by Zebbie Watson
(INVERSE) You may have already read, or at least heard of, The Interface Series, an ongoing, Lovecraftian sort of sci-fi and body horror narrative scattered throughout Reddit by the anonymous user _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9. If you are unfamiliar with the posts, but you want to read the story, the best place to start is the dedicated subreddit, r/9M9H9E9, where mods have arranged the posts in order of appearance. While _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 is not the first to use the internet to create an interactive narrative that must be found and pieced together, Reddit is an ideal place for this type of storytelling, given the vast number of users and their collective enthusiasm for internet sleuthing and conspiracy. Just how is The Interface Series constructed? And how intentional is its design?
The question of authorial intent is always a tricky one, but the first week’s worth of posts appeared across Reddit with a randomness that seems calculated. There is a consistent pace, more or less equal attention to different storylines, and clear progression in all plots from day to day. Many posts describe living flesh at length:
a pit made of flesh. Maybe five feet across and going down about twenty feet before curving out of sight. When I say, “made of flesh,” I mean, it looked like the inside of somebody’s throat. Wet, reddish flesh-looking stuff. We had heard of them building tunnels, but this was…
The first posts by the freshly created account appeared on April 21. There was, at first, a total of eight posts on five different threads, all buried inconspicuously mid-thread, and very tangentially related to the comments above. These posts matter-of-factly throw around the terms ‘flesh interface’ and ‘incident zones’ as if reporting widely-known facts involving the CIA and LSD, the Soviets, Vietnam, and Dubai.
Within posts from that first day, you can see other Redditors beginning to string the posts together and discuss them. In fact, the last two posts are actually more or less direct responses to other users’ questions. This is a pretty clever hook: Lead with some truly out there stuff, get some public attention, and follow up by engaging the reader.
The next day, _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 followed up with 4 posts, this time not at all linked to the threads in which they appeared. 3 of these posts elaborate on the previously referenced activities of the Soviets, and the fourth makes the writer’s first excursion into the poetic, with “Lisa’s Dream”. This is a solid build on the first day of posts, furthering one narrative thread, introducing a new concept (‘travel’), adding a bit of mysticism and, importantly, relying on the reader to seek out the story.
Lisa was a 9 year old girl sent through the Groom Lake interface in 1975. The Groom Lake interface connects to the so-called Sister City (technically, “persistent locus”) known as “The Hanging Temples”. She stayed there for 5 days of normal-time, but only 48 seconds of beyond-time, a marked discrepancy. Upon returning, she did not recall anything beyond becoming drowsy for a moment. She slept well that night, and in the morning she recounted a dream to the doctors, before dying later in the day.
April 23 gave us the first fragment that is narrated in-scene, the first confirmed shifts in narrator, the first mention of “the mother with horse eyes” and a direct address to the reader in an original thread by the writer.
A portion of a post by _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9
Here the writer explains:
“Previously, I was operating a website wherein my information laid out in a rather straightforward manner… [Here] I am attempting to use the techniques of fiction and suspense to hopefully generation interest in this information… I should clarify that this information is not fiction.”
So now we come to the question of, is this fiction meant to entertain and prod Redditors into analysis, or is this a work of paranoid delusion? Ultimately, despite coming off as a network of particularly deranged conspiracy theories, the posts have a deliberate posting order, which suggests an intelligent design. Each fragment either opens a storyline, continues an earlier one, or seems nonsensical but ends with suitable hook to retain reader interest. There is strange rhetoric at play here, but it’s definitely rhetoric built on undulating patterns.
The Reddit posts’ fragmented narrative allows for rapid shifts in subject and viewpoint. Within a few days, the writer established sign posts indicating an expansive world we haven’t yet seen. It is unclear how many narrators are in play, although it is at least four.
There are also at least four distinct time periods in which we get in-scene narration: the 1960s, World War II, some undefined future, and the approximate present. We see some scenes played out in their entirety over a post or two, and others are revisited days later. Most of them are linked more or less explicitly, although plenty are still open doors. One post describes the 1960s using technological advances which seem like anachronisms:
Until we found the village, we had suspected that the detectors were just props. Just toys given to us by the CIA guys to reassure us. Nobody trusted the spooks.3 days through the jungle, and these detectors had not detected a fucking thing. But before we even saw the first hut, the needles on all the detectors started moving in unison. If they were phony toys, it was a cool little special effect. The needles swayed back and forth and all the little metal boxes let out this spooky “ooaaooaaaooo” sound all in unison, like a school choir. Very weird. We turned them off. As instructed, we treated every vietnamese as combatants, and killed them all. There wasn’t any resistance though. A few had weapons, but most were unarmed. None fought back.
There is currently some discussion as to just how planned out this whole project is. Has the writer already fully created this tale, or are we watching it unfold in real time? The decreasing frequency of posts leads me to think that the writer started off with a stockpile of existing material that is now dwindling, or is being added to, on the fly. Overall, particularly in the beginning, the links between storylines is too tight to be improvised, but the writing doesn’t feel not polished either. Some, however, take the previous mention of a website to mean that this story is already written and is not just being doled out gradually.
Another factor to note is that the writer has chosen a highly interactive space for their narrative and yet barely interacts with that space. The threads they initiate are subsequently deleted, and the writer does not respond to comments.
On May 5, _9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 apparently obliged an inquiry from Vice Motherboard and published a full in-character post on the site. This excerpt, interweaving a continuation of the CIA portal experimentation with a parable set in ancient Rome, is self-contained and feels more artful than the writer’s earlier work.
It does raise the possibility that the story will be shaped by audience perception as it continues. It also brings up a disturbing idea, that this trippy story has been scattered not just across Reddit, but throughout the internet in its entirety. The post with Vice was most likely a one-time thing; hopefully the writer does not continue to introduce new platforms into his or her narrative, as scattering the story even further would tip it from ‘fun mystery’ into tedious territory for most readers. No one wants to work that hard just to be confused.
The posts are becoming increasingly dependent on contemporary culture. On May 8, it’s possible that our writer listened to Lemonade. One post mentions “Jesus with the long, soft hair, the good hair”, lightly appropriates AAVE to talk about black churchgoers, and maintains the conspiratorial theme by bringing up Nephilim and asserting that they “control the internet”. It feels out of place, although some of the early posts appear on threads about Prince, and there was one equally isolated post about Michael Jackson’s death, so it could be that we are just scratching the surface of something yet to come.
Ultimately, is it a good narrative? I don’t think we can judge yet. For one, the writing is average. It bounces between a clipped, gruff voice that reminds me of most fiction by veterans, some overwrought dream sequences and supernatural encounters, and obtuse ramblings that inspire skimming.
However, the manipulation of voice and narrative shift is pretty deft. The idea is potentially a great one though, and it remains to be seen if and when it becomes more complete. Of course, it is easy to provoke questions, to weave ever more erratic connections, and difficult to bring it all together cohesively and answer them. Right now, the Interface Series feels like the first season of Lost: we’re interested, we have lots of questions, just please don’t let us down.
_9MOTHER9HORSE9EYES9 could easily just disappear, leaving us all to shrug our shoulders and move on. They may land a book deal. Some speculate it could even be viral marketing. I hope to see the series continue and watch the world building process unfold further. On the other hand, the internet has notoriously shortened our attention spans, so even if the posts continue, the writer will need to up the pace of the narrative and the posts to keep readers on the hook.
[This article was originally published on www.Inverse.com and was used with permission.]