253 (novel)

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253 Front Cover.jpg
AuthorGeoff Ryman
Cover artistNic Mead
CountryUnited States
Publication date
February 1998
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Pages366 pp (first edition, hardcover)
ISBN0-00-655078-9 (first edition, Paperback)

253, or Tube Theatre, is a novel by Canadian writer Geoff Ryman, originally created as a website in 1996,[1] then published as a paper book titled 253: The Print Remix in 1998. The print version won a Philip K. Dick Award.[2]


It is about the 253 people on a London Underground train travelling between Embankment station and Elephant & Castle on January 11, 1995. The basic structure of the novel is explained in this quote from the foreword:

There are seven carriages on a Bakerloo Line train, each with 36 seats. A train in which every passenger has a seat will carry 252 people. With the driver, that makes 253.

Each character is introduced in a separate section containing 253 words. The sections give general details and describe the thoughts going through the characters' heads. In the online version, hypertext links lead to other characters who are nearby or who have some connection to the current character; in the print version, the links are partly replaced by a traditional index. The reader can proceed from one character to another using these devices or can read the novel in positional order, e.g. from one train car to the next, but there is no overall chronological order except in the final section.


Ryman states that the meaning of 253 is dramatically changed when read in digital form as opposed to print form. In reading 253 on the internet the links between passengers create and emphasize existing similarities between the passengers. It becomes a text about how intrinsically similar people are. Whereas, in print form 253 is about how different people are. A lack of links between passengers means that the reader must traverse the story linearly, thereby emphasizing the differences between passengers.[3]


Charles de Lint gave the print edition a mixed review, declaring: "Is it worth reading? Definitely. Is it the fiction of the future? I hope not. As a one-off, it's entertaining, and even thought-provoking, but it took me a long time to read, simply because I kept setting it aside after every half-dozen or so entries to read something with a more coherent narrative. Call me old-fashioned, but I doubt I'd try another."[4] NPR's Mary Glendinning reviewed the print version more favourably as "Gimmicky? Perhaps. Funny, sharp and sad? Yes. Entertaining? Definitely."[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Geoff Ryman. "253 - interactive novel home". 253. Archived from the original on 2014-05-30. Retrieved 2014-05-25.
  2. ^ "1998 Award Winners & Nominees - WWEnd". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2014-05-25.
  3. ^ Wendy Grossman (20 April 1997). "Underground fiction - Salon.com". Salon (website). Retrieved 2014-05-25.
  4. ^ Charles de Lint (March 1999). "Fantasy and Science Fiction: Books To Look For by Charles de Lint". The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Retrieved 2014-05-25.
  5. ^ Mary Glendinning (June 17, 2014). "Tales Of City Transit To Read While You Wait For The Bus". NPR. Retrieved 2017-11-03.

External links[edit]