Type fiction

Hello everyone,

A bit bored by reading too much extremely accurate history book about type design and/or type theory, I was wondering if you knew fiction (even science-fiction) texts that talk about typefaces or which involve letters and theirs shapes as the main theme. I'm sure that writers like Borges, K.Dick may have written stories involving type but it's not always easy to find such a precise theme in theirs huge amount of texts. I'm not only interested in long texts, but also short ones like this one from Fred Smeijers). I'm looking for texts talking about a fictive past, or predictive future (I saw that future in typography had a thread on the forum here, but it's only two pages long.) centered on latin type (because if we start including imaginary languages and invented writing systems, it's not gonna be really "type-centered" anymore).

I'm also interested if you knew real type project reflecting some alternate history/weird but interesting shapes.

I hope my questions are understandable (english is not my native language), and thanks in advance for your answers !
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Comments

  • Penumbra’s 24 hours book store maybe.
  • does kafka's 'in der strafkolonie' ('in the penal colony') count?
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 774
    edited March 2016
    There's the Voynich manuscript, which appears to be an encyclopedia written in an unknown language and unknown, probably invented, writing system in the 15th century.

    Not sure if this is exactly the kind of thing you mean, but there is an episode of The Twilight Zone called Printer's Devil in which Burgess Meredith's character uses a Linotype machine to write news stories before they happen.
  • more seriously: timothy donaldson's shapes for sounds is great. non-fiction history of the shapes of the latin alphabet; alternate forms, some abandoned along the way; possible futures.
  • If you go to the Microsoft Research page, there's a drop-down menu where you can choose from a fairly long list of languages. There are two entries for Klingon - perhaps one is a dialect competing with the other, I don't know.  Nice to see a sense of humor at work in a corporate setting.
    I think you'll have a lot better luck finding examples of typefaces used in science fiction in movies and TV than in novels and short stories.  
  • Nina StössingerNina Stössinger Posts: 146
    edited March 2016
    Nice subject, I’ll be curious to see what comes up.

    Not sure these fit your description, but thinking about type fiction (as in fictive works centered around type):

    There’s a novel titled “The Perfect Capital” by Karen Healey Wallace (which was recommended to me but I haven’t read it yet): http://karenhealeywallace.com/the-perfect-capital/the-story
    “Lettercutting becomes not just a background, but an analogy for the search for perfection in an imperfect world.”

    Also for those who read German, there’s “Garamonds Lehrmeister” by Anne Cuneo, a novelization of the life of Augereau: http://www.limmatverlag.ch/programm/titel/295-garamonds-lehrmeister.html
  • Tegn til kjærlighet is a novel by Jan Kjærstad about a young type designer. I don’t think it is translated from Norwegian.
  • Would The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury count?  I'm assuming the tattoos contained letterforms as well as images.  
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,364
    It’s not fiction, but there’s bits about type and printing in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, which is also one of the best and most influential books in the English language.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,080
    Otto Mergenthaler is a key character in the 1952 film Park Row, portrayed in a rather fictional manner!
  • A type designer has a small role in ‘The discovery of Heaven’ by Harry Mulisch (Original title ‘Ontdekking van de Hemel’  :)
  • When I mentioned the Voynich manuscript, the book I was actually thinking of was the Codex Seraphinianus, published in 1981. I couldn't remember what it was called and thought the Voynich manuscript was it. It's not the same thing, but similar.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,030
    Jonathan Safran Foer's short story 'About the typefaces not used in this edition'.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 587
    On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss
  • D. Epar tedD. Epar ted Posts: 678
    Not a book so it only takes 198 minutes if you watch it twice, but the film Hero (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_(2002_film), has a glyph as one of the main characters, and lots of calligraphy, if you can stand an unbelievable lack of gravity in the many fight scenes.  
  • Tim RolandsTim Rolands Posts: 12
    edited March 2016
    John Dunning's Bookman's Wake is straight mystery genre fare, but it centers around the work of a fine printer who designed and cut his own type to produce an edition of Poe's Raven. Maybe fits what you are looking for....
  • For German readers, there is also “Nichts Weißes” by Ulf Erdmann Ziegler. It features a protagonist who works for a fiction version of Frutiger.
  • How about San Serriffe?
  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 100
    I am truly shocked there is any “type fiction” in existence whatsoever. Though half the responses pertained to nonfiction (Shapes for Sounds is a bust), I am amazed that some on-topic suggestions were even possible.

