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When the Internet was small

While reorganizing our bookshelves recently, I came across a delightful slice of history: a book called The Internet Complete Reference. Released in 1994, the cover promotes the book as "the most comprehensive guide available. Includes extensive catalog with more than 750 Internet resources!"

That's right, there was a time in history when the entire Internet was sufficiently limited that publishers believed its entire contents & functions could be described in 817 pages. Key questions such as "Do you need to know Unix?" are addressed. Six huge chapters are dedicated to understanding Usenet and its key newsreaders (rn, trn, nn, tin). "Customizing your Gopher environment" leads to "Using Jughead to search Gopherspace" - the early Matrix. "Fingering the World" is an eternally hilarious chapter title, descrbing the "finger" network protocol for looking up data about other users on a system. One scant chapter describes the World Wide Web: almost 20 pages describing the use of command line browsers, and a brief suggestion that a program called Mosaic might also suit you. [Mosaic was the browser that popularized the visual surfing experience of the web; it was eventually licensed by Microsoft to create Internet Explorer after its popularity had dwindled due to Netscape Navigator's emergence.]

The Internet was sufficiently daunting at that time that one of the authors, Harvey Hahn, felt compelled to state in his introduction:

To use the Internet, you will have to expend some time and some effort (actually, a great deal of time and effort). But if you do, here is what I promise you:
  • I promise that I will stay with you.

  • I promise that I will guide you.

  • I promise that I will teach you the new words and the new ideas and the new skills that you need to use the Internet.

I have this book because I'm listed in its "extensive catalog of Internet resources" under the section on "Literature: Titles." The criteria for being listed were apparently a) make a book available on the Internet (in my case, via anonymous FTP), and b) make sure the editors of the book found about it (in my case, an Internet buddy of mine showed it to his wife, who was one of the book's many contributors). As you can see from the page scan above, I was in good company along side such literary classics as Tom Sawyer and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

My novella was called Voices, and the description that appears in the page scan reads:

The complete novella, by "Scotto". A science fiction/philosophy piece describing the author's so-called "brush with the Tremendum."

In common parlance, the Tremendum (or Mysterium Tremendum) might simply mean "overwhelming mystery," but in my case, I was referring to the psychedelic experience. In 1994, I was still in college, two years into my initial phase of heavy psychedelic experimentation, in full blown "I can't believe this is actually happening to me" mode, and Voices was an attempt to capture in science fiction how psychedelic my world had become; it also represented an attempt to sort out my feelings about the suicide of a best friend from high school, who appears as a main character in the novella.

When we redesigned a few years back, I finally pulled Voices down, along with its sequel, Melody's Blues. The writing is too raw and wild and haphazardly experimental, and the best ideas from those pieces were reworked into a larger novel called Lullabye For Thunderstorms, which just barely did make the cut for inclusion on the site. Lullabye tells the story of twin sisters who share each other's lucid dreams, and from the Dreaming, attempt to save the Earth from an alien invasion. The sequel to Lullabye was a novel called interlace [falling star], which was eventually adapted into the play that kicked off my playwriting career in Seattle. [Ed. note: these two books were recently removed as well, but the play is still up.]

Anyway, in 1994, if you pointed your FTP program at a certain server at Georgia Tech, you could have pulled down Voices. I might put it up again someday for nostalgic reasons, but until then, this post will have to do, commemorating the days when the Internet was small.


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