Anthony Zuiker makes TV shows that breed. His original creation, "CSI Las Vegas", begat "CSI Miami," which begat "CSI New York," which mated with shows like "Cold Case," and "Without a Trace." Now, the reproducing Mr. Ziuker has given birth to a new breed of entertainment he calls 'the world's first Digi-Novel'. It's "Level 26: Dark Origins" and while it is the first of it's kind, it's just the beginning of a whole new species of hybrid books that may change the publishing landscape.
It works like this: whether you read, or listen, every 20 pages you're offered a 'cyber-bridge' where you can log onto the Level26.com Website, enter a code, and watch a three minute movie with high production-values and actors you will actually recognize. The film enhances, but does not advance, the story. For example, the sadistic killer watches 8 mm home movies of his many monstrous murders. If you log into the Website and enter 'SNUFF,' you get to watch what the sociopath is watching.
True to his CSI origins, Zuiker delivers graphic and grisly mayhem thruought the print and audio editions, co-written by Duane Swiercznski. If this were a TV show, the tag line would read: ELITE COVERT AGENCY HUNTS WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS KILLER. How dangerous? Law enforcement's supposed evil scale only goes up to level 25. This puppy's a 26! Get it?
"His perversity knew no bounds. Human bodies were nothing more than playthings to him," write the authors. And, of course, the only human alive who can take this beast down is the ex-cop, now covert government agent, known as Steve Dark, whose '...body is lean muscle stretched taught over a broad tall frame. His focus is borderline super-human.' Yep, it's that kind of writing. What elevates this digi-novel beyond its mixed-media format, over-ripe writing and vivid X-rated material is the high production qualities Zuiker and his collaborator bring to the AUDIOBOOK edition. Lots of electric-static sounds and ghostly wind-whooshes crank up the tension and underscore the masterful narration of John Glover. The actor manages to infuse the sociopath with a child-like glee that makes the guy the desk-top icon for evil.
Putting aside its creative hybrid format and John Glover, as entertainment, "Level 26" is basically a synthetic story juiced up with over-the-top savagery that accosts, but does not satisfy the senses.
As for the mixed-media angle, you do have to stop reading, or listening, go to your computer, log onto the Website, input yet another ID and password, give them your age and join the social network. All of which makes "Level 26"'s clever format an evolutionary Neanderthal compared to the breakthrough hybrid format, now available, called 'vooks.'
Vooks are electronic, or "e"-books, you read and watch on only one device - currently an iPhone, iPod Touch or your computer. No Website connection, no special software. Just you, text plus video. Vooks is the creation of publisher Simon & Shuster and video producer, Vook. There are four titles now available, a romance novella, "Promises," by Jude Deveraux, a mystery, "Embassy," by Richard Doetsch, and two how-to-books: "90 Second Fitness Solution," by Pete Cerqua with Alisa Bowman and "Return to Beauty: Old World Recipes For Great Radiant Skin," by Narine Nikogosian. The Web version costs $6.99, the iPhone app version is $4.99.
While you cannot 'vook' on Amazon's Kindle, Sony's Reader, Barnes & Noble's Nook, or any of the current e-book devices, anyone want to put odds on how soon e-Readers will have video capability?
There are perturbed folks who fear these hybrids adulterate the joy of reading as we know it. There was a time when author J.D. Salinger vigorously protested the simple use of Holden Caulfield's image on the dust cover of The Catcher in the Rye believing the writer's words and the reader's imagination, are enough to supply the imagery.
However, literature often features occasional page illustrations to enhance the story, particularly for kids. Think of "The Wizard of Oz" or "The Hardy Boys" books. Are hybrid books just a contemporary format extension of that?
Can you imagine what video supplements on a portable reading device will do for today's children's, How-To, and future fiction books like "Level 26"? Whether it's a book or book-video hybrid, literature is a text-based, story-telling medium. If you don't have the right words, compelling characters, and a captivating story - video supplements are just occasional page illustrations that move.