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Fantastic journeys

‘Book of Pages’ is a fable, but it has plenty to say about the reality of technology.

When Jiriki, the young monk in David Whiteland’s technological fable “Book of Pages,” (Ringpull Press [U.K.], approx. $16.50) is sent by his Abbot on a mission to find a mysterious book in the city of Metropolis, he knows only the simple life he has lived in a remote mountain monastery. Ordinary, for the humble monk, means collecting firewood and performing daily rituals.

But once Jiriki reaches Metropolis, “the most modern of habitats,” he is confronted with complicated machines and confusing rules, and his sense of the ordinary changes very fast.

The journey that ensues–ostensibly a story about the contrasts between life in a quiet monastery and one lived in big, modern city–unfolds into a clever and interactive exploration of our own modern world, one that illuminates some of the daunting complexities of living in an increasingly digital society.

While that’s hardly new subject matter, what makes “Book of Pages” so distinctive is its inventive manner. Whiteland, a computer programmer, instructor, and artist from London, spent three years crafting a book that almost defies any conventional format. Each page–a combination of detailed, cartoon-like illustrations and beautiful, almost poetic prose–is nearly independent from the next.

So while the story of Jiriki’s journey should be read initially from first page to last, Whiteland has constructed the book so that its pages can–and should–be read (and re-read) out of sequence. Look closely and you’ll see that there’s a page missing–it’s been stolen by the villain. Look even closer, and numbers hidden within the illustrations will guide you on another revealing path.

What starts out as the simple tale of a silent monk finding his way in a foreign, complex world becomes an edifying journey through Whiteland’s prescient mind, one that asks us to re-evaluate what technology ultimately should do for the individual and for society.

(It bears mentioning that Whiteland is no Luddite: The book’s Web site has a section for wireless phones via which WAP users can glean daily pearls of wisdom from Jiriki.)

And that’s the beauty of Whiteland’s fable: The ultimate goal is for the reader to discover on his or her own, just as Jiriki must do, how technology affects the way we live, the way we interact with each other, and what the future could bring. Neither Whiteland nor the silent monk Jiriki will provide you with any answers–Whiteland merely draws attention to those challenging questions we might do well to ask ourselves a little more frequently.

“Book of Pages” could perhaps best be described as a cross between a choose-your-own-adventure, Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and Terry Gilliam’s movie “Brazil.” It should be required reading for lovers of science fiction or creative flights of fancy.

More literal-minded readers may not be as prone to indulge in the endless possibilities Whiteland provides. But who knows? An adventure with Jiriki just might help you travel a little more smoothly through your own modern-day Metropolis, wherever that may be.

Whiteland’s underlying aim is clear, but his methods are restrained and unobtrusive. The story of Jiriki and his mission is thought-provoking and entertaining in itself; anything beyond that has been left for the reader to decide.

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