20 Essential Works of Existential Fiction

Trying to pin down some of the specific tenets of existentialism can be, ironically, bit of an existential exercise. Although the thinkers and writers who’ve contribued to the field can vary greatly in their teachings, they share the belief that existentialism is a school of philosphical thought devoted to the conditions of a person’s specific existence and how he or she creates that life, deals with its obstacles, and finds a meaning in being alive. Soren Kierkegaard is typically regarded as the father of the movement, though he didn’t earn that honorific until after he’d died. Basically, any work that deals with the fundamental questions of what it means to be a human, to exist in the world and interact with those in it, and to search for the meaning of it all can be classified as existentialist. Give the novels below a read and you’ll start to see the patterns emerge.

  1. Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre: One of Sartre’s best-known works, Nausea unfolds as a series of letters written by a historian who feels paralyzed by nauseous dread by the world around him and stifled in his attempts to define his life and being. The book won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, but Sartre declined to accept the award.
  2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick: Mostly known as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/noir classic Blade Runner, Philip Dick’s novel follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter charged with “retiring” runaway androids in a post-apocalyptic future not that much different from present day. Throughout the story, Deckard examines the emotional and existential differences between man and machine, ruminating on what it means to be real. Worth reading for the ways it differs from the popular adaptation.
  3. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk: Another grim text that inspired a modern classic film, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club tracks an unnamed narrator as he copes with insomnia and eventually meets the mysterious Tyler Durden and starts a ring of underground fight clubs. The novel begins as a more predictable existential text, with its hero questioning the meaning of life, before diving into more challenging waters by blurring the lines between reality and self-deception. It’s an existential story with its very own existential crisis.
  4. The Stranger, Albert Camus: Camus was a leading light for existentialist writers, and he won a Nobel Prize in 1957 for an essay arguing against capital punishment. The Stranger, published in 1942, is a pivotal text in the field thanks to its story of a man emotionally cut off from human existence who commits an arbitrary murder. The book reflects a belief in the universe’s general indifference to its inhabitants, who are on their own to define themselves in an absurd world.
  5. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky: Dostoevsky’s epic works grappled with what it meant to be human in the midst of personal and universal upheaval. Crime and Punishment revolves around young Raskolnikov, a poor student who decides to commit a murder to rid the world of a bad figure, do something good with his earnings, and test the hypothesis that some people develop a right to kill in certain instances. The novel is a moving and profoundly moral one that examines the true cost of doing evil.
  6. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka: Kafka isn’t exactly the happiest before-bed reading material, but his dour works make for riveting existential investigations into the purpose of humanity. This novella follows its protagonist as he wakes one morning to find himself turned into a giant bug (though Kafka never specifies what kind, or even if he’s a bug). The graphic, haunting tale explores everything from people’s inhumanity in situations of conflict to the tricky concepts of what it means to be a souled being.
  7. Notes From Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky: Another work from Dostoevsky, and arguably his most famous existential tale, Notes From Underground is split between the bitter rantings of an isolated man and a broader perspective that explains his world. The Underground Man rails against determinism and says that history is determined by people doing things with no real purpose or meaning. He lusts for revenge against the world but also detests the concept and his urges, leading to an emotional impasse.
  8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera: Set in Prague in 1968, Kundera’s novel revolves around two intricately involved couples as it makes penetrating insights into the existential dilemmas we all face. The title’s “lightness of being” refers to the fact that, contrary to beliefs that the universe and its events will continue to happen repeatedly forever, everyone only gets one life, an existence that’s incredibly light and fleeting. That lightness becomes existentially “unbearable” when it conflicts with a person’s desires to rise above their inevitable triviality and have a genuine effect on the world.
  9. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett: Beckett’s absurd play mixes humor and despair to create a moving portrait of the often repetitive nature of life. The story centers on two men waiting for a third, the unseen Godot, who don’t actually know Godot. They exist in a surreal, cyclical world where they always expect Godot to show tomorrow but can never quite remember what happened yesterday. The play focuses on the fleeting nature of existence, stating that humans “give birth astride a grave.”
  10. Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Celine: Based in part on the author’s life, this nihilistic novel posits that existence can never be fully understood, and that the only things that genuinely illustrate the true nature of humanity are the inescapable torments of war and illness. A sharp, sarcastic satire of human institutions from the military to the medical profession.
  11. Blindness, Jose Saramago: Jose Saramago’s writings won him a Nobel Prize in 1998, and Blindness makes it easy to see why. Set in an unnamed city, the novel follows a small band of characters as an epidemic of blindness breaks out and brings society to a screeching, bloody halt. The only one who can see if the wife of an opthalmologist, and she takes it on herself to protect her husband and others when the blind are quarantined in an abandoned asylum. The novel explores what it means to be human by exploring how people respond to the world during times of extreme terror and hardship. Some of the patients remain peaceful, while others resort to graphic acts of violence. An unforgettable read.
  12. An American Dream, Norman Mailer: One of Mailer’s slightly less well-known outings, An American Dream attacks with ferocity the ideals of what it means to “have it all” in the United States. The novel’s protagonist is a venerated vet and former congressman who goes on to host a talk show, yet Mailer has him commit a murder and descend into a dark world of crime and lurid nightlife. A smart look at what it means to be a modern American, and how our existence is often defined by the least substantial things around.
  13. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard: Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play takes two supporting players from Hamlet — Rosencrants and Guildenstern — and puts them at the center of the story, relegating Shakespeare’s action to the fringes when it’s seen at all. Breaking the boundaries of standard fiction, the two men repeatedly question the nature of their own existence and their meaning within the larger world, and they often mix up their own names in a symbol of their interchangeable natures and general feelings of inconsequentiality. A quick-witted work of existentialism, absurdity, and metafiction.
  14. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner: Written in only six weeks, Faulkner’s 1930 novel is lauded as one of the best of the past century. The book is written as a stream-of-consciousness account that shifts between the viewpoints of fifteen different characters as it gradually explores the meaning of life, the nature of being, and the existential crises that seem to crop up in life every day. A challenging and landmark work.
  15. A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, Ernest Hemingway: Hailed by James Joyce as one of the best short stories of all time, Hemingway’s A Clean, Well-Lighted Place takes place at a cafe and centers on two waiters, one younger and one older, as well as an old and deaf man who’s a customer there. Using descriptions of light and darkness, Hemingway writes about three men at different existential moments in their lives, ranging from the confidence of youth to the alienation of old age. At its heart, the story is about taking advantage of what’s around and being aware of the inevitably of life’s ability to change over time.
  16. Dangling Man, Saul Bellow: Saul Bellow’s first novel, published in 1944, is structured as a series of diary entries by an unemployed young man who uses the space to ruminate on his romantic and personal relationships as well as his occasional frustrations. It’s one of Bellow’s lesser works but still a fantastic existential exploration of how some men looked for meaning in the shadow of war.
  17. Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse: Presented as a manuscript composed by its main character, Steppenwolf centers on Harry Haller, a middle-aged man going through a crisis of identity and meaning who wanders the city and almost kills himself before meeting a woman who redefines his approach to having a meaningful life. The woman might not even be real, but a splintered fragment of Harry’s own soul. Often praised but misunderstood, the novel remains an enlightening read more than 80 years after it was published.
  18. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison: The only one of Ralph Ellison’s novels published during his life, Invisible Man is a pivotal work of literature that explores the realities and nature of black life in the mid-20th century. Narrated by a nameless figure who is, for all purposes, invisible to society at large, the book is packed with symbolism and experimental styles that did as much to reflect Ellison’s own existential wonderings as they did those of its hero.
  19. The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe: This surreal novel uses often dark and absurd situations to explore the meaning of happiness and purpose. The story involves a young man taken hostage by a coastal community and forced to live in a deep sandpit with a woman tasked with forever shoveling out sand and preventing the hole from collapsing. His shift from despair to dedication, as well as his burgeoning relationsjip with the woman, make for a gripping work of fiction that feels endlessly real.
  20. No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre: It feels right to end back at Sartre. This 1944 play is built around three people sentenced to an afterlife together in a locked room with no windows. The one mand and two women turn out to be their own agents of torture, as their conversations reveal the weaknesses and sins that led them to disastrous ends. This is the work that posited that “Hell is other people,” as the characters’ true identities and natures are revealed to be worse than anything they could imagine. One of the most powerful works of existentialist fiction ever written.

