A look at the best on the Net, from The Slate to Salon

If only Salvador Dali, he of the melting watches, had designed computers. Then you could curl up in bed, drape your laptop around your pillow, and enjoy the Net before drifting off to sleep. In fact, the only negative about the major webzines is how you have to read them — either sitting in a hard chair at work, squinting at a PowerBook at home, or on hard copies tediously printed out.

Get over it. Then you’ll discover, as I did in a totally unscientific one-week review of popular ‘zines in cyberspace, a rich assortment of topical news features, profiles, criticism, commentary, even travel writing, like Mungopark (http://www.mungopark.com), and poetry, the blue dot (http://www.thebluedot.com), much of it with a sardonic spin and an unexpected punch. Most concentrate more on writing than design; the blue dot, which emphasizes art and photos over words, is one of the more dazzling ‘zines.

Two of the more established newsmagazines on the Net are Michael Kinsley’s Slate (http://www.slate.com), sometimes scorned as Old Media’s stuffy attempt at online literary hipsterism, and Salon (http://www.salonmagazine.com), which is supposed to be the real thing. Slate‘s not bad — some of the more ponderous and PC pieces by Old Media stalwarts Jacob Weisberg and Susan Faludi are mitigated slightly by Beck’s Hemingwayesque tour diary and the presence of happening Gore daughter Karenna as cub reporter — but it lacks the Web’s trademark snarky rebelliousness. I preferred the more eclectic choices in Salon, such as Courtney Weaver’s polemic on ”Why Men Freak Over Women’s Body Hair” and Inda Schaenan’s take on New Media titanette Bonnie Fuller, ”Cosmo’s Repulsive New I-Can-Have-It-All Editor.” The slightly less known Feed (http://www.feedbag.com) also has entertaining stuff, such as Steve Bodow’s screed on becoming his own focus group in ”Single White Product.”

But the most original, least self-conscious writing can be found in more obscure ‘zines like Suck (http://www.suck.com), which had the best piece on artificial intelligence (similar post-Deep Blue articles also ran in Slate and Feed), and Bomb (http://www.bombsite.com), which had a provocative interview with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh. My favorite by far was the jam-packed Word (http://www.word.com), which during one week featured lively articles about rats, the transvestite featherweight boxer Jorge Paez, Japanese lesbians, timber cutting, one man’s descent into madness, the memoir of a tennis brat, and a dispatch from Cambodia. Best of all was the short story ”Unsafe,” by Peter Trachtenberg, about falling in love with an ex-hooker. Writers like Trachtenberg and ‘zines like Word make you forget that you’re sitting upright and peering at a screen. More, please.