    But, since we’re here, I suppose I’m the one who has to mention The Cheese Monkeys. (And I guess The Learners.)

    After the manner of Voynich imagined alphabets, Codex Seraphinianus was recently reprinted and is a(n) heroic and baffling exercise.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 927
    edited March 2016
    There is also "Gutenberg's Apprentice" by Alix Christie.  It is a novel surrounding what might have occurred at the time of Gutenberg. 
    http://www.gutenbergsapprentice.com/reviews/
  • Russell_McGormanRussell_McGorman Posts: 148
    edited March 2016
    There's Bembo's Zoo. Maybe more of a National Geographic Flash documentary, but it has some type.

    I am also reminded of a longish story posted on Typophile some years ago about Frederic Goudy, his dearly missed dead cat, an angel willing to grand him a wish and a sans serif Goudy wished he could make. (The cat came back) Perhaps someone remembers.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,030
    Dave Farey's shaggy dog Christmas stories were always a delight. My favourite: https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0012&L=TYPO-L&P=R7853
  • Roel NieskensRoel Nieskens Posts: 72
    edited March 2016
    Fredric Brown is a science fiction pulp writer, and has a few stories starring Linotype machines. The most famous is "Etaoin Shrdlu", about a sentient Linotype machine attacking its typesettin' owner.

    "The Angelic Angleworm" is another short story where a malfunction in the Linotype machines used in heaven mess with the protagonist's life. Schlocky science fiction at its worst best!

    There are many other stories by Fredric Brown that feature typesetters, printers or nods to Linotype.

    Edit: Science fiction stories of Linotype machines!
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 563
    BTW, the author of the article in that last link, Eileen Gunn, lives with John Berry, whom many here may know from this community. Eileen is a science fiction writer herself.

  • I'm also interested if you knew real type project reflecting some alternate history/weird but interesting shapes.
    A couple of projects last year in Reading that you may be interested in. Talia designed the shapes of a cipher Buginese script. And Sergio did his dissertation about Tai-Ahom.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,080
    edited March 2016
    The Chalet typeface was designed by a fictional character. 
    Speaking of which, I’ve always suspected there are a few of those in Unicode.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,080
    edited March 2016
    Hermann Püterschein, W.A. Dwiggins’ alter ego.
    Paul Beaujon, Beatrice Warde’s nom de plume.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,080
    edited March 2016
    Starling Burgess, the designer of Times New Roman.
  • Hello Everyone !

    First, I would like to thanks all of you for your messages ! Sorry for not giving answers since few days. I currently making a little web page that synthesize all the entry you gave. (I'll post the link here when it'll be online [just the time to find a web service to host it]). Since i'm gonna work on this subject for few months, I would like to improve it with discoveries I could make. If you want to add new stuff on it, just tell me here.


       Indra Kupferschmid said:
       Penumbra’s 24 hours book store maybe.
       I rode the description of the book on another website and it looks nice ! At which extend does this book talk about typefaces ?
      
      
       Maurice Meilleur said:
       does kafka's 'in der strafkolonie' ('in the penal colony') count?
       Maurice Meilleur said:
       more seriously: timothy donaldson's shapes for sounds is great. non-fiction history of the shapes of the latin alphabet; alternate forms, some abandoned along the way; possible futures.
    I did not read that book of Kafka. Definitly, I should and will.
    Shapes for sounds looks really great ! It's the kind of book I was searching for. Even if, as you say, the base is non-fiction, all the rest looks like one to me. Alternate forms and abandoned ones are just fictions that didn't went trought the hard test of reality : )


    Mark Simonson said:
    There's the Voynich manuscript, which appears to be an encyclopedia written in an unknown language and unknown, probably invented, writing system in the 15th century.
    Mark Simonson said:
    When I mentioned the Voynich manuscript, the book I was actually thinking of was the Codex Seraphinianus, published in 1981. I couldn't remember what it was called and thought the Voynich manuscript was it. It's not the same thing, but similar.
    My main search is more about fiction about the latin alphabet, but I have to say that thoses books fascinate me. I talked with someone today that told me that, thanks to sign pattern analysis, they recently said that the Voynich manuscript has been made from an existing langage.


