrolled with a shadowy cryogenics company called Polaris.

Furious and grieving, Jane fights to reclaim Jim from Polaris. Revived, in the future, Jim learns he must sacrifice every memory of Jane if he wants to stay alive in the new world. Separated by centuries, each of them is challenged to choose between love and fear, intimacy and solitude, life and grief, and each will find an answer to the challenge that is surprising, harrowing, and ultimately beautiful.

The alternating, color-coded POVs not only weren't confusing -- and that's partly because of the interaction design -- I thought of them as complementary. Instead of turning pages constantly, you read a segment by scrolling down the page. At the end of the segment, you click the little arrow button at the bottom right, and the POV shifts to the other character. It was a smooth reading experience, and I was pleased by how quickly I was able to become absorbed in the story.

"The New World" will run you just about $10 for either the Atavist version or the text-only e-book version, which is available in various e-book stores: Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play.

 

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