Author Geoff Ryman’s 1996 web novel 253: A Novel for the Internet celebrates life and death in London.

Geoff Ryman, a Canadian writer based in London, published instalments of his novel, 253: A Novel for the Internet in Seven Cars and a Crash, on the Internet in 1996. It is about 253 people on a Bakerloo line train in London hurtling towards death, and each instalment is a miniature story of a unique passenger. Ryman was inspired by Kathryn Cramer’s writing in the New York Review of Science Fiction, and the idea of the novel being set in the London underground was born on a ferry from France to the UK. He became obsessed with observing people on the tube and the novel was coloured by the knowledge of his friend’s terminal illness.

In 1998, 253 was published in book form, 253: The Print Remix, and won the Philip K Dick Award for science fiction. Unfortunately, the novel disappeared from the web in the noughties. Ryman then wrote many other award-winning books, and recently began the job of restoring 253 to the web.

253 is a novel about the variety of life and the quirkiness of life, but also about how, in the end, the train always crashes and people die. The print version is read in a more linear way, while the online version is about hidden similarities. The novel is also a record of how people dressed and thought in the 1990s, and of how pre-internet life was apolitical and fun.

Ryman sees 253 as a life-affirming book about death. It is a reminder of the joys of life, and of how, even in death, life is full of variety, quirkiness and fun. It is a reminder of the importance of preserving our history and of our duty to remember those who have gone before us.

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