Fiction (et al.) on the Net

by Martha Conway

I admit it: I buy the New Yorker. I subscribe. I stand by the mailslot when each issue arrives and try to guess the cover title (I never can) and look at the Table of Contents (I read the author's names first). My favorite issue is the Women's Issue, despite its perfumed pages. I sometimes get angry, though, because I think: why can't regular issues have more of these articles? Why do we only get one issue a year? For a while after the Women's issue I count articles by men and articles by women. It is too depressing for words.

Here at Enterzone, we have tried to have women's issues, but something always goes wrong. Or, goes missing might be more accurate. As in, the women. Where are the women? About 90% of people who send unsolicited articles are men, which is fine except when you're trying to put together a women's issue.

So, okay, I thought I would just do a column about women's fiction on the net. There are some good things out there, like Meg Stein's Sometimes You See Africa, a full novella available for free on the Web. In terms of length and readability, it is perfect for the Web. It's about a rock'n'roll daughter who is looking for ... well, presumeably some answers about her dead rock'n'roll hero father, but probably something more as well. The novella centers around Gloria Wilde and Cal, an older man who used to play in the band with Gloria's father, Jack Wilde. There are some excellent passages; Stein is a wonderfully spare, fluid writer who is not afraid to be subtle. "I could make myself lighter," Gloria thinks after the news of her father's death. "I could pare myself down. I could get rid of my belongings. I could become skin and bones. I could cut my hair."

There are also some good references to Star Trek: TNG; almost a must for any Web work.

Another thing I like about Sometimes You See Africa is its interesting, almost eastern-style art that recurs in various forms throughout the chapters. It also has a strong female lead character -- you just don't find them all that often these days in literature, although I don't know why since there are dozens of sit-coms with strong female leads and so there must be an interest in them.

In fact, originally I set out to write a column exclusively about strong female characters and came back with a few handfuls of angry Web sites, and a lot of "about women" sites, but little original fiction. Maybe someone can send me some tips for my next column? It could be I was just having a bad search-engine day.

Since I couldn't find EXACTLY what I was looking for (and I mean it when I say send me appropriate URLs if you know of any), let me expand my women's column to a column on good writing by women, whether or not it is fiction. Here there is a lot to cover. Cybergrrl has many interesting essays by and about women in one place, plus the Cybergrrl Comic -- five strong, female superheros lost in cyberspace. This site is cousin to Nrrdgrrl (sites to make you pinch your lips), another good collection, though it is one of those "community"-aspiring places. In the latest Nrrdgrril issue, check out "Strange Music", a wonderfully lyrical sudden-fiction piece by Margaret Miller Finch. Excellent lines include: "The sound a dark room makes waiting for Mother to come home" and other memories.

I also want to mention Girls Can be Anything ... except Roosters, in particular the essay "Hairy Legs." This 'zine is more tame and less hip than the above sites, but satisfying in its own way. The essays are generally short and well written, and there is no perfume anywhere I could find.

Finally, what's up in hypertext? One I particularly like is Adrianne Wortzel's "The Electronic Chronicles." I'm not sure how to classify it -- fiction? parody? The site poses as a futuristic academic document disseminating its research findings on "imprinted matter" -- i.e., an archeological find which happens to be a newspaper ad for TVs. The document translates the ad (the "Newsletta Stone") and draws conclusions about the race who created it:

"Legend would have it that base motor control was employed for these recordings with the aid of instruments plucked from creatures passing through the lowest level of their atmosphere. A separate source of fluid ("inc.") was then released off the instrument's tip on to a semi-absorbent material made from the skin of biological entities or of deciduous growth."

It's weird. I like it. Check it out. And don't forget to write me if you have any tips on fiction on the Web.

Copyright © 1997
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