The story of infinity plus
a feature by
In early 1998 I wrote two articles for Interzone:
a guide to sf on the internet, and the following piece, a history of
infinity plus (first published as 'http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/iplus').
For this version of the article I've made
one or two modifications to bring it up to date. If there's a moral
to the story it is: 'Be wary of bright ideas -- they tend to take over
KB, January 1999.
The story of infinity plus
I run infinity plus, a science fiction
and fantasy showcase on the World Wide Web. It features the work of
over sixty professional authors, including some of my favourite writers.
It takes up a large proportion of my time, and has won praise from the
likes of Ellen Datlow and Rodger Turner, webmaster of the Asimov's
As Algis Budrys says of 'net publishing: "No matter how you
plan, it'll find a way to work out differently. And more than
He speaks the truth: it was never meant to be like this.
In my day job I look after the University
of Essex website. Up until the summer of 1998 I was a multimedia
designer, developing interactive learning materials for schools and
colleges. Increasingly, I found that I was using the internet in my
work -- at first for research and to find photographers to contribute
to projects, and later both as a promotional tool (the website for The
Science of Environmental Issues CD-ROM is one example) and as a
delivery medium in its own right.
Back in the spring of 1997 I decided to set up my own home page.
But I didn't want to do just another midlist author's home page:
if I was going to do it, I wanted to do something just a little
It occurred to me that it might be interesting if there was more
than a single contributor. One weekend last summer I went up to
Haworth to visit Eric Brown. Rather tentatively, I asked him what
he thought about putting one or two stories on the internet.
His enthusiastic response set me thinking. Taking Eric as an example,
there must be quite a few authors out there who would like to
promote their work on the 'net but simply don't have the skills
to do so. The idea of republishing favourite stories in the hope
of finding new readers appealed to us both -- as Eric puts it:
"It's nice to know that there's an intelligent repository
out there for stories which have been and gone in magazine form."
Back at home, I put together an invitation, setting out the aims
of the site: "Science fiction and fantasy still share a (relatively)
thriving short fiction market, but what happens to the stories
once they've been published? Sure, some of them get picked up
for reprints or translations, but a lot of excellent work becomes
hard to get hold of a very short time after it first appears.
I want to make some of these stories available again." And
I came up with a name: infinity plus: the sf & fantasy
I sent the invitation out to a few friends. The response was positive.
I started to realise that this thing was going to be rather bigger
than I'd expected. I'd wanted to do something just a little different.
I just hadn't realised how different.
By the time I launched infinity plus
at the end of August 1997, the list of contributors exceeded twenty
names, including Stephen Baxter, Ian McDonald, Ian MacLeod and Molly
There's an awful lot of junk on the 'net and, as Ellen Datlow comments,
"Right now, it's hard to separate the good from the bad sites.
Everyone and every company has a website, most of them just boring advertisements
with no feel for the web at all." To distinguish infinity
plus from the crowd, I took a deliberately elitist approach:
infinity plus wasn't open to submissions, it
was by invitation only and I only invited professionally published authors.
(This also had practical benefits: I have a full-time job, I write,
I have a young family -- I simply don't have the time to deal with a
slush pile.) Once the site was established, I took the opportunity to
introduce newer writers, but I still don't have the resources to handle
unsolicited submissions. Maybe one day...
By this stage, the site's contributors weren't only those who lacked
the technical knowledge to set up their own home pages: it soon emerged
that even those with home pages were attracted to the idea of taking
part in a collective venture like infinity plus.
Like sex, you can do it alone, but it's far more fun with other people
(although perhaps it's a bit excessive when the number reaches double
Brown already has a successful home page of her own, she was attracted
to the idea of a group home page, with its implication of people pulling
together for a common purpose. "It appealed to the old hippie in
me," she told me. "I'd much rather have my stories appear
in company with others, especially among the kind of people you've managed
to pull together on infinity plus."
Although infinity plus started out as a predominantly
British site, I wanted it to become as cosmopolitan as possible. One
day I came across the home page of James
Patrick Kelly, a writer I've always admired. Right at the start,
he says, "In general I enjoy the writing life a lot, but I do have
one complaint. Sometimes it seems as though the stuff I write has the
shelf life of lettuce! A story appears in a magazine and a month or
so later it winds up in a corner of some basement -- or the landfill.
Even books come and go with alarming speed. That's why I wanted a home
page: so I can get some of my stuff out of the filing cabinet and back
under the eyes of readers." I contacted him, saying that this was
exactly the reason I'd launched infinity plus.
He responded as enthusiastically as everyone else had: "I guess
I was attracted to infinity plus because I believe
in the concept of a reprint science fiction web 'zine and I had yet
to see it carried off as well as you had done. The fact that you had
already attracted several people whose work I admired was also a plus.
From a purely economic point of view I see my story as a kind of advertisement
for myself and IP seems like a good place to showcase it. I could just
put the story up on my own site, but then it would only find an audience
of people who were interested in Jim Kelly. Putting it on IP helps me
reach the wider audience of people who are interested in quality short
Soon I started to get approaches from prospective contributors. Jeff
VanderMeer read about infinity plus in Locus.
