Home Reviews Shorts Search

Bruce Sterling – Islands in the NetHere's a re-post of an old review of Islands in the Net, a pre-fame Cyberpunk classic from Bruce Sterling – interesting for its social setting and overall prescience, some of it overtaken by events (the book was published in 1988), some yet to come, but still believable. A must for your ‘catching up’ reading list for the setting alone.

The setting: The story is set in 2023, as a generic ‘near future’ setting. The world depicted is familiar and believeable – local governments have significantly less power than now, except for some backwaters. Multinational corporations are huge, and are much more influential and powerful on a global scale. Africa is a desperate and poor war zone. Most countries are organized in some kind of UN successor called the ‘Vienna Convention’, which has a global police force with wide ranging permissions. The world has gone through the ‘Abolition’, when nuclear weapons were globally dismantled and all research and manufacturing into nuclear technologies abandoned. Most of the food in the developed countries is ‘Scop’, artificial foodstuffs made from single-cell protein.

The plot: Laura Webster (sic), the heroine of the story, works for Rizome, a next-generation, democratically organized multi-national. To protect their assets Rizome gets involved with politics surrounding independent data havens run by global data pirates. Laura is assigned as an ‘Ambassador’ to several of them, but as things come to blows between rival data havens and a low level terror war develops she gets trapped in the middle of a global conspiracy. Overall the plot is unbalanced, while the first half is quite realistical and believable the 2nd half goes OTT and is reminiscent of a James Bond film script…

The characters: There are lots of clichés in the characterizations, some figures are over-drawn, while others are not developed enough to be even remotely believable. Still, the varying levels of character developments are effective in many cases, and work for the story telling, even if they are not overly realistic. It's that sinking Hollywood feeling, all over again. The overall effect is that the characters work well for the story, but aren’t overly engaging; I especially found Laura to be rather stupid, one-dimensional, and full of platitudes; not someone I could root for.

The book overall: The prescience is impressive, Sterling foresaw the development of the global village, and the convergence of services in the ‘Net’ (not sure if he coined the term? Most likely not). Issues like a society centred around their data, and the privacy issues arising from this sound all too familiar, as does the new world order he sets his story in. The story has, besides the plot and characterization weaknesses mentioned before, a well told story line, and some good drive. It’s a quick, easy, and rewarding read. An early Cyberpunk classic – read it if you haven’t done so yet, it’s worth doing so for the world setting and society alone, and the book offers more.

Bruce Sterling

Title: Islands in the Net
Author: Bruce Sterling
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Legend (Arrow)
Publication Date: 1989
Review Date: September 1 2005
ISBN: 0-09-955200-0
Price: GBP 4.50
Book URL: 374239/104-8011547-8444702?v=glance
Author URL:
Pages: 448
Format: Paperback
Topic: Science Fiction
Topic: Cyberpunk


Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner


Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku

Andy Weir - The Martian


Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters


Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness


Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace


Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me


Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep


S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City


Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains


Liz Williams - Empire of Bones


Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage


Doris Lessing - Shikasta


Peter Watts – Maelstrom


Peter Watts - Blindsight, Powered by Mambo!; free resources by SiteGround