Consciousness, Literature and the Arts
Volume 18 Number 3, December 2017
Murray, Janet H., Hamlet on the Holodeck The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, updated edition Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press, 2017 413 pages, 978-0-262-53348-5 Paperback $32.50
Shari Burnard Ostrom, OISE,
University of Toronto
When I was first asked to review this book, I was both intrigued and slightly terrified. Like most English teachers, I have a great love of Shakespeare, but I consider my knowledge of computers to be average at best. Noting this, I confess I delayed starting it, but once I did begin to read it, I was immediately swept up into the ideas, cyberspace, and the possibilities it mentions. Janet H. Murray’s update on her popular book, Hamlet on the Holodeck is a timely release that further advances her still relevant ideas on the multifaceted aspects of cyberspace. Her belief that the future of writing likely will include total reader immersion similar to participating in the movies Matrix or Avatar is fascinating and exciting.
Upon reading the book the reader is pleasantly surprised to note that although Dr. Murray is very well informed, her writing style is not in drawn out academia discourse, which often envelops vague concepts with five-dollar words. Instead, her work is clear, concise and a joy to read; the epitome of the theory that if someone really knows her topic, she can explain it in a way that anyone can understand. Her ideas are still fresh, even though many were written twenty years ago. In fact, most agree that they were just well ahead of their time. Her view that “stories define how we think” can be linked to the currently popular Aboriginal teaching style, for example.
At the end of each chapter there is a current update, but her previous work has stood the test of time. Her original ideas are still thought provoking and provide the reader with much food for thought. The fact that information from numerous different, and seemingly unrelated, sources are peppered throughout the book makes for an engaging read. I found myself nodding along in agreement with her explanations and theories.
Dr. Murray references many aspects of the written word including its history, literature, film, theatre, and of course a variety of uses of computers. Her ideas flow well and leave the reader considering possible new ways of using narrative in cyberspace, albeit leaving the reader with the suspected thought that regardless of what she might come up with, Dr. Murray likely has already used it in her university courses! Dr. Murray’s use of pop culture, mainly through current movies, allows even those with minimal computer knowledge to fully grasp what she is saying, and sufficiently reflect on her ideas.
The book is never condescending and the reader feels not only that she has learned something new reading this book, but that the journey of that education was enjoyable and worthwhile. The prediction of the literary future makes the reader wish that time would already arrive. What could be more exciting than being a character in your favourite novel, or having the power to possibly change the outcome of the story? I truly believe that one need not be intimidated by Shakespeare, Star Trek, or computers when considering this book. Although all are relevant to it, they do not dominate the work. You need not know anything about them to fully enjoy the ideas, theories and incredible research Dr. Murray has put into both versions of her book.
I certainly recommend this book to a variety of audiences. Obviously those working in the field of computers, and Star Trek fans, would be interested, but I venture beyond that group, and the cult classic groupies, to suggest that those who surround themselves with English literature and/or author hopefuls, would find the book informative and interesting.