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10 Totally '90s Books About the Internet

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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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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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