10 Banned Books That Made a Comeback

In honor of this year’s annual Banned Books Week (Sept. 25-Oct. 2), readers are encouraged to celebrate the significance of the First Amendment and the freedom to read. Banned Books Week sheds light on the issue of censorship and the benefits of free and open access to information. It’s also a time to acknowledge the books that have been challenged or banned from schools, public libraries and bookstores across the nation, in an attempt to censor explicit content and unpopular viewpoints from readers. Most books are challenged by parents because of sexually explicit material that they find unsuited for the age group. Although some books have been banned or restricted in the past, most books are merely challenged and remain in current library collections. There’s a litany of books that have been challenged during the last 20 years and continue to face disapproval among parents, schools and organizations who want these books pulled from the shelves. Despite repeated challenges and some restrictions, these books have made a comeback in many educational settings and libraries because of their educational, social and literary importance to society. Here are 10 banned books that made a comeback:

  • And Tango Makes Three
    And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, is a children’s book based on the true story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who formed a couple and raised an egg together at New York’s Central Park Zoo. Although the book has won several awards, it’s also stirred many challenges during today’s same-sex marriage, homosexuality and adoption debates. It is the fourth most challenged book of the decade, and the No. 1 most challenged book for three consecutive years. And Tango Makes Three has been challenged for anti-ethnic, anti-family and homosexuality reasons, as well as having a religious viewpoint and unsuitable to the age group.
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
    To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a classic modern American literature novel and Pulitzer Prize winner that has been cited as a major contributor to the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. To Kill A Mockingbird became the fourth most challenged book in 2009 for offensive language, racism and being unsuited to its age group. Despite its most recent challenge, To Kill A Mockingbird is still widely read in public schools and libraries across the country.
  • Go Ask Alice
    Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous (Beatrice Sparks), is about the life of a troubled teen who becomes addicted to drugs and has many explicit adult experiences throughout her spiraling tale. Although Go Ask Alice is presented as a story against drug use, its heavy drug references and explicit content has caused much controversy around the book. The novel was listed as No. 23 on the list of 100 most frequently challenged books of the 1990s, and made it into the top ten challenged books of 2001 and 2003 for drugs, offensive language and sexually explicit content.
  • Of Mice and Men
    Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, is a novella about two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. Of Mice and Men is required reading in many high schools, but it’s also one of the most challenged books of the 21st century and the fifth most challenged book of the decade. It has been challenged for offensive language, racism and violence and unsuited to the intended age group.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, is an autobiography of the African American writer’s early life, as she overcomes racism, trauma and becoming a mother at 17 years old. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a New York Times best-seller for two years and it has been used in high schools and universities around the country for years. However, some schools and libraries have repeatedly challenged the book for its offensive language, racism, homosexuality and sexually explicit content that is considered unsuited to the age group, making it the sixth most challenged book of the decade.
  • Harry Potter (series)
    Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling, is the series of seven fantasy novels that tell the story of young wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. The series chronicles the adolescent wizards’ lives at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where they learn magical skills needed in the wizarding world. The Harry Potter series are incredibly popular worldwide, selling more than 400 million copies and receiving critical acclaim. In addition to its success, the series has also received a great deal of backlash and criticism for promoting witchcraft and using death as a major theme in the children’s literature series. Due to its controversy and numerous challenges by classrooms and school libraries, the Harry Potter (series) tops the chart as the No. 1 most challenged book of the decade.
  • Catcher in the Rye
    Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, is one of the most popular and widely read books in the world, with an estimated 250,000 copies sold each year. The novel’s protagonist and teenage icon, Holden Caulfield, continues to speak to its adolescent readers, but the beloved novel has also been at the center of literary challenges and a frequent target of censors. Catcher in the Rye was banned in many schools for offensive language, sexually explicit content and being unsuitable to the age group.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, is the story of an autistic high school freshman who goes by the alias of “Charlie,” in which he writes a series of letters to an anonymous person telling them about the different experiences in his life, including introversion, drug use, teenage sexuality and abuse. The novel received a great deal of criticism for its use of drugs, homosexuality, suicide, religious viewpoint, anti-family, sexually explicit material and being unsuited to the intended age group. The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been repeatedly challenged by schools and libraries, making it on the ALA’s top 10 most frequently challenged books list for four years in a row, and it was No. 10 on the most challenged books of the decade list.
  • The Color Purple
    The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, is an epistolary novel about a black female’s life during the 1930s in rural Georgia. The main character, Celie, is a poor uneducated black woman who overcomes abuse, rape and racism to later find independence. The Color Purple was a critically acclaimed novel, earning the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. It was also adapted into a successful film and musical. Despite its success and popularity, The Color Purple also faced much criticism for its use of violence, offensive language, homosexuality and sexually explicit content that was unsuited for the intended age group. The novel has been challenged by schools and libraries across America, making it the 17th most frequently challenged book of the decade, and No. 9 on the most frequently challenged books of 2009.
  • The Chocolate War
    The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, is a young adult novel about freshman, Jerry Renault, as he challenges his private Catholic preparatory high school’s malicious secret society, which uses intimidation and manipulation to control the student body. The Chocolate War was well-received by critics, and it has been considered one of the best young adult novels of all time. However, the novel’s offensive language, nudity, violence and sexually explicit content have made it the target for several challenges by schools and libraries for years. The Chocolate War is the third most challenged book of the decade, appearing six times on the ALA’s 2001-2009 lists of most frequently challenged books.

10 Best Dumpster-Diving Blogs

It’s common knowledge that dumpster-diving has long been a favorite pastime of the homeless. The activity provides them with food, clothing and sometimes even shelter for survival. But did you know that many not-so-poor people have adopted dumpster-diving as a hobby in recent years? Some do it to find new treasures that other men have deemed as trash; others, namely Freegans, do it simply to avoid buying groceries, stocking up on the edible food that grocers have discarded to make room for fresher items. If dumpster-diving seems appealing to you, dive headfirst into the 10 best dumpster-diving blogs (and blog posts) listed below.

Dumpster-diving-devoted blogs

  1. emo.ware: Dumpster Diving
    These Freegans from Copenhagen provide an abundance of information pertaining to their lifestyle, including a comprehensive guide to dumpster diving, a page addressing issues and encouraging debate, and a page that talks about the legality of dumpster-diving in the US, Canada, UK, Italy and Sweden. The blog also has numerous photos of the delicious-looking meals they’ve prepared with the food they’ve foraged.
  2. My Dumpster Diving Adventures!
    Although the blog hasn’t been updated in more than three years, it still gives readers an idea of what one can uncover while dumpster-diving. Photos are posted of edible food and treasures that were uncovered by the founder of the blog, who has set out to inform prospective dumpster-divers of the rewards that come with the activity.
  3. The Frugal Dumpster
    The Frugal Dumpster is composed by a student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who describes herself as a pretend “displaced hippie.” She writes about her dumpster-diving experiences, which include making new friends and the uncovering of an untouched birthday cake. The reader also gains insight into her relationship with God, which influences her lifestyle.
  4. Bin Bandit
    The variety of goodies collected and documented on the Bin Bandit’s blog will have even the most ardent germaphobes wondering if they should at least peak into the lid of the nearest dumpster. He also provides a list of “indispensable dumpster-diving tools” and tips that’ll ensure a successful dive. One page on the blog is dedicated to bandit lingo, which includes the terms “cream puff,” “cream puff ala mode,” “cup cake,” “cherry,” “mud pie,” and “nuts.”

