I was cleaning out some old paperwork this evening and happened on my original GE Information Services account registration from May, 1989. That is to say, a letter from GE with my temporary password, in a vintage dot-matrix font, and my canary-yellow NCR copy of the signed Access Agreement. That’s right, signing up for an online service required streetmail and carbonless multipart forms. Those were the days–
I was lured to GEnie by a special flat-rate offer for members of SFWA, and as the SF community there grew it gradually supplanted CompuServe’s SF&F Forum as my primary online hangout. I wasn’t the only one, either–for several years GEnie was the gravitational center of fandom online. It also helped breathe life into SFWA, with over a quarter of the membership present and able to interact as they never had before.
GEnie had an interface that was strictly text, with no provision whatsoever for graphics. But it had mail, private messaging, a bulletin board (where most of the activity was found), and multi-user chat rooms. The written word reigned supreme. And while the SFRT was by no means immune to flamewars, the level of conversation was more like an online sercon than an online Comicon.
Eventually Jeffrey Dwight (sff.net) wrote a much slicker user-end interface called Aladdin for GEnie, but the days of the text-only dialup were numbered. Between GEnie’s various Customer Prevention Plans, a couple of changes of ownership and business model, and the attraction of shiny baubles like AOL and the Web, the SFRT died a death of a thousand cuts, the worst of which being the 1996 pricing change.
I wandered away, too, but came back for the wakes held in the chat rooms in the Last Days. The lights went out for good on December 30, 1999. Mind you, Genie continued to bill me (and everyone else still on the books) for four more months–that was what it had become.
But I made many friends there, some professional, some personal, and not a few still enduring. I sharpened my rhetoric in grand debates about Big Ideas, was treated to a surprise RTC birthday party, flirted shamelessly with the Ladies of the SFRT, mourned the deaths of people I had only known in phosphor, witnessed the rise of empires and the fall of villains.
I wrote THE QUIET POOLS, EXILE, my STAR WARS trilogy, and part of THE TRIGGER with Sir Arthur during the GEnie years. I probably lost a novel, perhaps two, to late nights pounding the keys online. But writing is a fundamentally solitary (if not lonely) undertaking, and those were years when my only office was in the basement and most of my face-time friends were confolk I only saw when visiting fandom’s Flying Islands. Who’s to say that the SFRT community didn’t help keep me sane and in the game?
That’s how I choose to remember it, anyway.