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Trailing Rebus: Adapting a Best-Selling Detective Novel for Locative Mobile Media

8:30 AM, Wednesday 15 Aug 2018 (1 hour 15 minutes)
This paper describes our project to adapt a best-selling murder mystery novel for location-base mobile media. Set in Darkness (2001) is the 11th novel in Rankin’s popular Inspector Rebus detective series; it has been translated into 26 languages, and adapted for television by the BBC. Our project aims to expand its reach into a new medium not typically associated with the delivery of lengthy literary narratives.

Designed with the StoryTrek platform, the Trailing Rebus app (currently in development) aligns the reader's physical location in and movement through the streets of Edinburgh with story segments adapted from the Set In Darkness audiobook. Our readers will be able to follow Inspector Rebus’s unfolding story in situ via their smartphones or tablets by moving through the spaces of Edinburgh. By searching for “sites that yield,” users enact the novel’s underlying quest motif at every turn, gaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between story and place. The novel uses the city’s architectural landmarks to ground its consideration of historical and contemporary issues, such as Scottish nationalism, gentrification, and gender politics. Additional content in the form of critical commentary, historical maps, and photographs will be layered onto the story to deepen the reader’s immersive experience, and reveal how past and present intersect dialectically in Rankin's novel.

Some argue that the fragmented nature and increased cognitive demand of interactive fiction make it unappealing to broader communities of readers (Pope). Early locative stories and installations invited users to participate in tactical engagements with urban space, akin to the disruptive Situationist practice of psychogeography; yet, locative media, while not exactly commonplace, are far less disruptive than they once appeared (Tuters). Our project acknowledges the growing adoption of mobile and locative media within everyday life, and aims to leverage that familiarity in the construction of a relatively seamless experience that remains faithful to the original printed narrative, while introducing new site-specific affordances and forms of engagement.

Trailing Rebus raises important questions about the implications of e-literature for popular genre fiction. How might a conventionally linear narrative be faithfully adapted to a hypertextual medium? How can we ensure that readers navigate both the locative narrative and the real world simultaneously without becoming disoriented? Or is some degree of disorientation desirable for disrupting the mobile media spectacle? Can we distinguish between readerly/consumerly and writerly/producerly e-lit? Can the gap between e-lit and popular genre fiction be crossed? We will address these and related questions, document our development process, and summarize the results of our early user tests.
Carleton University
Associate Professor

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