Dumpster-diving blog posts

  1. Dumpster-Diving 101: 6 Strategies for Success
    Thanks to WiseBread.com, novice dumpster-divers can learn how to save money by participating in the growingly popular hobby. A blogger from the site offers six strategies for success, and each one of them is essential to a productive dive. For example, the No. 1 strategy is to “determine your territory,” which is best accomplished by avoiding commercial dumpsters that have been secured.
  2. Dumpster Diving: A Travel Strategy for Free Food
    TravelBlogs.com offers a few additional tips for dumpster-divers – most notably to use a red filter on your flashlight so that you won’t attract unwanted attention while scavenging for goodies. The author also suggests that other industrialized countries in the world are good for dumpster-diving – like Japan and “suburbanized” areas in European cities. Of course, it’s not advisable to dive in poorer countries, where the most desirable “trash” is claimed early.
  3. The Culture of the Vulture: The Rules and Regs of Dumpster Diving
    That value of dumpster-diving is highlighted in the first paragraph of this blog posted on TakePart.com, as statistics are cited pertaining to the amount of people who lack access to nutritious foods and the amount of food that was wasted during a single year. Perhaps the best piece of advice dispensed from the blog is for divers to play nicely with their peers, whom they shouldn’t be competing with for items.
  4. Confessions of a Dumpster Diver
    It makes sense that the confessions of a dumpster-diver would be posted on a site named SavingAdvice.com. However, as evidenced by the blog post, there are many more advantages to the activity. For example, items in good condition can be donated to charity, and the recycling of materials helps the environment.
  5. Beginner’s Guide to Dumpster Diving
    The title says it all. The author is a seasoned veteran of dumpster-diving, having grown up in a family of dumpster-divers, and she passes on her wisdom to her readers by offering sage advice. Peruse through this blog and you’ll discover that thrift stores are another prime spot to fetch desirable prizes, but if you have no use for an expensive item you’ve uncovered, you can make some extra money by selling it on eBay.
  6. Tips for Mastering the Fine Art of Dumpster Diving
    ApartmentTherapy.com offers another unique take on the trashy hobby, pinpointing recently purchased commercial properties and recently renovated churches as places that contain the best and most unique thrown-away items. Pointers are also given on how to dress when diving – durable gloves and shoes with thick soles are absolute musts for the safety-minded.

10 Best Blogs for Wannabe Book Critics

If you want to write, you have to read. That’s an old piece of advice, but it’s been around so long precisely because it works: if you want to become a writer, you have to read everything you can get your hands on. It’s like filling up a gas tank. In the same vein, it’s wise to read the kind of writing you want to do. If you want to be a novelist, read novels; a historian, volumes of history; a critic, the best critics you can find. For book critics, the blogs on this list offer some of the best criticism on the web, and they make for indispensable reading for writers looking to sharpen their critical thinking and composition skills. Reading these will help you become a better critic, and you’ll go from just having an opinion to making yourself heard.

  1. Critical Mass: The official blog from the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors is a great way to keep up with what’s happening in critical circles, from book releases and news to writings about critics themselves. Authors and critics do regular interviews and blog posts, and NBCC members write about what they’re reading and what they think of it. It also has info about critical award winners and membership in the group. One of their awesome ongoing series is Critical Library, in which critics talk about volumes that every critic should own. You’ll get tons of ideas for your bookshelf.

  2. Paper Cuts: Although The New York Times has been slow to join the blog world (and they hide the links so well on their home page that you’d be forgiven for thinking they don’t have any), their book blog is becoming one of the best resources for readers and critics. With links to their podcast, author spotlights, and interesting posts about the life of a writer (like this one about the Chicago Manual of Style), this blog is a great way to keep tabs on what the major writers and authors of multiple genres are doing.

  3. Bookslut Blog: Bookslut is an awesome site full of sharp reviews and columns by informed critics and authors. They also feature regular interviews with published writers. The blog is an informal, quick-shot approach to news and reviews, usually with nothing more than brief links and write-ups to other literary happenings. After a while, the site will become one of your default destinations.

  4. Guardian Books Blog: The British newspaper’s book blog has the level of discourse and variety you’d expect from the solid news organization. Posts cover everything from the writing life to the lives of famous authors. A great place to get informed and join in the discussion on a host of issues.

  5. L.A. Weekly Books: Part of Village Voice Media, LA Weekly is one of the stronger alt-weeklies still running, and their book blog makes for consistently entertaining and enlightening reading. Posts include looks at current authors as well as reviews and analyses of major works and themes in publishing. One of the best ways to become a critic is to see what other critics think and how it differentiates from your own beliefs, and this blog has a wealth of resources.

  6. Bookgasm: Another fun book blog playing on a sexualized name, Bookgasm offers “reading material to get excited about.” Their contributors are some of the best in the business and crafting smart, focused reviews for easily digestible reading, which is an absolutely necessary skill for critics to have, especially online.

  7. Book Soup: The Blog: Book Soup is a book store in Los Angeles, which means it’s as much a place to be seen trying to look nonchalant as it is a place to go and buy a book you actually want to read. Still, their blog is a great way to keep up with new releases and critical opinions on an eclectic body of offerings. You won’t come away empty-handed.

  8. Powell’s Books Blog: This classic Oregon chain has a great website and wonderful blog, full of reviews, interviews, and stories by and for writers and critics. The blog is great for cycling through authors as guest bloggers, giving readers a look at the art of writing from new angles.

  9. Jacket Copy: Not one to let a good pun go to waste, the Jacket Copy blog from the Los Angeles Times is a solid resource for aspiring critics thanks largely to its compelling mix of straight news and bloggy opinion. Locals will dig the posts about L.A. libraries, but everyone can get into the entries about authors like Jonathan Franzen and Chuck Klosterman.

  10. Becky’s Book Reviews: One of the more popular amateur critics in the blog world, Becky’s Book Reviews offers a wealth of fun posts and reviews from a book fan. It’s an inspiration for all aspiring critics that with devotion and passion, you can start publishing your work and establishing your reputation. What else are you waiting for?

10 Pulitzer Winners Everyone Should Own

Life’s too short to spend it on bad books. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with guilty pleasures and beach reads — we all need a mental health break now and again — but with so many books and so little time to read them, it’s important to make sure you don’t miss out on the good stuff, and Pulitzer winners are as good a place to start as any. This list is devoted to Pulitzer Prize winners in the fiction category, though awards are also given to biographies, nonfiction books, poetry collections, histories, and plays, not to mention a host of journalism fields. If you want to bone up on classics from all eras, explore some great stories, or just look smarter when people come over to visit, add these volumes to your bookshelf.

  1. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon: Michael Chabon’s sprawling tale of mid-century America revolves around a pair of young Jewish men — Sam, a native Brooklynite, and his immigrant cousin, Joe — who become major players in the Golden Age of comic books. Chabon creates a series of shifting romances and relationships as his characters rise to fame and fortune in pursuit of their art, and though the comic book character the boys create is fictional, the historic backdrop of post-World War II culture is utterly real. Chabon’s work also explores the history of Jews in America and their prominence in the comic book world. Although Chabon had been critically praised for his earlier works (including Wonder Boys), it was this work of dazzling historical fiction that won him the Pulitzer in 2001.
  2. The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer: Norman Mailer was a towering figure in American literature for much of his 84 years, thanks to works like the war novel The Naked and the Dead and the religious meditation The Gospel According to the Son. He won the Pulitzer in 1980 for The Executioner’s Song, a daring novel drawn from exhaustive research and based on real events. The book is the story of Gary Gilmore, who was the first criminal put to death after the Supreme Court upheld certain death penalty statutes in the late 1970s. The novel about real life recalls In Cold Blood in its subject matter and approach. In an interesting twist, it was later turned into a TV-movie directed by Lawrence Schiller, who appears in the novel when he persuades Gilmore to sign away media rights to his story.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: Harper Lee only ever wrote one novel, but it’s a perfect one. Winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, this timeless classic deals with race and culture in America with honesty, grace, and poignancy. The book was as notable for its era of publication as the subject matter it attacked; in 1960, when it was released, the civil rights movement was only beginning to work itself into the powerhouse it would become. Told from the point of view of a young girl, the book follows a trial in which a black man is charged with raping a white woman in small-town Alabama. The frank language and racial epithets made the book one of the most challenged of the century, despite the fact that the book is a moral lesson against them.
  4. All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren: All the King’s Men wasn’t Robert Penn Warren’s first novel, but when it won the Pulitzer in 1947, it became destined to be his most famous. Narrated by a political reporter who becomes a campaign operative, the dense novel tells the tale of Willie Stark, a political figure based in part on Huey P. Long, who served as Louisiana’s governor and senator in the 1930s. The novel explores themes of action and consequence, and of the battle between taking responsibility and letting everything slide out of control. The book has been turned into a film twice, once in 1949 (when it won the Oscar for best picture) and again in 2006.
  5. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O’Toole: John Kennedy Toole lived a sad, short life that never saw the literary fame he deserved. The New Orleans writer and educator was unable to get his manuscripts published in his lifetime, and he also suffered from depression that contributed to his committing suicide in 1969 at the age of 31. A few years later, his mother passed the manuscript for A Confederacy of Dunces to author Walker Percy, who helped it get published and earn wider acclaim. The robust, comically adventurous novel centers on Ignatius J. Reilly, an overweight 30-year-old of gifted intelligence who lives with his mother. Reilly’s one of the most indelible and unforgettable characters in modern lit, and his tale is well worth your time.
  6. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck: John Steinbeck’s got no shortage of classics to his name, but he only won the Pulitzer once, in 1940, for his epic The Grapes of Wrath. Don’t be put off by any bad memories you might of being spoon-fed this book in high school; it’s a sprawling, compelling look at poor workers in Depression-era America that’s one of Steinbeck’s very best. The Joad family abandons their Oklahoma home in the Dust Bowl and strikes out for a better life in California, only to find that everyone else has been suckered by the same dream, leading to a surplus of laborers in California who are in turn mistreated by cruel bosses. The novel is an indictment of unfair practices that earned Steinbeck the wrath of several groups who accused him of being a communist.
  7. The Stories of John Cheever, John Cheever: Although John Cheever published a number of novels throughout his career, he’s remembered and renowned for his stort stories. The 1979 Pulitzer went to this impressive collection of his short works that includes some of his most famous stories, including “The Swimmer,” a haunting look at happiness and despair through the lens of suburban America. It also features “The Enormous Radio,” an eerie genre piece about a radio that lets a couple hear the arguments being had by others in their apartment building, only to leave them torn apart by the weight of their own secrets. Cheever was a glorious chronicler of the conflict present in human nature between good and evil, and this story collection is a must-read for fans and newcomers alike.
  8. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell: Published in May 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s gargantuan (it runs more than 1,000 pages) novel set during the Civil War and Reconstruction was a financial smash that was quickly turned into a major Hollywood production. The novel, understandably, goes into far greater detail than the film with its characters, weaving together relationships and politics and the onset of war to create a rich narrative tapestry. It remains one of the best-selling books ever, with more than 30 million volumes sold.
  9. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara: Here’s another Civil War one: Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, which won the 1975 Pulitzer. The novel unfolds across the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, shifting between the viewpoints of commanders and characters with the Union and Confederacy forces. Shaara’s historical tale is fantastically detailed but also rooted in emotion, exploring the motives behind the war and the cost it took on those involved. The book is regarded as one of the finest and most accurate war stories ever told, and inspired the 1993 film Gettysburg and a song by Steve Earle.
  10. The Color Purple, Alice Walker: Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is one of the most popular but challenged books about race relations ever to be published. The novel centers on a group of women in the 1930s in the Southern U.S. who deal with horrible violence and oppression in their pursuit of some semblance of happiness. It’s these stark depictions of sex and violence that have landed the book on lists of challenged library books across the country. In spite of that — perhaps because of it — it remains a powerful, vital look at a complex and dark part of American history, and definitely worth the honors it’s won.

