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The Living and the Dead

An in-depth look at death in America reveals how stories become the salves of the living.

The Wings of Perseus

The modern-day world of the ancients.


A new Internet guide with venerable roots.

Bureaucrats with 'Tude

The IRS tries to lighten up. It's a bit of a strain.

Revolution 2.0

Esther Dyson wants to redesign the digital world -- or at least get the brainstorming started.

News You Can't Use

The art of the parody is alive and well.

A Prairie Home-Page Companion

Don't know what socks to wear? Ask Garrison Keillor.

The Witch's Voice

Coming out of the broom closet.

Chess on the Net

An online community where those with the best moves always mate.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
November 19, 1997


This year the venerableBest American Short Stories series, published since 1915, acknowledges online fiction for the first time. Katrina Kenison, the Series Editor, devotes her introduction to examining the parallel worlds of online and print writing, explaining Booksthat, "faced with an explosion of online publishing, it seems fitting that we pay attention to the body of literary fiction that is being published electronically." As a starting point for the interested explorer of online fiction, she then suggests eSCENE.

eSCENE purports to be to online fiction what The Best American Short Stories series is to print -- an annual anthology of the best writing being published Bulletin Boardin its medium. But where The Best American Short Stories culls from established publications, eSCENE showcases what its editors consider the best writing from E-zines, the electronic equivalent of the low-budget, independently produced pamphlets and magazines (known as 'zines) made possible by desktop publishing and the Xerox machine. E-zines, so cheap to produce and so easy to disseminate, are now booming on the Internet.

At three years old eSCENE is already an online veteran: smart, handsome, and cleverly designed, it moves with the clarity and confidence of an established publication. Introductory essays illuminate the motivations of guest editors, and each anthology showcases ten winning stories. In terms of reputation, however, online-only fiction is still earning its stripes, a fact reflected in eSCENE's author line-up. Equal parts previously published and unpublished, only one or two well known names dot the charts, revealing the telling fact that few traditionally successful writers have ventured into this burgeoning realm. This absence does not preclude good writing, of course -- a few gems shine here -- but overall, as Kenison notes concerning her own experience, "online reading has not yet yielded gold."

An online anthology's very existence may deepen the rift between "online" and "print" writing -- a seemingly needless distinction considering that both forms are, after all, prose. But eSCENE may very well be just the sort of vehicle to bridge the gap. Soon enough, perhaps, "online fiction" may seem an antiquated term.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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