The Online And The Restless

A SOAP OPERA ONLINE--IT had to happen. America Online subscribers will be able to read the weekly Parallel Lives this spring when it starts a three-month trial run. The 1,100-word episodes have illustrations and conclude with cliffhangers that are intended to lure people to tune in the following week.

The series has three separate story lines running simultaneously. According to its promotional material, a story called "One Point Seven" follows the Higgins clan, an "un-sitcom" middle-class African American family living in postquake Los Angeles. In "Urban Studies," upscale Manhattanites go through nights of "sushi, samba lessons, and secrets." And "A Boy and His Dog" is set in a small town "where unseen dangers belie the sense of safety that hometown America once provided."

The cyber-soap is sponsored by Nabisco and served up--curiously--by the staid New York Times on its AOL service, @times. It will run alongside regular Times articles and arts reviews. The paper hopes readers will contribute online reactions to the family and social issues raised.

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