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History's First HTML Novel to Read Online 1996

Neon Blue by John Argo (1996)

25th Anniversary in April 2021

click for ContentsNeon Blue is a romantic suspense novel published online in 1996, before e-commerce and before modern commercial e-book and digital publishing. Spring 2021 (April/May) will mark the 25th anniversary of this historic event. At the time, the Library of Congress still refused to award Copyright Registrations to digital books, stating in a telephone interview (1999, regarding John T. Cullen's published print and e-book The Generals of October) "We don't know yet if those are real books. You can register copyright on such material as unpublished manuscripts."

Neon Blue was and is the first real ebook ever published, according to the following criteria:

(1) proprietary, not public domain, which eliminates Project Gutenberg and any other public domain sites from this category;

(2) published entirely online, not sample chapters or teasers;

(3) published online in HTML to be read online, not downloaded, nor on portable media (e.g., floppies, CD-ROM, tape, or the like);

(4) part of the innovative first weekly series (Neon Blue Fiction for Suspense; The Haunted Village for SFFH) online with regular sequential chapter releases, each Sunday evening PST;

(5) had a global readership of avid fans on every continent, whose fan e-mails have been preserved.

(6) repeating: all public domain sites (e.g., Project Gutenberg) are excluded. This was the first instance of a commercially intended, full length novel (Neon Blue) that was and is proprietary (author owns all the rights) rather than public domain (typically, statutory time limits on rights expired).

(7) disclaimer: specifically refers to industry standard novels rather than short stories*; this means a length of at least 30,000 words, well exceeded by Neon Blue (over 90,000 words; This Shoal of Space (145,000 words); and CON2: The Generals of October (140,000 words).

*NOTE: shorter stories*: One true pioneering site that preceded us, publishing SFFH short stories, was Andy McCann's original Planet Magazine, online since 1994, and its offshot (still online and going strong) Planet Magazine Blog.

Why The Pen Name John Argo?

Worlds of Wonder, 3000 B.C. When we began publishing novels online in 1996, at the dawn of Internet publishing, I was deeply struck by the wonder of this new medium. Having a Classics background among other fields of study (English, History, Languages), I immediately compared the magic of that moment in time to another age of wonder: the ancient Aegean Sea, as the Hellenic age emerged from the Dark Ages following the collapse of the Bronze Age. To put almost precise numbers on it from what we know, there was a sweeping climate event that devastated part of the globe around 1200 BCE. Within a generation, the linked infrastructure of numerous great civilizations collapsed. Egypt went into a long, terminal decline; the Hittites all but vanished in Asia Minor; Mesopotamia went into a decine lasting for centuries. All through the Dark Age that lasted from about 1200 to about 900 BCE, story tellers throughout that part of the world kept alive memories and myths of gods and heroes (men and women who were half divine, half human) and other imaginative science fictions and fantasies of that time. When the Hellenic age dawned, and poets like Homer and Hesiod in the 8th Century began spinning wondrous accounts of ages past, the world got not alone the Iliad and the Odyssey, but other families of stories like those (still being made into movies in our time) of Jason and the sailors (Argonauts) aboard the magic ship of adventure named Argo, after the ship builder Argos who constructed her. Most famous among the stories is the quest of Jason and the Argonauts (literally 'Argo Sailors') to recover a famous Golden Fleece… well, from that ancient age of wonder, Jean-Thomas Cullen (a.k.a. John T. Cullen, yours truly) chose a fitting name to reflect the magic of the moment. This is before e-commerce, before cyber-crime, before the filth arrived. In that Age of Argonauts online, Neon Blue (later subtitled Girl, Unlocked reflecting on heroine DEA Special Agent Laurel 'Blue' Humboldt's inner conflicts) and Heartbreaker (SF novel by yours truly, retitled This Shoal of Space in 1998) had avid fans and readers all over the world. Those Argo days lasted but two years at mosst before the rest of the world caught on. But it was great. In the afterglow of Bronze Age memories of wonder, there was long a constellation in the Southern Skies, called Argo Navis (Ship Argo). Astronomers in recent centuries have broken Argo Navis up into its component parts (Carina, or Keel; Puppis, or Stern, and now you know why sailing ships' sterns were called poop decks; and Vela, or Sail) but the wonder remains. In reading stories first released on line as the first HTML novels, you are reliving a bit of that time. Visit Classic Reads at Galley City, and relive a bit of the magic.

More info at the Clocktower Books San Diego Museum.

Museum of Clocktower Books San Diego Notes. We launched two tiny websites in 1996 without domain names, as folders at a San Diego innovator called Electriciti (still exists; now apparently dedicated to automotive industry news). Our two websites were Neon Blue Fiction (suspense) and The Haunted Village (SFFH; originally www.thehauntedvillege.com). By December 1996, we (Brian Callahan) had purchased the Clocktower Fiction domain name (our first), which he developed into our umbrella publishing domain. By about 2000, we changed the name to Clocktower Books San Diego (still thriving, with its own unique ISBN prefix 0-7433) to embrace potential nonfiction as well. More info on all this and more at the Clocktower Books San Diego Museum site.

Browse or Buy at Amazon

The book linked at left is an e-book edition to browse; or buy & download from Amazon for your Kindle reader.
     The middle link is for the corresponding print edition. Most of these are standard 6x9"; a few have added trim sizes available (5x8"). More info at Amazon.com.
     Most print editions are also available at Barnes & Noble online; or call/visit your local bookstore to order.


click to read free or buyRead Free at Galley City (Fiction). Catch up on Internet publishing history with Clocktower Books San Diego.

Global Best Digital Novel 1996-1999. We can't call them bestsellers, because this is before e-commerce, so they weren't 'sellers'. As one Internet historian mentioned in her 1999 book, we were giving the books away promotionally. That's referring to Neon Blue (and its immediate successors, the SF novel This Shoal of Space in July 1996; Constitution Thriller CON2: The Generals of October in early 1997; and shorter works like the thriller Terror in my Arms in 1998). The author (John T. Cullen, writing genre fiction as John Argo) received excited fan e-mails from avid readers around the globe on every continent, in cities as far-flung as Toronto, Canada and Johannesburg, South Africa; nations including Germany, China, Argentina, and of course across the newly Web-installed USA.

Best Seller on Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble's Len Riggio was an early investor in innovative startups like Nuvomedia, producer of the first real e-book hardware, the Rocket eBook. We were bestsellers in the tiny but fervent Rocket eBook market in the late 1990s. By about 2000, Barnes & Noble had launched a website (bn.com and other domain names) where the John Argo books were high-flying bestsellers for over a year. Then B&N killed off that site (the e-book portion) for several years before getting back into e-books after a hiatus. During that hiatus, the number one e-book venue online was Fictionwise, where John T. Cullen a.k.a John Argo had many top sellers (including the top ten or more in Nonfiction/History) before Barnes & Noble purchased Fictionwise and killed it off by January 2012. The point is that Neon Blue, This Shoal of Space, and similar works from Clocktower Books San Diego were top sellers and popular works in a pioneering, innovative age when Web publishing was brand-new and wonderful. It was a venue frequented by web-savvy, tekkie, usually SF-literate, college educated men and women who enjoyed an innovative, intellectually rewarding, even literary read. With over a million books flooding the market by 2017, needless to say, that had all become history.


click to visit the first ebook siteEither: Click to visit the First E-Book site featuring Neon Blue and other Internet publishing classics from Clocktower Books San Diego in the 1990s; or:

Click to return to Nonfiction Galley City main pageClick to return to Nonfiction Galley City main page.


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