    Mark Simonson said:
    Not sure if this is exactly the kind of thing you mean, but there is an episode of The Twilight Zone called Printer's Devil in which Burgess Meredith's character uses a Linotype machine to write news stories before they happen.
    Roel Nieskens said:
    Fredric Brown is a science fiction pulp writer, and has a few stories starring Linotype machines. The most famous is "Etaoin Shrdlu", about a sentient Linotype machine attacking its typesettin' owner.

    "The Angelic Angleworm" is another short story where a malfunction in the Linotype machines used in heaven mess with the protagonist's life. Schlocky science fiction at its worst best!

    There are many other stories by Fredric Brown that feature typesetters, printers or nods to Linotype.
    I really like The Twilight Zone but I didn't remember this episode !
    It's really fun to see how much stories it seems to have about the Linotype machine ! I might be afraid next time I pass next to one. But more seriously, we should open a publishing house dedicated to horror stories with Linotype machine as serial killer machine.


       Richard Fink said:
       If you go to the Microsoft Research page, there's a drop-down menu where you can choose from a fairly long list of languages. There are two entries for Klingon - perhaps one is a dialect competing with the other, I don't know.  Nice to see a sense of humor at work in a corporate setting.
       I think you'll have a lot better luck finding examples of typefaces used in science fiction in movies and TV than in novels and short stories. 
    It's funny to see that on Microsoft website. But you can't select Quenya. I think elves are gonna be angry.You're right, I should definitly take a look to typefaces in movies and book illustrations or covers. I will. But thing is, most of the time, typefaces used in science fiction movies are typefaces not made for the movie himself.
    Last year, Fanette Mellier made a typeface especially for the french movie "Jackie au royaume des filles" (the article is in french, but you can see the pictures).
    I'm going to search if in the past, some other typefaces have been made entierly for the purpose of a film.


    Nina Stössinger said:
    Nice subject, I’ll be curious to see what comes up.

    Not sure these fit your description, but thinking about type fiction (as in fictive works centered around type):

    There’s a novel titled “The Perfect Capital” by Karen Healey Wallace (which was recommended to me but I haven’t read it yet): karenhealeywallace.com/the-perfect-capital/the-story
    “Lettercutting becomes not just a background, but an analogy for the search for perfection in an imperfect world.”

    Also for those who read German, there’s “Garamonds Lehrmeister” by Anne Cuneo, a novelization of the life of Augereau: limmatverlag.ch/programm/titel/295-garamonds-lehrmeister.html
    The extract from The Perfect Capital looks really interresting ! Perfection is an main concept we should always question in type design.



    Frode Bo Helland  said:
    Tegn til kjærlighet is a novel by Jan Kjærstad about a young type designer. I don’t think it is translated from Norwegian.
    Benedikt Bramböck said:
    For German readers, there is also “Nichts Weißes” by Ulf Erdmann Ziegler. It features a protagonist who works for a fiction version of Frutiger.
    Those two books seems cool ! Too bad they're not translated in french : / About the one on Frutiger what was the specificity on the version he's working on ?



    Richard Fink said:
    Would The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury count?  I'm assuming the tattoos contained letterforms as well as images. 
    Totally ! I'll take a look at it ; )


    James Puckett said:
    It’s not fiction, but there’s bits about type and printing in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, which is also one of the best and most influential books in the English language.
    Nice ! Is it centered around Baskerville work ?