50 Blogs for Mystery Readers

If you think mystery stories begin and end with stuffy British detectives making cold deductions in 19th-century drawing rooms, think again. The genre is one of the most popular in publishing, with stories that range from noir to romance to taut thriller. The genre also has some of the most devoted fans around. Mystery readers love to discuss their latest finds and swap titles with other fans, and the blogs on this list are only a few of the many that exist to let the mystery-loving community discover what’s out there. Add them to your bookmarks, blogroll, and RSS feeds, and you’ll always be up on the latest in the world of mysteries. Enjoy:

News, Reviews, and Publishing

These blogs come from authors and editors involved in the publishing business.

  1. Murderati: Murderati examines trends in publishing and marketing through the eyes of mystery writers.
  2. Mystery Fanfare: This blog is run by Janet Rudolph, editor of the Mystery Readers Journal, which makes it a great resource for official news.
  3. The Rap Sheet: This is a great blog for news and reviews of new and old content in all forms.
  4. Sons of Spade: With a name inspired by a classic mystery character, this blog offers valuable reviews of mystery titles as well as interviews with prominent authors.
  5. Shots: The Crime & Thriller Ezine: The blog of the U.K. magazine Shots has plenty of news and reviews about mystery and other genre fiction. Great for British readers.
  6. Mysteries in Paradise: In addition to coverage of new titles, this blog also highlights old and forgotten mystery titles that make for ideal hunting in used book stores.
  7. Detectives Beyond Borders: Peter Rozovsky, whose day job is copy editing, runs this lively and interesting blog dedicated to happenings in the mystery-lit world.
  8. Paper Cuts: The literary blog from The New York Times is a required blog for fans of mystery lit. The blog covers all genres, and it does so with typical quality and skill.
  9. Euro Crime: This blog covers the latest in the British and European book worlds, and also has contests in which readers can win free books.
  10. Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind: Sarah Weinman writes about mystery writing for The Los Angeles Times and the Barnes & Noble Review, and she’s also a short fiction author. Definitely one of the best mystery bloggers in the game.
  11. Reading in Reykjav�k: The title’s no lie: this blog is based in Iceland, and it covers new releases, best-of lists, and questions about reading.
  12. Mysterious Matters: Mystery Publishing Demystified: This blog aimed at readers and writers aims to give people the inside track on what it takes to publish a mystery book.
  13. Art & Literature: This in-depth blog focuses primarily on Southern mystery literature, with great info on new books, interviews with authors, and smart reviews.
  14. Sisters in Crime: Sisters in Crime is dedicated to promoting female mystery writers, and their entries range from advice on self-publishing to how to use social media to your advantage.
  15. I Love a Good Mystery: Tania Hutchison’s blog is a great example of pro-level blogging from fans who just love reading.
  16. Lesa’s Book Critiques: Arizona librarian Lesa Holstine blogs about mysteries and a few other topics at this stripped-down but informative site.
  17. Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room: In addition to having the best title on this list, this blog offers readers tons of useful insight into writing and publishing in the digital era.
  18. Existentialist Man: This highbrow blog uses mystery fiction to explore the nature of life and existence. A wonderful find.

Book Stores

These blogs are maintained by mystery book store owners.

  1. Murder by the Blog: Houston outlet Murder by the Book maintains this news and reviews blog at the Houston Chronicle. A great one for fans of indie mystery titles.
  2. Seattle Mystery Bookshop: The popular Washington book store uses this blog to promote in-store events and get the word out about new titles.
  3. Book Hampton: With three locations in the Hamptons, this book store has been a community institution since the 1960s. The blog offers reviews, staff picks, and handy links for ordering.
  4. MBTB’s Mystery Book Blog: Another store called Murder by the Book (it’s a popular name in the field), this one in Portland, Oregon, uses this blog to let readers know what the staff is currently enjoying.

True Crime

Some of the best mystery stories are true. These blogs explore the world of true crime writing.

  1. Crime Scraps: Real and fictional crimes committed in Europe are the focus of this compelling mystery blog.
  2. True Crime Report: Tons of great news stories on this blog, sortable by category (the creepiest of which is easily “Unsolved”).
  3. Women in Crime Ink: A collection of female authors and law enforcement professionals contribute to this blog about crime and the media.
  4. The Malefactor’s Register: This fantastically researched blog covers crime from all eras of the 20th century. A wonderful read for mystery and history buffs.
  5. CLEWS: Your Home for Historic True Crime: Historian Laura James maintains this blog, which highlights the best of true crime writing from around the world and the web.


These blogs come straight from the fingers of mystery and crime writers themselves.

  1. Crime Always Pays: Declan Burke’s blog is a wonderful resource for his own work as well as his reviews of other major mysteries.
  2. Jungle Red: This collective blog is the work of six authors who trade off writing about mystery fiction, life, relationships, and more.
  3. Small Crimes: Crime author Dave Zelsterman also has a professional website, but this blog is where talks about his work, appearances, and other happenings in mystery writing.
  4. Riordan’s Desk: Mark Coggins explores life and writing through the lens of August Riordan, his private-eye protagonist.
  5. The Graveyard Shift: Lee Lofland, a former detective, writes for a variety of outlets about crime and murder, and his blog is a central hub for his work and more personal entries.
  6. CrimeRant: Author Gregg Olsen’s true crime stories have focused on serial killers and twisted ministers, and his blog is an ideal resource for fans of his hard-boiled tales.
  7. Anthony Rainone: Anthony Rainone’s short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, and he also writes articles and essays for newspapers and mystery websites.
  8. Dot Dead Diary: This is the personal blog of Keith Raffel, author of Dot Dead and Smasher, and it covers everything from work-related travels to his favorite music.
  9. A Million Blogging Monkeys: Author Alan Orloff’s blog is a simple but entertaining collection of personal anecdotes. He also features guest posts from fellow mystery authors.
  10. Babble ‘n Blog: Sue Ann Jaffarian, author of multiple mystery series, uses this blog to interact with the mystery community.
  11. Kill Zone: Ten mystery authors collaborate on this blog that often uses news and current events as the starting point for interesting discussions on the art of storytelling.
  12. Tess Gerritsen: Tess Gerritsen is the author of multiple books and series, including the Rizzoli & Isles books that have been turned into a TNT series. Her blog is full of informed commentary on the book world.
  13. The Outfit: Billing itself as “a collection of Chicago crime writers,” this blog has 11 authors contributing posts on everything from politics to fiction writing.
  14. Secret Dead Blog: This blog doesn’t always have as many new posts as other sites — the tagline says it’s been “updated in fits and starts since 2004″ — but Duane Swierczynski’s online home is a great way to know what’s next for this author of novels and comic books.

