ZedneWeb / Shared Universes
Online Fiction. Interactive Fiction. Shared Universes. Netfic. Each of these terms means something slightly different, although most people use them interchangably. Collectively, they refer to a body of amateur fiction written by many and distributed over the internet, that electronic wonderland where dreams really do come true. Not necessarily your dreams, or even my dreams, but someone's dreams -- we're reasonably certain of that.
But I digress.
Unlike the world of books or magazines, the internet allows people to distribute written works without having to spend money (aside from access costs) or deal with editors, publishers, proof-readers, spell-chekers, and so forth. On the other hand you don't usually get paid for writing, but the reading is also free, and maybe you'll get the occasional comment or the rare bit of praise which makes it all worthwhile. (If you're of the opinion that this does not make it all worthwhile, then I suggest you return to "real-world" publishing, remembering that the stakes are significantly higher there.)
So what is a shared universe, anyway? In essence, it is a fictional setting used by several authors. Generally, the authors' works will make occasional references to events in works by the other author(s). It's also common for one author's characters (especially villains) to appear in another author's story, although this may require some coordination between the authors involved. This helps give the impression that the stories all take place in the same universe, which is shared among the authors. Hence the term 'shared universe'. Simple, yes? Anyway, the universes I'm familiar with include:
This is only a subset, of course. There are entire newsgroups devoted to shared universes. Visit the Eyrie for some more information. Browse and enjoy.
The oldest superhero-themed shared universe on the internet. Superguy started in 1989, inspired by Sfstory. Superguy started out as a parody of the superheroic genre, giving us heros like Wonder Grunion, Manman (the incarnation of mediocrity) and Dangerousman (the government-sponsored hero who can cause thermonuclear explosions by stomping). Since then, many series and heroes have come and gone, some hilarious, some deadly serious, most somewhere inbetween.
Superguy is distributed primarily through a mailing list, although a few authors also post to rec.arts.comics.creative. To subscribe, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org containing the message "subscribe superguy (your email address)". The email address is optional (and don't include the quotes). For more information, check out:
As the name suggests, Sfstory is a science-fiction themed universe. It is, in fact, a long running science-fiction comedy originally in the tradition of Douglas Adams's work. Much has happened since those days back in 1987 (Sfstory celebrated it's tenth anniversary back in January), but the primary focus on comedic SF remains.
Sfstory has had a long and complex history dealing with its distribution, but it's currently carried as a subtopic on the Superguy mailing list. Among other things, this means that large portions of Sfstory are available through the Superguy archives -- but not all of them. For the whole story you will need to check:
Like Superguy, the LNH began as a superhero-themed parody. While Superguy was a parody of superheroes, the LNH is a parody of the comic book industry (which happens to be dominated by superheroes). Thus, you often get covers, splash pages, notes from the editor, incomprehensible crossovers, and so forth. Over the years, the LNH has embraced a wide variety of styles, from the completely silly to the deadly serious (yet still somewhat silly).
The LNH is distributed primarily through rec.arts.comics.creative, although a few die-hard authors still cross-post to alt.comics.lnh. In fact, the LNH is largely responsible for the creation of racc, where it is the oldest established universe (excepting the odd Superguy repost).
One of several serious superpower-themed universes on rec.arts.comics.creative ("superhero" just doesn't seem appropriate), Omega was created in an effort to have a universe with a consistent explaination of super powers and characters who react realistically to having powers beyond those of mortal men. It does a pretty good job of it.
This is the creation of Eyrie Productions (which is not related to the other Eyrie beyond their common interest in netfic). It tells the story of a group of college students who unwittingly use some super-advanced technology to insert an enormous amount of Anime and science fiction-related things into reality, the most visible results being their new dorm-mates Kei and Yuri, the "Lovely Angels", better known as "the Dirty Pair" (but don't call them that to their faces, unless you like pain). As can be expected, things then proceed to go horribly wrong.
Undocumented Features is probably the best example of a sub-genre sometimes called "self-insertion" or "otaku wish-fulfillment" or even "Mary Sue". That's right, the college students described above are actually the authors (well, not really, if that were the case Worcester would be a smoking crater right now, but you get the point). Fortunately the UF crew manages to spin an enjoyable tale that at its heights can be very witty. It's lows, unfortunately, often seem to involve a contest among the characters to see who can make their life the most miserable. Recommended are Martin Rose's Hammer Time cycle and the works of Lawrence Mann.
UF is distributed on the newsgroup rec.arts.anime.creative, along with a great deal of other stuff, which is mostly single-author fanfic and thus doesn't qualify for a section on this page.