    Nick Shinn said:
    Otto Mergenthaler is a key character in the 1952 film Park Row, portrayed in a rather fictional manner!
    Jacques Le Bailly said:
    A type designer has a small role in ‘The discovery of Heaven’ by Harry Mulisch (Original title ‘Ontdekking van de Hemel’  :)
    David Berlow said:
    Not a book so it only takes 198 minutes if you watch it twice, but the film Hero (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_(2002_film), has a glyph as one of the main characters, and lots of calligraphy, if you can stand an unbelievable lack of gravity in the many fight scenes.  
    Chris Lozos said:
    There is also "Gutenberg's Apprentice" by Alix Christie.  It is a novel surrounding what might have occurred at the time of Gutenberg.
    gutenbergsapprentice.com/reviews
    joeclark said:
    But, since we’re here, I suppose I’m the one who has to mention The Cheese Monkeys. (And I guess The Learners.)
    After the manner of Voynich imagined alphabets, Codex Seraphinianus was recently reprinted and is a(n) heroic and baffling exercise.
    Thanks for all those Books and movies references ; )


    John Hudson said:
    Jonathan Safran Foer's short story 'About the typefaces not used in this edition'.
    This one is probable the closest to what I was secretly hopping for. Those typeface descriptions are completly amazing. I want a complete book full of this kind of short stories : ) ! In fact, compare to how much letters are component of our world, i'm surprised this is the only link about real "fictionnal typefaces". I only knew Tree of Codes from Safran Foer, Is he used to talk about typography ?

    Thierry Blancpain said:
    How about San Serriffe?
    Wow ! They invented so many details ! Newspapers hoaxes are the best. Is it a really famous story in England ? I mean, i never heard about it in France. I wonder how people did react to this. I mean, the average person don't know what is a sans-serif or a "Caissa superiore".  I search on internet but they don't exactly say why they chose to focus on type field for the hoax. And Ads they made are fabulous.

    Typesetters may dream
    Of the idyllic landscape'd
    Isles of San Serriffe
    (by Paul)


    Russell_McGorman said :
    There's Bembo's Zoo. Maybe more of a National Geographic Flash documentary, but it has some type.
    I am also reminded of a longish story posted on Typophile some years ago about Frederic Goudy, his dearly missed dead cat, an angel willing to grand him a wish and a sans serif Goudy wished he could make. (The cat came back) Perhaps someone remembers.


    John Hudson said:
    Dave Farey's shaggy dog Christmas stories were always a delight. My favourite: listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0012&L=TYPO-L&P=R7853
    "Frederic Goudy stood on the porch at his house at Deepdene..."
    It's pleasant for graphic design student to see such famous figures into fictionnal and funny situations.  It reduce a bit their aura (in a good way), and allow us to see them are normal people. Does Dave Farey wrote more of them ?


    Kent Lew Posts said:
    BTW, the author of the article in that last link, Eileen Gunn, lives with John Berry, whom many here may know from this community. Eileen is a science fiction writer herself.
    Good thing to know! I don't know if he saw the thread here, but I'll try to get in touch with them : )


    Ray Larabie said:
    On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss
    What a nice book. What seems an ending don't have to be.


    María Ramos said:
    A couple of projects last year in Reading that you may be interested in. Talia designed the shapes of a cipher Buginese script. And Sergio did his dissertation about Tai-Ahom.
    Yes, Reading projects always have some unique projects. Typefaces like Pistachio, that explore weird path of constrat and construction while making text font. A bit like Karloff. Buginese and Tai-Ahom are surely some specials langages though. An other one from Reading that I liked from this year was Groq from Tezzo.

    Nick Shinn said:
    The Chalet typeface was designed by a fictional character. Speaking of which, I’ve always suspected there are a few of those in Unicode.
    You mean fictional letters in Unicode ? What was the purpose for House Industries to choose release it under a fake name ?

    Nick Shinn said:
    Starling Burgess, the designer of Times New Roman.
    Didn't know this storie either. What was the outcome ? Do we know now the truth ?



    So, for now, i'll try to quickly classify thoses links :smile:

    -Stories with type designers (or related machines, yes, i'm looking at you Linotype machine) as characters, but not talking especially about type design.

    -Stories that are suppositions about past type design history.

    -Stories that are completly invented, hoax, or sometimes Fan Fiction.

    -Stories about typefaces (or writing systems) that don't (or cant) exist. A kind of projection of what type could be ?

    -Finally, real typefaces projects that think about fictionnal problems.

    Ok, so now, I'm going to finish the interface quickly.
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