Online Fiction

Get your fix of short stories (and some longer ones) with these sites.

  1. The Chill of Night: This blog offers regular updates with new short stories, all free.
  2. Darkest Before the Dawn: These stories are kept between 2,500 and 10,000 words, making them perfect choices for reading on smartphones or tablets if you’re not tied to a desktop.
  3. The Flash Fiction Offensive: This crime fiction blog is partnered with Out of the Gutter magazine, which focuses on darker crime stories.
  4. Powder Burn Flash: These quick-read stories, all under 1,000 words, are a great way to get a pulp fix. Death, dames, and dirty deeds, all for the taking.
  5. CrimeWAV: This podcast offers serialized installments of novellas and short stories. Perfect for mystery fans saddled with lengthy commutes.
  6. A Twist of Noir: In addition to an extensive catalog of short stories, this blog offers dozens of great links to other online mystery resources.
  7. Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers: The tales on this site weave together elements of mystery, horror, suspense, and other gut-punch genres to create unique experiences for readers. Submissions are capped at 2,500 words.
  8. Fictional Musings: The short stories on this blog (700 words or less) are split up by topic and author, and the blog owners also welcome reader submissions.
  9. Plots With Guns: This online fiction magazine publishes stories between 2,000 and 10,000 words that encourages writers and readers to push the rules of the genre.

10 Blogs to Fix Your Finances

The American economy is built on paradoxes: There are just as many financiallly successful medical companies devoted to helping you quit smoking as there are tobacco corporations designed to help you start. Personal finance is no different. Even in a recession, it seems there’s no limit to the number of institutions willing to extend credit to people who don’t need to use it. This is where these blogs come in. They’re all about getting back on the right financial path, whether that means reducing personal debt from credit cards or loans, refinancing your home, balancing your budget, or just making smarter spending decisions. The first thing to do when you notice you’re in a hole is stop digging; next, read these.

  1. The Simple Dollar: Trent Hamm experienced what he calls a “financial meltdown” in 2006 that prompted him to take drastic measures to get his financial life in order. Within months, he’d eradicated his credit card debt and established a much-needed emergency fund. His informative and frequently updated blog is required reading for anyone who’s ever felt overwhelmed by money problems. He’s also on Facebook and Twitter. Sample post: Personal Finance 101: Comparing Debts and Developing a Debt Repayment Plan.

  2. Wise Bread: Wise Bread’s tagline is “Living large on a small budget.” The site is run by a community of bloggers who contribute posts on topics as diverse as personal budgeting, living frugally, and how to find the best deals on your favorite products. The posts are easy to navigate, and they offer a rotating list of popular pieces to help newcomers get acquainted with their style and mission. They’re active in social media (here and here), and they’re popular for their no-nonsense approach to living. Sample post: Best Money Tips: 20 Signs You Need a Financial Makeover.

  3. Get Rich Slowly: Everyone wants to get rich quick and achieve some fantasy version of the American Dream. Author J.D. Roth, however, preaches the opposite: accrual of personal wealth through slow, steady, responsible work in investment and saving. His rules are so simple they almost sound counterintuitive — spend less than you earn, pay yourself first — but they honestly work. They’re a breath of fresh air for beleaguered consumers done in by promises of instant riches. Sample post: How to Start a Roth IRA (and Where to Do It).

  4. The Digerati Life: Run by Silicon Valley Blogger (SVB for short), who also contributes to Wise Bread, The Digerati Life covers all manner of tips and news related to personal finance. It’s a great place to go to get simple, easy-to-follow blog posts about how to shop better, invest smarter, and generally put your money to better use. There’s also an entire section dedicated to free money offers from financial institutions. One of the best out there. Sample post: A Healthy, Colorful Diet: Good For The Waistline & Wallet.

  5. Moolanomy: The owner of Moolanomy started the blog to chronicle his personal experiences of managing money and working toward smart goals with his wife and family. As a result, his blog is full of honest stories about his own mistakes and successes and how readers can use those experiences as examples to improve their own financial lives. He also frequently contributes posts to other blogs in the personal finance community and invites other writers to do the same on his site. Sample post: Dividend Investing 101: Why You Should Buy Dividend-Paying Stocks.

  6. Money Ning: Founded by David Ning in 2007, this blog has three main objectives: debt reduction, personal saving, and a broader awareness of the relationship between smart spending and happiness. In addition to helpful offerings like travel info and coupons, the blog offers a wealth of information for consumers looking to make better choices. Ning takes a direct approach to dealing with debt, and the posts about planning for retirement are fantastic for workers at all levels. Sample post: How Not to Worry About Money.

  7. Common Sense With Money: Mercedes, a CPA, started this blog in 2007 to document her family’s journey to financial stability by making smart, frugal spending choices. In addition to tips and tricks for stretching a dollar, you can find tons of great coupons and offers here, which makes it a great site to check frequently. Sample post: Stop Paying Someone Else’s Credit Card Debt.

  8. Consumerism Commentary: This blog has been operating since 2003 — an eternity in web years — and has garnered plenty of praise since then from readers and press. As with many personal finance blogs, it was born to help the author make public declarations of his spending in order to set examples for readers and get helpful tips from the community. The posts are a wonderful mix of offers, tips, and insights into personal financial planning. Sample post: No More Credit Card Debt, Now We Need a New Budget.

  9. Free Money Finance: The proprietor of Free Money Finance grew up in a lower-income household but was able to work hard and eventually achieve financial stability thanks to a few simple but firm rules about prudent spending. His personal experience paying off his mortgage way ahead of schedule is an inspiring tale for home buyers and proof that it is possible to get out of debt and plan for early retirement. Required reading for anyone who wants to make a big change in the way they live and spend. Sample post: Bundling Doesn’t Always Save You Money.

  10. My Dollar Plan: Started by Madison DuPaix in 2007, My Dollar Plan features several authors focusing on every aspect of financial planning, with plenty of smart commentary about the latest business news. The tax tips alone make it worth reading, and there are dozens of valuable links and resources archived there, as well. Sample post: Roth Conversion Strategy to Minimize Taxes.

20 Essential Works of Cyberpunk Literature

A portmanteau of uhhh “cyber” and “punk,” the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction takes readers to the fringes of mainstream society. In worlds where technologies both benevolent and malevolent reign supreme (not to mention the occasional multinational conglomerate with pervasive political clout and the hottest machinery), writers lovingly dissect a number of different themes that question humanity’s interactions with its inorganic creations. It was a rich, exciting, thoroughly provocative movement, looking towards the future at a time when technological innovation increased at an accelerated pace. It was gritty. It was jarring. And it managed to permeate all media, with plenty of movies, comics, art and music hoping to capture the aesthetic as well.

Obviously, lists such as these are entirely subjective in nature. Omission does not render a literary work or its author irrelevant or unworthy of attention, so please consider this more of a quick primer of suggestions rather than a definitive compilation of essentials. Use them as jumping-off points, not concretes. In the interest of presenting the broader scope of the cyberpunk movement, some pieces of literature that technically fall under the label of “proto-cyberpunk” or “postcyberpunk” have been included. Any readers hoping to gain a thorough understanding of what the subgenre entails should make an effort to understand the beginning, middle and end rather than heading straight for the purely “cyberpunk.” Just relax, plug in and try to have fun instead of thrashing about in semantics debates and complaining about omissions and inclusions.

  1. Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

    Author: Philip K. Dick

    Although the novel that loosely inspired Ridley Scott’s quintessential cyberpunk film Blade Runner (1982) predates the movement itself, many of the preeminent writers in the ’80s and ’90s collectively considered it one of their greatest influences. Anyone interested in delving deeply into what cyberpunk literature has to offer should certainly read about one day in the life of bounty hunter Rick Deckard. His quest to differentiate between the advanced androids and gynoids he’s been hired to take down and the humans they hide amongst raised some provocative questions about the intimate relationship between man and machine. These existential ruminations on what separates the most sophisticated androids and gynoids from their human creators and models profoundly impacted later writers, making the novel an essential read for cyberpunk fans hoping to learn more about its rich, philosophical history.

  2. Title: “Cyberpunk” (1980)

    Author: Bruce Bethke

    Bruce Bethke is accredited with coining the term “cyberpunk,” but not considered responsible for the movement itself. Nevertheless, his short story cycle (later novel) about a scrappy band of teenage hackers definitely contains the very same literary tenets found in later works within the subgenre. Bethke modestly claims that William Gibson really created cyberpunk, but his contributions should not go ignored. The 1980 (sold in 1982, compiled into a novel in 1989) short story revolves around the themes of wondrous technology wielded by marginalized individuals and groups living on the fringes of society one of the more popular elements of the cyberpunk movement at the peak of its popularity.

  3. Title: The Ware Tetralogy (1982-2000)

    Author: Rudy Rucker

    Consisting of Software (1982), Wetware (1988), Freeware (1997) and Realware (2000), the first 2 novels of acclaimed series garnered Philip K. Dick Awards in their respective years. Like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? nearly 2 decades before, it juxtaposes human and robot behavior in order to raise heavy existential questions. Starting in 2020 and ending in 2054, the series follows the ebbs and flows of android and gynoid technology, with lines between the synthetic and the organic progressively smudging together until a hybrid emerges. The series ends with reflections regarding spirituality and physical transcendence, carrying certain cyberpunk sensibilities to their logical conclusions.

  4. Title: Akira (1982-1990)

    Author/Artist: Katsuhiro Otomo

    No discussion of cyberpunk would be complete without acknowledging many of the contributions of Japanese writers and manga artists who found success far beyond the shores of their island home. Both the Akira comic and movie have earned legions of devoted fans around the world. With its gritty depiction of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, menacing biker gangs and technology-induced psychic phenomena, Katsuhiro Otomo’s wildly popular work certainly embodies many of the thematic and plot elements that characterize the cyberpunk movement. The author and artist also pulled considerable inspiration from postmodernist philosophies as well, making it a wonderful amalgamation of ideologies and explorations. At 6 hefty volumes, however, anyone hoping to add it to their reading pile should be prepared to spend quite a bit of time with Kaneda and Tetsuo.

  5. Title: The Sprawl Trilogy (1984-1988)

    Author: William Gibson

    William Gibson is popularly considered the seminal cyberpunk writer, and even those unfamiliar with his works know the term “cyberspace” that he coined. Neuromancer, the first book of the trilogy, stands alone as one of the definitive novels in the genre, garnering the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards. The following entries, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), also earned nominations and carried on the same “high tech, low life” themes that launched their predecessor to such acclaim. Most subsequent cyberpunk enthusiasts consider Gibson specifically Neuromancer – the veritable patron saint of the movement. For completists, be sure to also read his short stories “New Rose Hotel” (1981), “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982). All of them share some sort of connection with The Sprawl as depicted in the trilogy and should be considered essential reading in their own right as well!

  6. Title: Blood Music (1985)

    Author: Greg Bear

    Originally a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning short story published in 1983, Greg Bear expanded the narrative into an equally acclaimed novel only 2 years later. As with many other influential and internationally recognized cyberpunk works, Blood Music revolves around delicate if not outright dangerous interplay between humanity, its machines and the environment that surrounds them both. From the nanite research of a mad biotechnician who injects himself with his own findings to a pulsing, transcendent singularity, Bear infuses the novel with an escalating, terrifying scope that poses a number of questions about the fluid nature of reality. It is also notable for being one of the more prominent novels to discuss the “grey goo” hypothesis.

  7. Title: Burning Chrome (1986)

    Author: William Gibson

    Anyone wanting to immerse themselves completely in William Gibson’s world of The Sprawl should read the short stories mentioned in entry number 5, bundled here with many of his other proto-cyberpunk and cyberpunk pieces. Regardless of whether or not they canonically connect with his other works, anyone interested in studying the history of the movement will love browsing this anthology and piecing together how certain components evolved from influences to influencing. Not all of them necessarily conform to the tropes commonly associated with cyberpunk literature, but they are united by a common philosophical and thematic thread that questions perceptions of reality and analyzes the different ways in which people interact with technology. Many of these explorations, of course, came to greatly impact the cyberpunk movement.

  8. Title: The Hardwired Trilogy (1986-1989)

    Author: Walter Jon Williams

    Hardwired (1986), Voice of the Whirlwind (1987) and Solip: System (1989) make up Walter Jon Williams’ deliciously pulpy trilogy pulls narrative elements from all over the science fiction landscape. Readers wanting to see how writers can synthesize components of the cyberpunk movement with more traditional sci-fi trappings such as aliens, hovercraft and clones will certainly find this hybridized series a fascinating read. Big corporations and big technology all staples of many a cyberpunk work dovetail quite nicely with their literary predecessors. Completists with a desire to absorb themselves entirely in the story may also want to read Williams’ 1992 novel Aristoi as well. Some consider it a possible fourth installment, though connections between it and the preceding 3 remain tenuous and implied rather than explicit.

  9. Title: Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology (1986)

    Editor: Bruce Sterling

    Along with William Gibson, Pat Cadigan and Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling wrote as one of the cornerstones of the cyberpunk (and postcyberpunk) movements making him the perfect editor to this essential volume. With a titled referencing Gibson’s highly acclaimed Neuromancer, the anthology pieces together short stories that epitomize the cyberpunk aesthetic. Tom Maddox, Rudy Rucker, Marc Laidlaw, James Patrick Kelly, Greg Bear, Lewis Shiner, John Shirley, and Paul Di Filippo all contributed along with Cadigan herself and Gibson both solo and collaborating with Sterling (who also appears a second time with Shiner). The editor hand-picked each narrative because of his belief that they all reflected ideologies the cyberpunk movement hoped to spread.

  10. Title: “Pretty Boy Crossover” (1986)

    Author: Pat Cadigan

    Fans can most readily access cyberpunk queen Pat Cadigan’s Nebula-nominated short story “Pretty Boy Crossover” through her 1989 compilation Patterns. Considered one of her finest works, she drew from the hard-partying club culture of the ’80s to construct a tale of a fine young man who grows more and more immersed with the idea of transformative technology an obvious analogy to designer drugs. He plays with the concept of shuffling off his mortal coil, existing forevermore as a being comprised of pure information. Many other cyberpunk writers both before and since have also explored this theme to varying degrees of success. But few really bottle up the turbulence of a decade with the same panache and skill as Cadigan.

  11. Title: Mindplayers (1987)

    Author: Pat Cadigan

    Revolving around familiar themes of identity and the ways in which technology can compromise the delicate delineation between fantasy and reality, Pat Cadigan’s first novel Mindplayers would quickly set the tone for the rest of her oeuvre. She would return to these narrative elements again and again, exploring the complex interplay between man and machine that lay at the center of all cyberpunk works. This Philip K. Dick Award-nominated book involves a adrenaline junkie of a woman who experiences psychosis after wearing a specialized cap programmed to connect her with an overarching reality. Deeply psychological, it follows her attempts to make sense of an escalating madness and things only grow more frustrating once law enforcement gets involved.

  12. Title: Vacuum Flowers (1987)

    Author: Michael Stanwick

    Digital personalities, biotechnology, hive minds and mega-corporations merge with traditional science fiction trappings for an incredibly sensory, philosophical experience. Notable for including one of the first references to wetware principles, Michael Stanwick’s novel revolves around the exploits of a virtual personality grafted from a dead woman who finds herself kidnapping a meat body and taking off into the wide expanse of the Solar System. Even in blending narrative elements, Stanwick still upholds the core concepts of the cyberpunk subgenre, encouraging readers to ponder reality’s true (or potential!) machinations and how they interact with technology on a routine basis.

  13. Title: Dreams of Flesh and Sand (1988)

    Author: W.T. Quick

    This tense cyberpunk thriller takes readers on a mindbending voyage through cyberspace, with plenty of scheming computers, massive companies and scrappy hackers to quell the passions of the most ardent aficionado. One of the developers behind a seemingly invincible mainframe must hack and slash his way through it in order to rescue his programming partner from certain digital doom. Accompanied by his impossibly cool ex-wife, his adventures plumb the depths of some very familiar themes. Even the overarching plot sees an out-of-control program threatening the very humanity of one of its creators. Like many other cyberpunk works, Dreams of Flesh and Sand does paint a bleak portrait of technology gone awry, illustrating how the increasingly blurred boundaries between organic and mechanical could potentially threaten one’s very human experiences.

