Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy
Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy

10 Totally '90s Books About the Internet

Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy
Amazon.com / Erin McCarthy

The '90s were a heady time: So many laser backdrops in school photos, so many neon accessories, Saved By the Bell, pre-meltdown Britney. The Internet was fun, if somewhat limited—mostly we just browsed Geocities pages and hung out in AOL chat rooms. But authors of the '90s found interesting ways to tap into the fear of the unknown and write Internet-centric fiction as awesome as it was terrible. Here are 10 of those books.

1. Net Bandits (1996)

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Michael Coleman’s mid-'90s teen thriller took chatroom anxiety to new heights when he wove a tale of an anonymous boy who seeks help from his online pals:

Will the Internet help save a life? TAMSYN, GET HELP. The message appears on Tamsyn's computer screen. It's signed ZMASTER, the online name of a mystery kid. Tamsyn doesn't know if she should take the cry for help seriously, but she and her friend Josh soon start to think something is definitely wrong. Can they find out who ZMASTER is in time to help? Electronic messages flash around the globe as friends thousands of miles apart try to find a boy in terrible danger...

2. Romiette & Julio (1999)

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Romeo and Juliet got what may have been their first Internet-centric update in Sharon M. Draper’s edgy urban young adult novel, Romiette & Julio, which explored not only the new and exciting world of online dating, but also the '90s-era social drama of interracial relationships and gang warfare:

Romiette, an African-American girl, and Julio, a Hispanic boy, discover that they attend the same high school after falling in love on the Internet, but are harassed by a gang whose members object to their interracial dating.

3. Interception: An Internet Thriller (1997)

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If you thought email privacy was a modern concern, Graham Watkins’s 372-page thrillride from 1997 should put that idea to rest:

Andrea Lawrence is a recently divorced New York psychologist with a client who abruptly left her husband and children for a man she met on the Internet—and disappeared. Trying to reconstruct the case profile, Andrea finds herself drawn into the electronic world of vicarious relationships, fantasy romance, and Grant Kingsley. After the tragic death of his wife, Grant had retreated to a California ranch, unwilling to engage in even casual social contact. Until he discovered the Internet, which offered long-distance friendships, romances, and virtual sex. The chemistry between the two is immediate. As her affection for Grant grows into love, Andrea comes to understand the power of electronic connection. She and Grant arrange to meet face to face. But their E-mail has been intercepted and doctored by a third party, one with its own terrifying reasons for interfering with a private etectronic [sic] love affair. Things begin to go eerily wrong when both are met by impostors and diverted from their mutual destination. Sensing that the person he met at the airport is not the same one he met on the Internet, Grant begins a desperate search for Andrea, but instead finds himself caught up in a ruthless conspiracy of espionage, kidnapping, and murder.

4. Danger.com #2: Firestorm (1997)

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With “cyberheads” and murder and “webs” of lies, Jordan Cray’s YA net-thriller couldn’t tap much deeper into the fears of Netscapers everywhere:

A wrong turn down the information superhighway. A strange chatroom where users speak in code. Randy Kincaid is suddenly caught in a web of lies—and murder. With the help of cyberhead Maya Bessamer, Randy must find out who's behind the killings. Or the next victim might be him.

5. back\slash (1996)

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William H. Lovejoy jumped right on the new Internet crime political fiction bandwagon with this massive, intricate tale of cyberthieves and Executive Orders:

It starts with unexplained glitches in the U.S. banking system: private funds are transferred and automatic teller transactions are scrambled. It spreads into the business community, first nationally, then throughout the world. A cyber terrorist has done the unthinkable: by seizing control of the Worldwide Information Network, he has the power to close airports at will, paralyze telephone communications across continents, stop the sales of weapons, and put a stranglehold on arms delivery systems on land and sea. As the global community marshalls [sic] its forces against this insidious threat, nations from Israel to Russia, from France to Japan, all join in uneasy alliance. And in the United States, the President issues CIA officer Peter Martin an Executive Order: to use all the means at his disposal to stop this unseen enemy—before it is too late.

6. Monsters in Cyberspace (1997)

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So here we have a complicated situation: A girl’s toys are not only coming to life—creepy all on its own, really—but they’re also using her computer. And her dad is missing. And she’s 13. This is heavyweight stuff, straight from the pen of Dian Curtis Regan:

Thirteen-year-old Rilla tries to hide the fact that her stuffed toy monsters from the Monster of the Month Club are coming to life, while their use of her Internet account threatens her online search for her absent father.

7. Cyber Bride (1999)

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Annette Couch-Jareb’s Cyber Bride appears to be out of print, which is extremely unfortunate since it’s described as “the best book I’ve ever read” in a review from 1999. We do have the plot summary, though:

A relationship through the buffer of her computer is the only sort of attachment that Kate Delaney seeks. For her, a romantic Saturday night consists of a cup of hot cocoa, her cat at her feet, and a long "chat" with her anonymous internet friend, Cyber Scribe. Kate has unconsciously walled herself off from the outside world. Her only human contacts are with her art agent and her grandfather until Edward Tucker, the handsome man in the coveted terrace apartment floors above her, makes a concerted effort to introduce himself. By accident Kate soon learns that Tucker and Cyber Scribe are the same person. Can she trust a man who conceals his identity and tries to woo her simultaneously as both Tucker and Cyber Scribe?

