Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling is a lauded science fiction novel about two yuppies who get sucked into the backdoor of the black market and political intrigues when their corporation gets the blame for a political assassination.
The novel starts out mildly enough and Sterling writes in a very approachable manner, so much so that the beginning of the book comes off as a little on the boring side. This part is saved by the interesting futuristic tech, cultural, and socio-political predictions made by the author. The “Net” referred to in the title is, as you might have guessed, a reference to the Internet, which was pretty brand spanking new in 1988 when the novel was published. It’s fascinating to look back in the year 2016 and see what technological advancements were thought to have been made versus how they have turned out.
In the novel the “Net” is actually far less advanced in the years of the 2020s than it has turned out to be in our real life 2016. I’m glad that we have the better one!
Another predicted advancement in the use of drones which came as a surprise to me, I’m not sure why. Drones and their abilities play a short but crucial role in advancing the plot in the book and the character’s reactions to the drones are about how I feel about them myself. Very interesting but also menacing and creepy. Aside from that video calls are hinted at being nearly the height of technology in this future world but they are only one-way pre-recorded messages. THC is widely available in a concentrated form and is especially used by people in the various semi-anarchic “Islands”. A lot of science fiction refers to people taking drugs, usually in the context of enhancement to super-human states that we are incapable of reaching currently in real life. It was kind of refreshing that for once a drug in a science fiction book is just good old-fashioned marijuana, if in an advanced state. It’s also mentioned that a black president of the United States had come and gone, something that will be true now as well. In the book the president was named George Washington and little else is explained as this is just a reference to a fairly distant past.
For me another refreshing part of the book was that the main character of the book was female. Not just female but one who’s success comes from intelligence and corporate savvy rather than sex appeal or kicking ass (which often seems to just be derived from sex appeal). Te best part though is that even though Laura and her husband have a baby together, guess who takes the baby when they split up and one of them needs to do dangerous stuff?! Usually this is the part where they conveniently get rid of the strong female lead and the guy goes on to kick butt, especially in the movies. Instead her husband takes the baby to shelter and Laura gets on with her mission which gets even grittier real fast.
This book has a slow start in some ways but the action picks up quickly and continues to heat up!
I love reading about a bizarro version of our current world and looking back on the interesting ways things were supposed to have turned out. As per usual the book is much more interesting than the reality of things, although we’ve still got a decade or so for some of this advancement to take place. Honestly I am glad to not be living Laura’s life but I loved to be taken on a journey through it. Islands in the Net is worth picking up and reading through – it isn’t even a long read and the author’s voice is simple while walking us through a complex world, which can be a nice break sometime.
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