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Internet Column from Science Fiction Age,
September 1999

Cory Doctorow

With The Phantom Menace safely behind us, it's time to put paid to glitzy media sf and focus down on the roots: the written word.

Remember that I'm always interested in your electronic words, too -- send suggestions for site-reviews to doctorow@craphound.com.

Del Ray's Online Writers' Workshop, at http://www.randomhouse.com/delrey/workshop/, is an idea whose time has come. Using an attractive and well-thought-out interface, the Workshop allows writers to post short-stories and novel excerpts, so that other writers (as well as Del Ray's editorial staff) can comment on them. The site is well-populated with talented writers and thoughtful critiques, and contains several classy touches, including essays from sf luminaries on various aspects of writing and critiquing.

Papyrus (http://www.papyrus-fiction.com/) is an interesting beast. It's an online, story-a-week magazine that's paying rates comparable to the pulps, attempting to pay for the project with banner-ads. The quality of the fiction is pretty variant -- there're a lot of the ticks that one expects to see in semi-amateur work. But there are some buried treasures here, top-notch work by undiscovered talents. And the price is right.

The Web abounds with news-sites aimed at writers. Inscriptions, at http://come.to/Inscriptions is one such. They do a good, workmanlike job, especially when it comes to up-to-the-minute coverage of publishing news.

I've already devoted a whole column to Webrings, but the ring-world is a fast-moving one, and there's new ring that's worth a mention. The Science Fiction Book Review ring, at http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?ring=sfbookreview;list is a tremendous collection of sites filled with thoughtful critiques and crazed rantings on written sf.

Once in a lucky while, a writer comes along who turns your ideas about SF on their heads. Neal Stephenson is one such -- from Snow Crash and Diamond Age to the pseudonomous Interface, Stephenson writes books that challenge and delight. His latest, Cryptonomicon, is both his most ambitious and most successful work; the site at http://www.cryptonomicon.com is equally successful. The featured essay, "In the Beginning..." has made a significant buzz in geek circles and is a primer on the convergence of technology and sensibility.

Buying used books can be a somewhat icky experience. Sure, it's cool to find an old pawn-ticket or snapshot pressed between the pages, but fossil snotrags are a different matter. New books are another thing altogether: the soft crackling noise that lets you know that you're the first one to open the book is an affirmation of your privacy. But even new books have been browsed by hordes of germy bookstore patrons: what the world needs is on-demand books; books that are printed to your order, untouched by human hands. ToExcel is making just such a beast. They're a mutant hybrid between a vanity press, an online publisher and a reprint house, with a good selection of rare and out-of-print genre titles available: http://www.toexcel.com/default.asp?

Sceptics sneered. Market analysts quirked their eyebrows. But consumers and investors went ga-ga over online shopping. Amazon and other online booksellers are making serious gains in the retail-scape. And there are a whole raft of secondary applications opening up. The most original of these is MyCause, at http://www.mycause.com, which allows you to choose from hundreds of charities to support while you shop online: pick a charity, visit a vendor, and 3-12% of your purchase will be automatically donated to the good cause of your choice. Neat! Thanks to writer Pamela D. Hodgson for this tip.

First, there was Yahoo!, the massive database that lists, categorizes and reviews millions of Web-pages. Now, there's About (formerly MiningCo), a site that uses human experts to create massive portals to various kinds of content. C. Corey Fisk, About's guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy books, is a thoughtful, thorough and quirky researcher. Her guide, at http://fantasy.about.com/index.htm is a terrific starting-point for your Web excursions.

David Hartwell -- editor, polemicist, fashion-victim -- has a marvellous site at http://www.panix.com/~dgh/. Hartwell's projects -- The Year's Best Science-Fiction and The New York Review of Science Fiction, to name just two -- have marked him as an influential and important thinker in the field. But David's contributions to the theory and practice of Necktie Selection are even more important. The master finally draws back the shroud on this mysterious discipline, with such handy tips as "Your socks should match your tie," and "Become an expert on one accessory and acquire a large supply. "

Ray Bradbury's curriculum-friendly writing has made him the point-of-entry for millions of schoolchildren into the genre. The fan-site at http://www.brookingsbook.com/bradbury/ is an exhaustive index of Bradbury content on the Web, as well as original material, including a thought-provoking database of quotations.

Click here for info on my second novel, Eastern Standard Tribe

Click here for info on my first short story collection, A Place So Foriegn and Eight More

Click here for info on my first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom