Earl is an LA-born actor/improviser that wants desperately to be loved. Hah, not really. He'll eat all your leftovers if you're not careful. He's done it before. Tweets at @earl_baylon. Earl Baylons at earlbaylon.com. Tumblrs at Nerdoholic.

A few weeks ago, a college roommate of mine stopped by and handed me an early Christmas present.  I unwrap the present he handed me and unveiled this rather substantial hardcover:

Title: S.

Author(s): Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams (Story/Concept)

Publisher: Mulholland Books

Publication Date: October 29, 2013

Pages: 472

ISBN: 0316201642

S. is an interesting piece of literature. Well, with concept by the man who holds the nuts of both Star Wars and Star Trek in his hands, it bound to be at least interesting… at the very, very least.  S. would be best described, I suppose, as a story within a story, and perhaps even within another story – a meta-novel. Storyception. How does it attempt to accomplish this?  Well, the first thing  readers will notice when they pull the hardcover out of its slipcover is that the book itself is entitled Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka, who won’t be found in any author lists, except probably in dummy websites like this and this. The book looks like an old printing of a classic novel that one might find in some dusty corner of a high school library, complete with a Dewey decimal sticker on the spine, and a checkout log on in the inside back cover.

The text itself is rather ordinary, complete with foreword/note from the translator, list of the author’s previous works, standard publishing dates and all the other marks of a regular novel.  The really interesting part, however, are the notes written in the page margins that encapsulate a conversation between a grad student who is writing his thesis based on the Ship of Theseus‘ author, and an undergraduate literature major who happened to find the book while doing re-shelving rounds at her school library.  That’s where the secondary story takes place, as they work together to decipher clues left in the book’s text, in an effort to find the identity of the mysterious V.M. Straka.

I could never bring myself to do this in my books. I just drew penises instead.

It doesn’t end there, as the two literary sleuths leave clues for the other to examine, interspersed through the pages of the novel. Photocopies of letters allegedly written by the author, postcards, and photos are found as the reader turns the pages, allowing them to play third-party observer to the unraveling mystery.

One thing I discovered quickly about the book is that placement of the clues is important to the narrative.  And reading this novel, say, while in bed, makes it easy to lose clue placement, as they fall out rather easily.  So, here’s a handy-dandy chart, just in case you decide to pick the book up – as you can see, I’ve already lost place of one clue.  I vowed, NEVER AGAIN!

Xeroxed letter from Straka
Pollard State University Stationery “VMS Accused of…”
Xerox pg.33 Toronto Review for History and the Humanities
The Daily Pronghorn
Xerox – Telegramm “Des Deutschen Reiches”
Newspaper Clipping “Lampa” 69
Note to Husch “D” Stationery 87
Note from Jen 101
Postcard “Greetings from Brazil” 113
Archway/Crypt Photo 131
Postcard “Native Birds of Brazil” 179
Postcard – Tree Walkway from Brazil 191
Postcard – Brazil beach 193
Postcard – Pictorial Map of Brazil 201
Yellow Legal Pad letter from Eric 203
B&W photograph of woman 243
Monkey greeting card with newspaper clipping 257
Napkin Map 307
Desjardins Memorial card? 361
Letter from Jen 377
Blue border stationery 417
Compass Wheel Inside Back Cover*


To make the book a bit more road warrior friendly, I’m actually thinking about removing all the clues, replacing them with post-it strips, and storing them in a small file folder, like this one.  It might be more to carry, but at least I’d be protected from outright losing a clue.

Will this storytelling experiment prove to be more than a gimmick?  Who knows?  I’m still in the very beginning of the book, as progress is slowed down by the fact that you’re reading perhaps double the amount of text on each page.  I, of course, will let you know!

Anyone else out there tackling S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams?   Or maybe someone out there can help me with the location of that compass wheel?  This reader would appreciate it very much.

*Shoutout to Mr. Jason Ratliff of Lexington-Fayette, KY for the info!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *