Bruce Sterling : Islands In The Net

(Legend p/back, 1989)

Islands In The Net was billed as Bruce Sterling's 'post-punk' novel, where he took the cyberpunk monster he so assiduously built, and turned it to other ends. The result was a novel that never quite worked, since the sum of its parts was distinctly lacking in sense and sensibility, and ultimately has to be put down as the point where Sterling over-reached himself.

The novel was set in a near-future Earth, and told of the adventures of Laura Webster, a protege of the 'economic democrat' Rizome Corporation. Rizome becomes involved in a world-wide conspiracy which threatens to de-stabilise the precarious balance of the developed world, largely as a result of the undercover activities of Third World countries like Grenada and Singapore. These countries run extensive 'pirate' database services for the global Network. (This is all information technology extrapolation, with the 'piracy' that exists today in audio and video tapes spun into something more far-reaching.) After an assassination occurs in Laura's own backyard, she becomes a 'trusted observer' in both Grenada and Singapore as a third underground force plays off the two prime pirates against one another. After the fall of the government in Singapore, Webster is abducted by the third force, and held hostage, Lebanese-style, effectively taking her out of the arena while other things go on, then re-introducing her later to the world stage. As the whole story is written around Laura, this rather leads to a large hiatus in the plot, which, after storming along in the three episodes in Galveston, Grenada and Singapore, then simply falls off into nothingness while Webster is held prisoner.

Even after Laura has been rescued from the clutches of the terrorist force holding her, the tension never really picked up again, and the resolution of the story was limp, and rather unnecessarily flat. So the whole book failed because Sterling lost sight of the necessity to tell a story that holds the attention from first to last, not just go hell-for-leather for two-thirds of the way, then throttle back and try to cruise home by going downhill all the way. Some of the detailing of the action was excellent, and the thinking behind some elements of the story (the Rizome Corporation structure, for example, an evolved co-operative) was fascinating. It's a shame similar care wasn't taken with Sterling's ramshackle plotting.

JDO (written 30/4/95)

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