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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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