Liam Young, 20 08 08


"The 21 Steps" by Charles Cumming screenshot

It begins suggestively “I was the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” This is the opening to “The 21 Steps” by Charles Cumming. It is the first of six stories written in answer to the Penguin challenge to reinvent fiction through the medium of the internet. This narrative unfolds across the birdseye London of Google Maps. Click after click you follow the story from the air, familiar places of the city, overwritten with the invisible trials of our intrepid protagonists. Here Google Maps is not just a tool of location and navigation but an excursion into daydream and fantasy. read it here

phantom bird nests

I am reminded of my recent trip to Beijing where I played architectural tourist, scouting out a preview of the Olympic icons guided by my Google Map print outs. Just like our ’21 steps’ hero I was consistently the wrong man in the wrong place, this time however it was the misinformation of my Google guide that led me astray. I had to track down each building from somewhere within a point cloud of misguided user added Google markers. Like a roadtrip couple bickering over who gets to use the map, it seems the collective intellegence of the web is yet to reach a sightseeing consensus.  I was walking a fictional Beijing, filled with eight imaginary Bird Nests, a new reading of place built from the mistakes of hundreds of Google literate, lost tourists.

So here we are, iphone at the ready, Google Maps in hand, embarking on journeys of strangeness and novelty as our cities are imbued with the traces of invisible maps of fantasy, mistakes, and misdirection, all uploaded by the connected population of the world/web 2.0.


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