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Science, Fiction, and points in between
September 1998

Electronic Eligibility
The question of whether a literary work posted online is a 'book' (or whether it's been 'published' at all) has become a concern of the administrators of Britain's Booker Prize. A novel by Patricia le Roy, called The Angels of Russia and available only from Online Originals, was reviewed last year by the Times Literary Supplement and described as ''a sweeping contemporary historical romance''. The reviewer subsequently recommended the work to the Booker committee. After some hemming and hawing over the definition of a book -- must it be a physical object? -- the Booker administrator agreed to consider it (though he requested a paper copy to read himself!). Some critics and judges are outraged. Richard Eder, critic for the Los Angeles Times, declared in an article last week
An electronic book is not a book. A book is a piece of writing on bark or papyrus or cellophane or paper. That's the history of it. It is possible that something called a blubbitch might be as interesting as a book, but it would not be a book. If Shakespeare had hired a skywriter to write ''Hamlet'' in smoke, would that be a book?
Author le Roy managed to get an ISBN for her online novel, though Locus Online notes that videotapes of movies can be assigned ISBNs too (for example). The SF world has considered this issue for several years and still tends toward traditional positions. Online stories are eligible for the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's (SFWA) Nebula Award, but not for SFWA membership. Rules for the Hugo Awards do not address electronic publication of individual works, but allow web-published writing to be the basis for Best Fan Writer nominations. The World Fantasy Awards, whose nominations are partly determined by a panel of judges, do consider works published electronically. Stories from Omni Online have now been nominated two years in a row: James P. Blaylock's ''Thirteen Phantasms'', which won the award last year, and Paul Park's ''Get a Grip'' this year.

(Stories about the Booker debate appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Friday, Sept. 4th, and in this week's, Sept. 14th, issue of The New Yorker.)
(Wed 9 Sep 98, amended Fri 11 Sep 98 and Mon 14 Sep 98)

Online Publication and Promotion
A typical reason for publishing online (see above item) is the lack of success selling a work to traditional publishers. That's how Patricia le Roy came to Online Originals, which charges no fees to the author but offers no advances either; 'books' (as downloadable files) sell for $7 each, and proceeds are split 50-50 with the author.

A bit different is an outfit called Xlibris, which is a cross between a website and a traditional vanity press. Xlibris charges authors as little as $300, publishes actual hardcover books for $25 each (of which $4 goes to the author), excerpts and promotes them on its website, then manufactures them to order using an automated system that can print a different title every minute. One of its clients is Piers Anthony, whose novel Volk is described as a ''serious novel of World War II and forbidden love, featuring a romance between a Nazi SS officer and his American friend's fiancé, a pacifist Quaker lady. Politically incorrect, it covers some hard truths. Not all Nazis were evil, and the Allies also kept death camps.''
(Wed 9 Sep 98)

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