  14. Title: Islands in the Net (1988)

    Author: Bruce Sterling

    Quintessential cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling won the Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial Awards (and received nominations for the Hugo and Locus) for his influential and provocative Islands in the Net. Today’s readers will likely find the writer’s predictions for very real concepts such as widespread internet use and wearable computers among others extremely amusing; other speculations, most notably the continuation of the Soviet Union into 2023, did not come to pass. However, the latter does not detract at all from the novel’s entertainment value, nor compromise its importance to the entirety of the cyberpunk movement as a whole. Like Cadigan’s “Pretty Boy Crossover,” Sterling expertly infused his literature with a mood uniquely rooted in its time, yet simultaneously exuding an aura of timelessness.

  15. Title: Battle Angel Alita (1990-1995)

    Author/Artist: Yukito Kishiro

    Known as Gunnm in its native nation, this 9-volume manga series written and drawn by Yukito Kishiro helped usher in the popularity of Japanese cyberpunk for the post-Akira set. Appealing to fans of martial arts and science fiction stories alike, it serves as a bildungsroman for an amnesiac cyborg. The eponymous Alita known as Gally (Gari) in the original Japanese takes place in the fictional dystopia of Scrapyard (formerly the United States) and pulls inspiration from many major cyberpunk tenets. She becomes embroiled in a world of mercenary work and violent sport, inevitably running afoul of criminal syndicates. It features some great action and greater sci-fi, even inspiring creators as illustrious as lucrative director James Cameron.

  16. Title: Snow Crash (1992)

    Author: Neal Stephenson

    Although existing on the boundary between cyberpunk and postcyberpunk (included here as a means of illustrating the movement’s rich history, few will argue against the profound influence of Neal Stephenson’s epic, British Science Fiction and Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Snow Crash. Former Microsoft CTO of Entertainment and Devices James Allard even uses Hiro Protagonist (the book’s uhh yeah) as his Xbox Live tag. Not only does Stephenson tell an amazingly kinetic tale of Sumerian religion, neurology, politics, linguistics and oh-so-much more, he also accurately predicted the rise of virtual worlds such as Second Life and sophisticated global mapping techniques like Google Earth. Although the concept of memes existed long before Snow Crash, the internet did lead to a greater surge in their prevalence (not to mention greater mainstream awareness of what they entail). Unlike many other cyberpunk writers, Stephenson managed to crack into the hearts of those elusive literary critics as well an impressive accomplishment given their tendency to unfairly marginalize “genre” fare.

  17. Title: The Diamond Age (1995)

    Author: Neal Stephenson

    Upon cracking open The Diamond Age, readers come face-to-face with a hilarious parody of what had, by 1996, become something of a stock hero/protagonist in cyberpunk literature if not cyberpunk as a whole. When it comes to the postcyberpunk, however, Neal Stephenson’s fourth novel certainly exists as the quintessential example. Like his previous novel, the aforementioned Snow Crash, he imbues a science fiction base with a highly effective, liberal sprinkling of educational philosophy, politics, sociology, class relations and many other topics. The world as depicted in The Diamond Age relies heavily on nanotechnology for routine and not-so-routine functions. In an interesting twist on common cyberpunk themes, Stephenson explores mankind’s intimate relationship with technology through the lenses of child development, academics and classism rather than considering the broader nature of reality, identity and humanity.

  18. Title: Holy Fire (1996)

    Author: Bruce Sterling

    A favorite of futurist philosophers, Bruce Sterling’s Holy Fire posits some very heavy questions about regaining youth at the expense of everything else. This being a cyberpunk novel, of course, technology is used here as a conduit for dissecting wholly organic (for now, anyways) circumstances. Here, a society presided over by the elderly and financially rooted in the medical sector sees one of its privileged seniors breaking away from her comfort zone in pursuit of a second chance at life. Desiring to a life free of personal paranoia and boundaries, she hops from country to country in pursuit of a potentially devastating procedure as a means of restoring her lost youth and vigor. Any readers with a love of medical and health-related issues hoping to see their interests as interpreted by a cyberpunk master will definitely appreciate this.

  19. Title: Transmetropolitan (1997-2002)

    Author: Warren Ellis

    Artist: Darick Robertson

    Writer Warren Ellis’ snarky, hyperactive energy suits the cyberpunk (technically postcyberpunk by this point) genre quite nicely. Transmetropolitan, considered by many to be one of his most essential works, transposes his transhumanist sensibilities onto a cyberpunk setting. With a main character modeled after Hunter S. Thompson and a grimy dystopian setting, the series involves nanotechnology, conspiracy theories, body modifications, miracle drugs, cryogenics and other narrative concepts popular in science fiction. Intrepid gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem and his “filthy assistants” stand right there in the thick of things. When it comes to American comics, few capture cyberpunk, postcyberpunk and transhuman sensibilities with the same depth and raucous humor as the thoroughly enjoyable Ellis.

  20. Title: Accelerando (2005)

    Author: Charles Stross

    Thanks to the efforts of Charles Stross and his publishers, Accelerando is available for free in ebook format. This Locus Award-winning, British Science Fiction Association, Hugo, Clarke and Campbell-nominated book is formatted as a series of intricately connected vignettes analyze a society as it spirals towards technological singularity at an alarming rate. Each section chronicles a family’s life before, during and after the event, all of them corresponding to a different generation. It is an amazing, philosophical take on humanity’s reliance on technology for the internet age. Stross, in fact, found inspiration in the characteristics of the dotcom era while piecing his mesmerizing story together.

Cyberpunk left an undeniable impression on the face of science fiction in the 20th Century. As technological marvels surged into existence, the movement and its myriad creative pillars opined on what it may have meant for the future of humanity. Through the inorganic, they shined a brilliant existential light on the entirely organic.

10 Classes Every College Student Dreads

There’s a wide variety of college classes that make students enthusiastic about the material and excited to enhance their education. Yet for every engaging or fun course, there seems to be on that’s almost universally dreaded. The common thread among the classes on this list is that they’re disliked by those students who aren’t in their target group, and there’s some truth to that; accounting majors are probably going to dread math classes far less than would, say, an English major. Some of the other entries are also more about types of classes than specific courses. Still, the classes below are among the most dreaded, since they’re on every campus and almost impossible to avoid. If you’re staring down a long semester with one of these courses, all I can say is: good luck.

