The Big Idea: Ellen Datlow

William Gibson famously said “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” This fact is evident in the world of electronic publishing: with the arrival of the iPad, Kindle and Nook, many folks believe that we’re at the start of a whole new era of reading… to which Hugo-winning editor Ellen Datlow might be forgiven for rolling her eyes; see, she was publishing science fiction electronically fifteen years ago — so long ago that Steve Jobs was still in his Apple exile, and’s warehouse was barely larger than Jeff Bezos’ garage. The future was already here, if not evenly distributed, and Datlow was there to get it underway.

Some of the best of the fiction she published online is part of Digital Domains, a collection that brings these stories into print — print! Of all things! — including some for the very first time. What’s more, Datlow is here now to share with you some of the history of the future of publishing, and how we got from there to here.


When I began editing the fiction for OMNI online in the mid-90s, it never occurred to me that I was at the vanguard of a new delivery system for short fiction. The actual first online fiction we published was a series of commissioned novellas sponsored by a car company–and they weren’t on the OMNI website, because at the time, we didn’t have one. They were on a section of AOL that was a content area. This was in 1995. Soon after, a real OMNI online site was created, mixing fiction with non-fiction as did the print OMNI.

Soon after Kathy Keeton, the creator of OMNI died, the corporation pulled the plug on us and my former colleagues and I formed Event Horizon: science fiction, fantasy, horror a website intended to draw attention to our budding web business, Event Horizon Web Productions. The four of us: Robert Killheffer, Pamela Weintraub, Kathleen Stein, and I ran three live, real-time online sf conventions for Eos Books and an online book tour. Event Horizon published original and classic fiction, commissioned superstrings (round robins) and provocative nonfiction commentary, and held online chats with a variety of writers.

The site wound down in July 1999, just as I was offered running SCIFICTION, a new part of the SCI FI Channel’s website that would be dedicated to publishing new fiction weekly.  SCIFICTION was alive for almost six years. During that period, the Channel was sold at least three times, eventually ending up in the hands of NBC. Although attempts were made to publish a best of SCIFICTION, they never worked out.

In total, I worked for online sf/f/h websites for about ten years. During that period, the quantity and quality of online fiction improved immensely, in part to the credibility OMNI Online, EH, and SCIFICTION brought to the medium. OMNI Online was the first online market accredited by SFWA. “Thirteen Phantasms” by James P. Blaylock and published by OMNI Online, was the first online story to win the World Fantasy Award. “The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link, first published by Event Horizon, also won the World Fantasy Award. Linda N. Nagata’s novella “Goddesses,” was the first online piece of fiction added to the Nebula ballot by the additions jury and was the first to actually win the Nebula Award.

Digital Domains is merely a representation of the fiction published by OMNI Online, Event Horizon, and SCIFICTION. Some of the stories are award winners or award nominees and some are favorite stories of mine, and a few have never been published in print before now. I’d like to feel that I helped pave the way to the explosion of great genre fiction currently on the web.

Of course, there’s still the crucial economic issue that hasn’t yet been resolved: How to pay the creators and editors of that fiction. Corporate sponsorships, donations, advertising, or a combination of the three still seem the most common.


Digital Domains: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit Ellen Datlow’s LiveJournal.

4 Comments on “The Big Idea: Ellen Datlow”

  1. Yeah, if that “how to pay the creators and editors” problem gets solved… that would be nice. A nice “tip jar” which integrates across many of the e-fiction sites is something I’ve had my mind on. More lightweight than even Paypal, so you can easily “tip” a nickel or a quarter, or heck, a buck, for a story which you really enjoy. Paypal works decently for a buck, but nickels and quarters get eaten by transaction fees.

    On SCIFICTION stories: are they archived online *anywhere*? I stumbled onto a “best stories online” list where half of the links were broken SCIFICTION links.

  2. Of course, Thanks very much. Now my day will likely be consumed by re-reading some years-old Elizabeth Bear and Marc Laidlaw, Terry Bisson, Jeffrey Ford, …

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