Mining the depths of the internet

Inspired by Lucy Powrie’s video on Internet books, I thought I’d talk about books featuring the internet too. For me personally, books about internet culture are something I want so much and am never satisfied by. I am 23, and I can’t remember a time without the internet. I’m sure there probably was a time I didn’t use the internet (probably around the time Harry Potter first came into my life), but I don’t remember it.

Despite that, books rarely, if ever, talk about life online. There might be occasional references to Facebook, but they don’t actually talk about the internet. At least not as a vital, relationship defining form of communication, the way I use it. My friendships wouldn’t be the same without the internet. The way I speak to people, and the language and topics we cover, are completely different online to the way we talk in real life. The internet has a language all of its own.

It’s so varied and infinite and interesting and new. There are areas of the internet where things happen which you couldn’t even make up: otherkins, msscribe, 4chan/tumblr raids, the dashcon ballpit, 1D’s rainbow bears, horseebooks, jennicam, swatting, the Marianas web,  detective RedditorsGhostNet – I could go on forever.

The saying goes that all stories have been told hundreds of times before, but how can that be true when the internet is so young? There are so many stories which are beyond belief and which aren’t being told – and if you don’t go online you could live your whole life without knowing they exist.

People are so interesting and bizarre, and that is multiplied tenfold online. If this is how intense reality is, think what internet conspiracy theories writers could dream up!

One of the reasons I hear that the internet isn’t used much in books is because it evolves so fast it’s easy to get dated. References to Myspace in books from 2002 just seem embarrassing now, and I think that’s because those kind of books tend to approach references to the internet all wrong. They try to drop references in to be ‘cool’ and ‘on trend’. That’s all wrong.

The internet is increasingly becoming part of our history as a culture – you wouldn’t think of references to historical events in books as boring or outdated. It’s just a part of life, and talking about it captures that specific point in history. Mentioning Yahoo Groups evokes a very particular memory of the nineties, and just because it’s an obsolete area of the internet now doesn’t make it something which should be ignored.

I have never read a Literary Novel about a character going through a midlife crisis, who happens to have used usenet in his twenties in 1989. Yet that is a huge, important part of our culture. Why doesn’t it exist in fiction?

Give me the historical novels set online. Give me the thrillers set on Tor. Give me the YA coming of age novels where a teen is trying to reconcile who they are in real life with who they are on 4chan or on tumblr (or both). I want these stories, and they aren’t being told.


If you’re now desperate to read books set online, here are some recs:

Kiss me First | Fangirl | Radio Silence | The Girl in 6E | Gena/Finn | Ready Player OneMs. Marvel | Exodus | Counting Stars


In other news:


I’m doing two events at Waterstones Birmingham in April, a historical fiction panel and an In Conversation panel with Alice Oseman! Details on booking tickets at the links.


Published by Lauren James

Lauren James is the twice Carnegie-nominated British author of many Young Adult novels, including Green Rising, The Reckless Afterlife of Harriet Stoker and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. She is a RLF Royal Fellow, freelance editor and screenwriter. Lauren is the founder of the Climate Fiction Writers League, and on the board of the Authors & Illustrators Sustainability Working Group through the Society of Authors. Her books have sold over a hundred thousand copies worldwide and been translated into six languages. The Quiet at the End of the World was shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and STEAM Children’s Book Award. Her other novels include The Next Together series, the dyslexia-friendly novella series The Watchmaker and the Duke and serialised online novel An Unauthorised Fan Treatise. She was born in 1992, and has a Masters degree from the University of Nottingham, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and many of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. She sold the rights to her first novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university. Her writing has been described as ‘gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘a strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2022. She has taught creative writing for Coventry University, WriteMentor, and Writing West Midlands.

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