Meet famous writers on your PC. (online networks) (column)
by Denny Atkin
Most of us have stories of brushes with the famous and infamous--you may have shared an elevator with Jimmy Stewart or met Lewis Grizzard at a cocktail party or perhaps your mother-in-law was Richard Nixon's nurse.
However, even if some of us have had the good fortune to meet admired celebrities once or twice in our lives, only a few of us will ever have the opportunity to hold a prolonged discussion with our favorite authors or chat about world events with well-known TV personalities.
Who are those lucky few who can join the in-crowd? If you own a modem, you're only a phone call away from schmoozing with the famous.
The global village prophesied by Marshall McLuhan is in its formative stages on the online networks. You can log on to CompuServe and send ultraconservative radio-talk show host Rush Limbaugh a letter about his latest show. Or log on to BIX and ask science fiction author Jerry Pournelle about his latest novel. During the Persian Gulf War, you could see military analyst Jim Dunnigan on network television explaining Saddam's latest moves. If you were online with GEnie, though, you could have asked him to elaborate on his short TV talk by posting a notice in the message base.
Of course, not everyone is hooked into the networks. Still, you're a lot more likely to be able to engage your favorite authors in a conversation if you run into them online than if you try to call them at home.
While you'll find an interesting assortment of famous (and perhaps infamous) personalities on the online networks, not everyone has moved into the global village yet. If you're into science fiction, though, you'll find that many people associated with that genre are available online. Perhaps because the field is intimately associated with high technology, the personalities associated with it aren't intimidated by online networks.
Whatever the reason, science fiction fans will find the online networks a paradise of information, tidbits, and gossip. The most active area I've encountered online is GEnie's Science Fiction Round Table (SFRT). Pop into the message base (which is covered under GEnie's $4.95/month Star*Service flat fee), and you'll find an incredible wealth of messages from well-known writers, editors, reviewers, directors, special-effects experts, and occasionally even actors.
The SFRT is divided into 19 different categories, each concentrating on a specific aspect of the genre. Topics include novels, authors, films, science fiction TV shows, comics, conventions, fandom, science fact, writers' workshops, and an entire category devoted to Star Trek.
The Trek category, often the most active of the SFRT's topics, is a dream come true for fans of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It's a great place for Trekkies to get together and discuss the show with each other, of course. However, they can also talk about the latest episodes with people like Mike Okuda and Ron Moore, who work on the show's computer displays and special effects. Our Chip Chalmers, who has directed a few episodes of the series. Or Brad Ferguson, Carmen Carter, Peter David, John Vornholt, Vonda McIntyre, and other Star Trek novelists. Even Wil (Wesley Crusher) Wheaton has been known to participate in the SFRT, although he's been absent lately due to the unfortunate death of his Macintosh.
Discussions range from the serious to the silly. In one topic, Brad Ferguson was discussing how unhappy he with the major edits done to his most recent Star Trek novel and how he hopes people will be able to read his original version through the fan press. Reading on, I encountered a topic called Carrot Juice, Earl Grey, Hot, where a number of SFRT readers were writing a story about various Looney Tunes characters loose on the Enterprise. It features characters like Elmer Fudd as Wocutus of Borg. ("Wooney Tunes are iwwewevant. Pwepare to be assimuwated.")
Even if you're not a Trek fan, there's something here for you. You'll also find mainstream SF authors such as Lawrence Watt-Evans, Michael P. Kube-McDowell, Jerry Pournelle. Damon Knight, Mike Resnick, and David Bischoff online. Some folks, in the presence of such well-known names, will remain lurkers and read, but not join in, the discussions. Once you join in, you'll have a great time. These may be famous writers, but they're also regular folks.
There's also the infamous CAT 24, the Anything Goes category. Even if you're a devoted SF fan who reads fanzines (fan magazines) and attends conventions, you probably don't know what your favorite author thinks about subjects ranging from nuclear power and Operation Desert Storm to reincarnation and the opposite sex. In CAT 24, you'll find out.
This is just a taste of what you'll find in the SFRT. You'll find similar areas on BIX (SF), CompuServe (Science Fiction and Fantasy Forum), and People/Link (SF & F Club). So log on, beam up, and say hi.