If you’re really intrigued—and you know you are—new copies are available on Amazon starting at $173.92 CDN.

8. Sleepover Club #17: The Sleepover Club Surfs the Net (1999)

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Fiona Cummings gets risky and tosses aside scary stories of child abductions and international bank heists. The ever-excitable Sleepover girls decide to surf the net, and what do they find? Nary a murder nor duplicitous lover, but a fun-filled land of contests and “coo-el” prizes!

Sleepover Club No 17 in which the girls Fliss, Lyndz, Kenny, Frankie and Rosie hook up to the Internet. High-tech excitement all the way—brilliant! Rosie is hooked up to the Internet on her home computer and she and the rest of her Sleepover pals are totally amazed and impressed! Excitement mounts when Rosie finds a competition to design a Home Page, with fab prizes for the winners and runners-up. The only trouble is, the Home Page has to be for a club that the entrants belong to. Clever Frankie points out that they do all belong to a club—the Sleepover Club! To everyone's great excitement, the girls come second! The prize includes a fully-designed Home Page up and running on the Web. Now that is truly coo-el!

9. How I Spent My Last Night on Earth (1998)

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Internet rumors are not to be believed under any circumstances. These days we have Snopes, but in a gentler time—say, 1998—people just kind of ran with it. So what happens at the (probably) fictional Time Zone High when rumors of the apocalypse start flying around the information superhighway? If your name is Legs Hanover, love happens. Thank you, Todd Strasser, for painting such a stark and realistic portrait of the End Times:

Something strange is happening in the parking lot of Time Zone High: The established cliques aren't in their usual gathering places. Instead, everyone has joined in one large, frantically interacting mass. Why? Maybe it's because the world may end tomorrow. For the attractive, brilliant Legs Hanover, this poses daunting questions: What are the romantic possibilities, given she may only have twenty-four hours to live before a giant asteroid smashes into the earth? Or is it all just an Internet cyberhoax? Either way, it's time for Legs to meet the object of her daydreams—the handsome, frequently truant Andros Bliss. Because during the next twenty-four hours, everyone's life is bound to change. Todd Strasser continues the Time Zone High saga with this hilarious, thought-provoking novel about emotional confusion on the brink of disaster.

10. It Came From the Internet! (1999)

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Few things are more '90s nostalgic than R.L. Stine books, and this one is doubly so because this is the tag line:

Your computer just gave you a virus! Get help from a bizarre teenage computer hacker or a doctor prescribing computer chips and dip...

Your computer gave you a virus. We're betting that many a nine-year-old was afraid to feed his Neopets after reading this.


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Marie Antoinette's Jewelry Is Up for Sale
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's
Michael Bowles, Getty Images for Sotheby's

Rare jewelry that once belonged to Marie Antoinette and hasn't been seen in public for 200 years will be heading to the auction block this fall, according to The Adventurine.

A diamond parure (jewelry set), three-strand pearl necklace, and other gems that once adorned the last queen of France will be sold on November 12 in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of Sotheby's "Royal Jewels from the Bourbon-Parma Family" auction. The family in question is related by blood to some of Europe's most important rulers, including former kings of France and Spain and emperors of Austria.

A diamond jewelry set
Courtesy of Sotheby's

Although Marie Antoinette was known for her opulent fashion choices, her jewels have scarcely been seen since the French Revolution, The Adventurine reports. The Smithsonian owns a pair of earrings that are believed to contain diamonds from the queen's collection, and a diamond necklace that appeared at a Christie's auction in 1971 "hasn't been seen since." The jewelry magazine notes that many of Marie Antoinette's jewels were dismantled, but a few—like the ones featured in this latest collection—managed to survive.

A pearl necklace
Courtesy of Sotheby's

According to Sotheby's, Marie Antoinette placed all her jewels in a wooden chest in March 1791 and shipped them off to her nephew, the Austrian Emperor, for safekeeping [PDF]. That following year, the royal family was imprisoned, and in 1793 Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVII were executed by guillotine. Their only surviving child, Marie Thérèse de France, retrieved the jewels and later passed them along to her niece, since she had no children of her own. They ultimately ended up with Robert I, the last ruling Duke of Parma in Italy.

The most valuable piece, a pearl pendant featuring a bow made of diamonds, is expected to fetch between $1 million and $2 million, according to the auction house's estimates. In the late 18th century, pearls were just as coveted as diamonds because of their rarity. Marie Antoinette, of course, wore them often.

A diamond and pearl pendant
Courtesy of Sotheby's

"It is one of the most important royal jewelry collections ever to appear on the market and each and every jewel is absolutely imbued with history," Daniela Mascetti, of Sotheby's European jewelry division, said in a statement.

[h/t The Adventurine]

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12 Facts About James Joyce
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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