Neon Blue (suspense) and This Shoal of Space (SF) by John Argo were the first two e-books ever published online for download, in the history of the world, 1996-7 in innovative weekly serial chapters. More info at the museum pages. If you enjoy this free read, which is offered in the spirit of the Golden Age of the World Wide Web, please consider buying a print or e-book edition as a way of thanking the author. A fine E-book is typically priced at the cost of a latte, yet offers many more hours of enjoyment than a cup of coffee. Thank you (John Argo).

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Preface: About This Novel

about Neon Blue or Girl, unlockedNeon Blue is a suspense novel about a young, inexperienced, rebellious female DEA Special Agent (Laurel 'Blue' Humboldt) who steps outside the boundaries to break an international drug ring. Originally written in 1987, the novel reflects its day and time—no cell phones, more street crime, virtually no terrorists on U.S. soil, perhaps a more innocent time in some ways, but no less deadly for those who combat the relentless crime syndicates of the illicit drug trade.

Blue actually has two crises to resolve. First, on the crime side, she is marked for death when she barely escapes the assassination, in broad daylight on a New York City street, of a key witness against Colombian narco traffickers. It becomes more personal, when a friend is murdered by the cartel's razor-slashing enforcer.

Second, Blue has a love dilemma. Bruised, adventuresome, hungry for love, she is torn between two worlds of her gender identity. Whom will she ultimately commit to? She has plenty of admirers, most of them icky, but her two shining stars are handsome, millionaire San Diego businessman John Connor and beautiful, exotic Chinese-American San Diego detective Martha Yee. Caught in a triangle of passion and desire (very tame by today's standards), she does not have much time to choose—because the cartel's deadly assassin is breathing down her neck to murder her.

Logos and Title

Neon Blue and Girl, Unlocked are but two stops on a long path, according to John Argo. The black-and-blue logo was John Argo's first attempt at graphic artistry, fwiw—a simple effort in 1996, with sentimental value. The inspiration for the novel itself, and the eponymous 1996 website on which it was first published (Neon Blue Fiction) came in 1987 after John Argo watched the movie Light of Day with Joan Jett (also starring Michael J. Fox). The author was a wild rebel with a cause (poetry, art) a generation earlier—he hitch-hiked around the country, wrote books and poems, served in the Army, quaffed fine beers and wines gerade vom Fass, in addition to earning three college degrees including an MSBA and Bachelors' in English and Computer Information Systems/Accounting and Finance, and being multilingual and what not…lived life to the fullest, some of it real good, and some of it really bad, but he has lived into the afternoon of life and recently beat cancer; so WTF). As an author, he exchanged correspondence with the likes of Joe Haldeman, Terry Carr, Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, and others, all very supportive. So to make a long story short—to indicate this little novel did not bubble up out of a vacuum—John Argo was moved by Jett's portrayal, in real ways, on many levels. He studied the markets at the time, and found a real opportunity for a story about a gender ambivalent young heroine (nothing to do with Jett, to be sure; just a tough as leather, attractive, wounded heroine looking for daylight, perfect for Blue). As often happens, it was a confluence of unrelated factors that led to the imagining of Laurel 'Blue' Humboldt. Neon Blue by about 1990 or so was the result of many rewrites and tries, in which the manuscript grew to about 750 pages, of which the author discarded about half while tightening the writing and the story. The padlocks theme was there all along. In 2014, he provided an alternative title (Girld, Unlocked) for reasons that will become clear after you read the novel. The novel was a bestseller in early e-book venues (Rocket e-Books,, etc.). We published it, and This Shoal of Space, in weekly serial chapters. We'd release one new chapter every Sunday evening, and wait to hear raves from readers around the world the next morning. Few people had computers at home, and very few indeed had any sort of Internet hookup (usually a 12-baud modem) so the typical reader was an office worker using the company computer while having his or her morning coffee—a guilty and delightful pleasure, in a Golden Age before e-commerce, before criminals and sleaze bags discovered limitless opportunities to ruin everyone's enjoyment with their hacking and other schemes. In an age of innocence, heroines like Blue and Taxi M'Koo (see Panzer Girl elsewhere in John Argo's repertoire) could stride forth and right wrongs in a post-Apocalyptic world, all before morning coffee and donuts. Enjoy what you find here. Whatever your reaction, one thing cannot be taken away—Blue, and her counterpart Zoë Calla in This Shoal of Space, made history as the world's first two female e-novel heroines posted online for download. By definition, these are proprietary (not public domain), full-length original novels that were never published on paper or disk, but directly into the ether as HTML or TXT for download. It would be years before anyone else did this.

More About

World's First True E-Book. Neon Blue, the suspense novel before you right now, was published online in 1996-7, in its entirety, one chapter per week—making it the first entire, proprietary novel ever published (this is world history) online for download. Two publishers (Boson and ?) had published e-books in 1994 and 1995 respectively (see Wikipedia for the partially correct info) but those released in portable media (e.g., CD). More info follows below.

Most readers probably don't care about ancient history, and that's fine. Please read this book, both for enjoyment and as a historical artifact. In keeping with the spirit of 1996, it is offered free. Remember that it has been registerd under copyright for years as a proprietary work. If you wish to reward the author, please buy a copy from any leading online outlet, or order a print copy from Amazon. Thanks, and happy reading--John T. Cullen, author and publisher (this intro written July 2013, San Diego, California).

To be clear: these and other publishers (e.g., Andy McCann, Planet Magazine) were already publishing short fiction online for download. All of this we did before there was any form of e-commerce, and the World Wide Web was still like a pristine, untrodden beach. At the time, the Library of Congress refused to register copyright on digital texts, stating that 'nobody knew if these were "real books"', so they allowed me to register copyright on my published e-books as 'unpublished manuscripts.' Amazon dot com was about a year old, and only selling printed books from their website—to the howling and loathing of an ignorant and backward publishing industry (and its many coattails, including the Library of Congress, SFWA, et al). Our claim, obviously, hangs upon several factors: (1) length (novel, as defined by the print industry back then, somewhere above 50-60,000 words); (2) proprietary rather than public domain; (3) entirety rather than teasers or samples; (4) ???…

Clocktower Books innovated in other areas. We were the first e-book publisher to release complete, proprietary novels online for download in weekly serial chapters, starting in 1996. These included (1st) the suspense novel Neon Blue; (2nd) the dark sf (sometimes mistaken for horror or dark fantasy) novel Heartbreaker (later titled This Shoal of Space, currently retitled Cold Bright) and (3rd) the SF novel Pioneers.

Clocktower Books published the first web-only, online professional magazine of f/sf/h, Deep Outside SFFH. This, and its later mutation Far Sector SFFH became the Web's oldest professional magazine of sf/f/h after the folding, in fall 1998, of Ellen Datlow's Event Horizon (which was a short-lived successor to the then-defunct print magazine Omni). Our magazine became the first online, digital sf/f/h magazine listed in the (1999) Writer's Market alongside the four or five pulps that had until then owned the entire turf (after Omni's demise. The listing was, for us, an acknowledgement that digital fiction was here to stay, despite worlds of naysaying by loud talkers without any vision.

Blue kept her feelings deeply stored apart in separate boxes, and she made sure the padlocks were tightly locked


Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.

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