Retro-review: Islands in the Net - Bruce Sterling

This is proper cyberpunk. You can tell because the cover has the title is written in neon orange against a green-on-black set of 3D grid-lines, along with an airbrushed picture of a woman looking concerned, wearing a lot of leather and too much eyeshadow, with exposed cleavage.

Except it's not really that cyberpunk after all. I read this long enough ago that I needed to get a refresher from Wikipedia. It's another rambling Sterling story where there isn't so much a plot as things happening to people.

The world is largely connected by a global Net, with peace and prosperity and stuff, but when a terrorist organisation assassinates an official, our coroporate protagonist goes to investigate, and ends up in places off the Net. In and out of war zones, third world locations, etc., it turns out that there are gaps in the stable world and you can have a bad time there. At one point she ends up in jail for a couple of years, disappeared in a place with no net access.

It all feels a bit meh, with a kind of existential pointlessness seen in Culture novels, although I'm not quite so sure it's deliberate here! I guess the big theme here is that even in a globally connected planet there'll still be the warzones and problem spots, but it's just not that interesting or surprising. The terrorists all feel a bit recycled '70s.

Reading that Wikipedia page, someone's come up with a list of "predictions" from the book, both come true and not. Given it's set around 2023, it's interesting to see how things panned out, although I'm extremely wary of confusing sci-fi with predictions for the future. Despite the Wikipedia entry, it's not really anything like the actual world. Copyright 1988, it fails to predict the fall of the USSR. The book's big threat is terrorist organisations, whereas we're still just dealing with aggressive traditional nations. On the technical side, there's, er, a global network and ubiquitous computers. I guess that's a prediction. Did that really seem far-sighted in 1988?

This is a book. It's sci-fi. You could read it if you want to, I guess.

Posted 2022-09-16.