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Islands in the Net Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1989

3.8 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Slightly dated science fiction about the near future can be fun, especially when it evokes a strange, chaotic, and dangerous world that's uncomfortably close to our present one. Bruce Sterling's 1988 book, Islands in the Net, is a thrilling blend of high tech and low humanity. The glue that binds together this world of data pirates, mercenaries, nanotechnology, weaponry, and post-millennial voodoo is the global electronic net. You'll find jarring references to pre-Microsoft Windows computer technology, the Soviet Union, and that fancy new wonder machine--the fax. But this book has enough cool stuff to keep even a jaded cyberpunk interested. The characters are far more than mere constructs used to show off the technology, and the plot is fast, complicated, and mysterious. Veteran Sterling fans will enjoy this taste of his pre-fame style.

From Library Journal

A war between data pirates involves a young woman and her husband in a desperate search for a new kind of international terrorist. The author of Schismatrix ( LJ 6/15/85) explores the gulf between the high-tech haves and have-nots in this fast-paced novel of 21st-century techno-intrigue. Recommended for all collections.JC
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 396 pages
  • Publisher: Ace (March 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441374239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441374236
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,039,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is one of the gutsiest SF novels I know of. Bruce Sterling has set his novel in one of the most incredibly detailed, well thought out futures ever developed. He's thought about his world geopolitically, economically, ideologically, and on a host of other levels, including how people live on a day to day basis. His people have internalized genuinely different ideas because of the world that has shaped them. In this sense it is most like some of the best Heinlein novels.
The world Sterling creates alone would make this worthwhile reading, but his characterization is strong and unconventional, and he tells an extremely interesting story that travels all over the world. This isn't really a fast-paced pageturner, and it isn't immersed in hard-science details about how things work in the future--it's more like real life for most of us, where technology is part of the background, and just works. So if those are the kinds of things you value in a SF novel, this may not be your book. But the traditional virtues of plot, characterization, and setting make this an outstanding novel.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I found Laura, the protagonist, not at all a stock character. Certainly she was an ordinary everywoman, as intended, but this is exactly the type of character you almost never see in science fiction. She's not a technical uber-guru or a speed-freak street-warrior, but those stock types are hardly a benchmark for realism in characterization. As for the settings, I've lived most of my life in Texas, and could sense how comfortable Sterling was with Texan characters in the first few pages. While I've never been to the other settings, I found the story evocative, and especially felt like he was working from a substantial map of Singapore in his head from having spent a fair amount of time there.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book describes our possible future world, where survival is uncertain and companies matter far more than governments. People get hurt in is book, and lives are changed irrevocably in unwanted ways, and yet despite all this, it is a tale of optimism, of what humanity can achieve when there are simply things to do and people to do them.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The 1980's view of the upcoming Internet clashed with current reality enough that it was difficult to suspend belief long enough to enjoy the plot twists provided by the author. This is a common problem with science fiction set in the near future; if guesses are not made correctly future readers have a difficult time enjoying the other ideas in the story.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The most cogent and well-realized examination of power--in all its forms--that I've read. Sterling presents a dense future. Readers can squabble about minor technical mispredictions, but the overall effect is timeless; this is a very unsettling and very prescient novel.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading Islands in the Net now, it may take a minute to figure out why it's a cyberpunk classic. There is very little VR, and what is there is not described in detail. Most of the book is off the grid (but then again, much of Neuromancer is, too). The heroine isn't a hack, programmer, or counterculture sympathizer, in fact, she's a corporate worker.

But read further in and you'll see that it's about the essential cyberpunk issues. Corporations consolidating power and those who don't get any. The impact of instant world-wide communication and what happens to those who aren't included. How technology and society change one another and how the morals of those involved matter. Whether the masses can threaten a global social order. What kind of crimes, if any, can be forgiven for the sake of technical or social genius.

The major action of the book is completely relevant today: global terrorism and the questions of social and economic breakdown in Africa. What is likely, what is preventable, how do they affect the rest of the world, and does anyone have both the power and the will to affect the issues?

The book is written in Stirling's slightly-dry style and the setting changes back and forth in ways that may large sections of the book less interesting to some readers. It's worth it and it's far from a slog, but be aware going in that it's best to either do it in one quick read or spread out over many days.

The story follows Laura Webster. She is a high-flyer rising in Rizome Corporation, a multinational megaconglomerate. (The pun on "rhizome" is no doubt intentional.) At the beginning of the book she's starting up a new subsidiary, a Lodge in Galvaston the company uses as a combination retreat, vacation spot, and meeting place for the most discrete business.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Sterling wrote this book in 1988, and I read it in 2015. At the time it was published, developments like the www/Internet, smartphones and social media did not yet exist, and the Berlin Wall had not fallen. The book's events are less than 10 years in the future, and much of the world today still resembles the late '80s much more than Sterling dreamed.

Applying filters in my mind to shift the book's events further ahead in time and ignore the other historically dissonant factors, this is still a helluva read and a helluva ride. And the amount of stuff Sterling nailed about the reach and impact of the Web is astonishing.
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