The world on a train: global narration in Geoff Ryman’s 253

Berthold Schoene

Manchester Metropolitan University


The focus of this essay is an exploration of Geoff Ryman’s interactive novel 253, which was originally released online as 253, or Tube Theatre: A Novel for the Internet on London Underground in Seven Cars and a Crash and then, two years later in 1998, also as a ‘print remix’. Examining Ryman’s text as an example of contemporary global narration, Schoene explores the cosmopolitan techniques and structural devices employed in 253 not merely to envisage the individual’s immersion in global community but to facilitate an enduring interactive experience of it. Aligning the hypertextuality of 253 with Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy of community, Schoene argues that Ryman’s use of hyperlinks does not destroy plot, but deconstructs it, reconceiving it as fluid and ‘inoperative’ instead of strictly telos-driven. With close reference to Ryman’s ‘The World on a Train’, his BBC News tribute to the 52 victims of the 7/7 London terrorist attacks, the essay concludes by looking at the new cosmopolitical currency acquired by Ryman’s novel – a currency it did not originally have in the mid-1990s.

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Keywords: Geoff Ryman, 253, cosmopolitanism, hypertext, community, contemporary British novel, 7/7


Biographical note
Berthold Schoene is Professor of English and Director of the Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research at Manchester Metropolitan University. His publications include Writing Men (2000), Posting the Male (2003), The Cosmopolitan Novel (2009), The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature (2007) and The Edinburgh Companion to Irvine Welsh (2010).