  1. Speech: It’s an oft-quoted statistic that people’s biggest fear isn’t death but public speaking, and you don’t have to look far to find people willing to confirm it. Yet public speaking is a necessary evil in life, which is why almost every university requires its students to take a speech course. The reasoning goes that, since these students will one day be professionals tasked with guiding colleagues and giving presentations, it’d be good if they knew how to stand in front of a group and talk for three minutes without passing out or soiling themselves. As a result, every speech course is an exercise in practiced torment for its students. No one wants to take the class and deal with the awkwardness of making trivial speeches — or worse, listening to people with no speaking skills at all — so the class becomes one of the most dreaded on campus.
  2. Any foreign language you’re not majoring in: Majoring in a foreign language can lead to a variety of careers in education and government. But for many students, foreign language courses are the absolute killers, the ones you just want to pass and forget. The goal of a required language course is ostensibly to create a more rounded graduate, but a majority of students often don’t work in jobs that randomly require bilingual skills. The challenging courses become causes for resentment, and their hurdles feel like pointless exercises to students who aren’t specializing in them.
  3. Accounting: Even accounting majors can come to dread the complex ins and outs of the numbers and practices of an accounting class, and that goes double for non-majors just looking to fill out a business credit requirement or take an elective to help them become better financial planners. Accounting courses deal with everyhing from calculating taxes owed to learning how to balance a business’s books, which are useful but often difficult areas of study for most students. Math is also a dry, unforgiving subject, which doesn’t exactly help its popularity.
  4. Physics: Speaking of math: there’s not much to be done to make a physics class easier or more entertaining. Even with the best and brightest professor, the course is still a difficult muddle for some students, especially when they realize that many of the finer skills in physics won’t be directly applicable to their life. (Unless they ever get a hankering to start solving distance and velocity problems in their spare time.) Again, science majors are probably more receptive when it comes to physics lessons, but for most students, the course is one to dread.
  5. Astronomy: Astronomy lures in hundreds of students every semester (I was one) looking for an interesting and new way to fulfill science credit requirements, but in the hands of the wrong professor, the course can turn into something as dry and complicated as a physics class. The course winds up dreaded not for what it is, but for what it’s not: it’s a lot heavier on physics and math than some students believe, and requires more than just a passing familiarity with the material and the sky-watching labs.
  6. Anything early: College is the first time students have control over their academic schedule, and that freedom after 13 years of rigid schedules usually means sleeping in as much as possible. But invariably, students find that a course they need to take to meet a degree requirement is only offered in one time slot, and it just happens to be at 8 in the morning (or earlier). There’s no getting out of the class, but there’s also no getting around the fact that it’s going to wreak havoc on your sleep schedule for a semester. Every day it meets will be greeted with dread and probably a few choice words at the expense of whatever professor scheduled the class so early.
  7. Anything that interrupts a mealtime: Next to sleeping, college students most cherish their time spent eating and relaxing with friends. It’s not uncommon for cafeteria meals to span hours, or for students to subsist solely on food squirreled away in their dorm. Yet every year, students inevitably find themselves in a class that meets at an unusual time like 5-9 p.m. on Tuesdays, which means any chance of having a normal dinner or chance to unwind are shot for the night. These classes tend to involve labs or longer projects, but they’re also dreaded for the sheer inconvenience of eating up a huge portion of the day.
  8. Anything with a lab: Every academic discipline features classes with labs that require students to come back at a later time in the week to conduct experiments, work on projects, and collaborate with classmates. These classes are dreaded for a variety of reasons. For starters, there’s the time commitment: instead of just three hours a week, students are also expected to spend three or four in a lab, often at night. Lab classes also tend to be higher-level ones, and quite a few are closely tied to major requirements, so they’re among the most challenging and punishing that students will take. There’s also the dread brought on by knowing that these classes are unavoidable. You’ll get through them, but they might not be a picnic.
  9. Basic Composition: One of the reasons college students dread the intro-level composition and rhetoric course is because it’s repetitive: this is the same stuff that’s drilled into students’ heads every year by different English teachers. Grammar, spelling, how to write a paper; all useful tools, but the subjects are stale by the time students get to college. Those who aren’t comfortable with the subject dread the class because it’s one more trip through difficult terrain; those who are comfortable with the class will dread it because it’s boring and redundant. Everyone has to take the class, and no one wants to.
  10. History: There are some teachers who can make history come alive, but there are just as many who turn the course into a dull recitation of dates and facts that feel disconnected from modern life. Like some other courses on this list, history is often a requirement for degree completion, but that doesn’t mean students find themselves revved up at the thought of explaining how the rise of capitalism shaped the growth of the Colonies. For some students, the dry reconstruction of ancient eras is a chore, and though history courses are vital for understanding modern politics and world affairs, that doesn’t make them any easier to take if you’re just trying to earn a degree. Your best bet is to just grin and bear it.

10 Things Grads Should Know About Retirement Planning

Graduating from college is the end of a long road and the chance to finally start chasing your dreams. Unfortunately, the newfound freedom that comes with being a recent grad can have some downsides, especially when it comes to planning for the future at the expense of the present. Too many people in their 20s simply don’t know the first thing about retirement planning or smart spending, and it’s because they’re too focused on earning money now to think about what they’ll need later. If you’re in that boat, don’t worry: it’s not too late to change course. With a few tips, you’ll be able to start planning for the day when you won’t have to work any more.

  1. Start immediately: This is the most important thing to know, and the one that will jump-start the others. It’s never, ever too late to start saving retirement, but the sonner you start, the better off you’ll be. Every year you’re able to save money for the future is invaluable when you consider the interest you could earn. For instance, if you assume an 8% annual return, saving $3,000 a year in a tax-deferred account from the ages of 25 to 35 — without saving any more — will yield $472,000 by the time you’re 65. However, if you start saving at 35 and save $3,000 a year for 30 years, you’ll only have $367,000. One plan turns $30,000 into $472,000; the other turns $90,000 into $367,000. You don’t have to be an accounting major to see how drastically you can improve your output with less input if you just start saving sooner. Do it right away.
  2. Calculate your needs: Deciding to start saving is a great step. Now you need to figure out how much you’ll need to save. One of the best ways to start filling in the details is to use a retirement calculator. There are plenty available for free online, and you can also chat with a banker for in-person help. A retirement calculator is just what it sounds like: a tool that looks at how much money you earn now, how much you might theoretically need when you retire, and what steps you can take to bridge the gap. This will let you see just what needs to be done.
  3. Contribute to your 401(k): If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contribute as much as possible. This is one of the best ways to make sure your money works for you and your future, and since it’s taken out of your check before you get paid, you won’t even miss it. What’s more, many employers participate in a contribution-matching program in which they’ll match your 401(k) contributions up to a certain amount. This is just what it sounds like: free money for retirement.
  4. Invest in an IRA: An individual retirement account, or IRA, is another essential way to plan for your future, and it’s something that a lot of young workers simply ignore. Investing in a 401(k) is great, but supporting that with an IRA is even better. There are two types: a traditional IRA, which lets you count your contributions as tax-deductible but will charge tax on withdrawals, and a Roth IRA, in which you still pay tax on your contributions so you don’t have to pay them when you withdraw the money upon retirement. They both have pros and cons, so talk with an advisor to see which one fits your needs. The bottom line, though, is that you should start one as soon as possible.
  5. Don’t overlook traditional savings accounts: Not all of your retirement planning has to deal with investing; it’s also a good idea to get a regular old savings account at your bank. This is where you can sock away cash for the indefinite future but still be able to access it in emergencies without paying the penalty fees that come with making early withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s. Your best bet is to take 10 percent of your pay and save it. You won’t miss it when it’s gone, and you’ll be thankful it’s there when you need it.
  6. Reduce debts: It’s impossible to underscore just how important this is when it comes to financial security and ensuring that your retirement is as good as you can make it. Debts — whether it’s credit card debt, student loans, personal loans, or more — are absolute killers of financial freedom. You’re locked into making payments that can cripple your ability to save for the future, and you’ll be so focused on your present debt that you won’t think retirement is a priority. Pay off your debts as soon as possible; if the amounts are more than you can handle, consider attacking them with the snowball method or by working with a debt counselor.
  7. Leave your savings alone: Even for young workers who’ve started saving early, the temptation to dip into retirement savings early can be a strong one. Here’s the bottom line: don’t do it. Even in an emergency situation, you shouldn’t cut into your retirement savings, and it’s especially bad to do so if you’re just looking to supplement your income or buy something like new furniture. For starters, you’ll probably pay a hefty fee for early withdrawal, as well as tax on the amount, so you’ll get less than whatever you think you’re getting. The worst part, though, is that taking money out now robs you of decades of accrued interest on the principal. You are robbing your future self for little present gain. When you’re money’s saved, it’s saved. Period.
  8. Things change: If you’re 25 and you save for retirement, you’re smart. If you make it to 35 without re-examining your savings plans, you’re crazy. Here’s why: things change over time, and your retirement plans will need to be adjusted based on factors like the size of your family, the level of your income, and a myriad of different needs you just don’t know about yet. Your retirement portfolio will likely start out geared more toward stocks, but as you get closer to retirement, it will transition to less risky investments. The more you pay attention to your retirement plan, the better you’ll be able to weather changes in the economy and survive when you’re no longer working.
  9. Be realistic: One of the best ways to start out on the right path for retirement planning is to make realistic, accurate predictions for what you’ll need to have when you retire. Whatever amount of money you think you’ll need is probably slightly less than the actual figure, so when you’re planning, boost the total and aim for a higher sum. It’s possible that retirement saving might not be able to get you to the higher amount, but knowing that means you can start making other plans, including other investments or looking for additional income. If your estimated necessary amount isn’t right, it can wreck everything else.
  10. Know your budget: A key lesson that’s popped up again and again on this list is that retirement planning depends on maximizing your contributions to the savings funds you’ll need when you’re older. To do that, you need to spend smartly when you’re younger. Take a hard look at your monthly expenses: What’s being wasted? What could be trimmed? Start from scratch and plan to pay yourself first by setting aside fixed amounts for retirement and savings, then build up by accounting for bills, food, and necessities before getting to luxury items like discretionary spending. Living within your means is the easiest way to make sure you can enjoy a comfortable retirement. It may seem like it’s far away, but trust me, it’ll be here sooner than you think.

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