Like most of us, he prefers to be published in conventional print markets,
but he wanted his work to appear in infinity plus
for reasons similar to Jim Kelly's: "I visited the site because
it sounded intriguing. I liked the layout and design very much, but
the reason I wanted my work to appear there was because you had work
from writers I very much admire ... since you were willing to take reprints,
I saw a chance for one of my better stories, unfortunately obscure,
to get more exposure in a quality setting."
Reed, celebrating her 40th year in the business, came across infinity
plus when she was searching for SF sites she could link to from
her new home page. "I liked the layout and the association [her
webmaster is based in the UK] ... I thought, what could be cooler?"
As well as contributing a story to infinity plus,
Kit mentioned the site to some of her friends, and soon Terry Bisson
was in touch with me, asking to join in the fun.
The core of the site is the fiction:
"The beauty of infinity plus is that unlike
an anthology it's a constantly growing and expanding entity," says
Eric Brown. "You might pull a landmark anthology from the shelves
now and again, but with infinity plus you can
go back to it again and again and it will never be the same."
Eric also makes the point that there's far more to the site than
just the fiction -- again, a development I hadn't quite anticipated
when I started out. There's a growing archive of reviews (some
of which have been adapted for use in Foundation, reversing
the general principle of print first, then 'net) -- many of these
are far longer than those you would find in most magazines. There's
also a range of essays, including pieces by David Langford, David
Garnett, Vonda McIntyre and Ken MacLeod.
In December 1997 I received an e-mail from David Mathew, a new
writer whose reviews and interviews have appeared in Interzone,
The Literary Review and a number of writing magazines.
New to the world of the internet, one of the first things Dave did when he
got on-line was to investigate two adverts he'd seen in Interzone:
Geoff Ryman's 253
and infinity plus. Dave now writes reviews for
infinity plus, and I've republished a number
of his interviews (with David
Rickman and Kim
Newman, among others).
He had two main reasons for offering his services, both of which are
common to most of the site's contributors. One was simply that he liked
the site and was keen to support "a new venture that carries the
torch for the genres in the way that infinity plus
The other reason is more down to earth: "Although I've been
publishing professionally since I returned to England from Poland
in February 1996, I only went full-time on October 6, 1997. I
quit a job that paid okay (but which I hated) to do a job that
pays very poorly (but which I love). I figured then and I still
believe now that the only way I will ever make any proper money
from my writing is by sheer bull-headed hard work; by doing as
much as I possibly can. By spreading the word that I was around,
and by trying to get my name known a little bit. I saw your site
as a possible avenue to do just that." A number of people
have been in touch with Dave since his work started to appear
on the site, so his approach seems to have paid off.
People have ended up at infinity plus
in a number of ways: through adverts or mentions in Interzone,
Locus and Matrix; through links from other sites; as a
result of searching the 'net for genre sites; through blatant self-publicity
on my part...
The semi-chaotic nature of the 'net is one of its attractions:
you can stumble across all kinds of sites quite by accident. Prospective
readers can end up at a web-site for any number of reasons.
Since setting up her Invitation to a Funeral website,
Molly Brown has received a lot of junk e-mail addressed to her
as webmaster of an "adult site". A look at the visitor
statistics reveals why: "I've had someone who was searching
for 'whippings' get sent by Alta Vista to my page on Bridewell.
A search for 'Spanish' and 'bitch' brought some poor soul to my
page on Whitehall Palace, and so on. Then there were a huge number
of referrals from the search engines after Diana died, because
of all the people searching for details of either St James's Palace,
One thing I've noticed with infinity plus is that
there are significantly more readers during the week, despite UK 'phone
calls (and hence Internet use) being cheaper at the weekend. There must
be an awful lot of people who surf the 'net from work.
(And how do I know this? I keep an eye on things from work, of
infinity plus is all free, and
I have no idea how long it'll continue to grow. There must be a finite
limit to the amount of material professional authors are willing to
give away in the hope of attracting new readers. Yet, well over a year
after I started, interest is continuing to grow.
One of the reasons the project has struck a chord with so many
authors is one of the basic frustrations of the writing life:
we write these stories and novels out of a need to communicate
with people, yet the publishing process means that a lot of our
work -- particularly short fiction -- becomes unavailable almost
as soon as it's been published. The 'net makes it possible to
breathe some life back into our favourite creations, a chance
to show off our favourite work.
As I said at the start, it was never meant to be like this. But
I'm rather pleased that it is.
© Keith Brooke 1998, 1999.
This article was first published as 'http://www.users.zetnet.co.uk/iplus'
in Interzone 133, July 1998, and has been adapted slightly
for republication here.
(My thanks to Eric Brown, Molly Brown, Ellen
Datlow, James Patrick Kelly, David Mathew, Kit Reed and Jeff VanderMeer
for their help in preparing this article.)
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: