Meanwhile was published three years ago as a mammoth choose-your-own-adventure comic, but it began life in 2005 on Jason Shiga’s wall. The cartoonist (and mathematician) plotted all 3856 possible stories in an elaborate flow-chart so he could keep track of them while producing the book. And then, last November, in collaboration with text-adventure writer Andrew Plotkin, he released Meanwhile as an app. An app I downloaded as soon as my friend Chris Baker informed me of its existence last week.
True, I haven’t played with the print comic, but the iPad seems like the perfect venue for this story, which serves up everyday choices — chocolate ice cream, or vanilla? — alongside more extraordinary ones. After using the (possibly mad) scientist’s bathroom in a rush, would you rather try out his time machine, his memory-reading device, or his… Killotron?
"The inventions that you get to play with are all very standard science fiction tropes," Shiga has said, ”but I try to add a little twist to each one.”
One of the possible time machine subplots is “’a reworking of Hilbert’s Grand Hotel.’ (The Paradox of the Grand Hotel is a paradox proposed by German mathematician David Hilbert involving a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all occupied, which can still accommodate more guests by shifting all occupants to the next room or to a mathematically-determined other room according to different situations.)”
There are, I can attest, many different loops to get stuck in.
Obviously, if you’re looking for deep emotional layers, you won’t find them here, but Meanwhile offers intense puzzle-solving pleasure — and, just as important, tantalizing frustration. I’ve gotten far enough in to understand the complicated relationship between the characters, to read people’s minds, to (repeatedly) kill everyone, to confront “myself” and try to explain things and then resort to violence instead, and to end up in strange utopian worlds, but I don’t think I’ve solved it yet.
Maybe I’ll never think I’ve solved it yet, but everything I’ve read online suggests that you know when you do.
If you finish Meanwhile and are in search of more Jason Shiga pleasure, Bookhunter and other books are available free at his site.