Islands in the Net

Islands in the Net

by Bruce Sterling

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Overview

In a near-future new age of corporate control, hacker mercenaries, and electronic terrorism, a public relations executive on the rise finds herself caught in the violent epicenter of a data war

Two decades into the twenty-first century, the world’s nations are becoming irrelevant. Corporations are the true global powers, with information the most valuable currency, while the smaller island nations have become sanctuaries for data pirates and terrorists. A globe-trotting PR executive for the large corporate economic democracy Rizome Industries Group, Laura Webster is present when a foreign representative is assassinated on Rizome soil during a conference for offshore data havens. Dispatched immediately on an international mission of diplomacy, Laura hopes she can make a difference in a volatile, unsteady world, but instead finds herself trapped on the front lines of rapidly escalating third-world hostilities and caught up in an inescapable net of conspiracy, terrorism, post-millennial voodoo, and electronic warfare.

During the 1980s, science fiction luminary Bruce Sterling envisioned the future . . . and hit it almost dead-on. The author who, along with William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Rudy Rucker, helped create and define the cyberpunk subgenre imagines a world of tomorrow in Islands in the Net that bears a striking—and disturbing—resemblance to our present-day information-age reality. Nominated for the Hugo and Locus Awards and winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Sterling’s extraordinary novel is a gripping, eye-opening, and remarkably prescient science fiction classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497686519
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 12/30/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 348
Sales rank: 443,800
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Bruce Sterling is an American author and one of the founders of the cyberpunk science fiction movement. He began writing in the 1970s; his first novel, Involution Ocean, about a whaling ship in an ocean of dust, is a science fictional pastiche of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. His other works, including his series of stories and a novel, Schismatrix, set in the Shaper/Mechanist universe, often deal with computer-based technologies and genetic engineering. His five short story collections and ten novels have earned several honors: a John W. Campbell Award, two Hugo Awards, a Hayakawa’s SF Magazine Reader’s Award, and an Arthur C. Clarke Award. Sterling has also worked as a critic and journalist, writing for Metropolis, Artforum, Icon, MIT Technology Review, Time, and Newsweek, as well as InterzoneScience Fiction Eye, Cheap Truth, and Cool Tools. He edits Beyond the Beyond, a blog hosted by Wired

Sterling is also involved in the technology and design community. In 2003 his web-only art piece, Embrace the Decay, was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and became the most-visited piece in the museum’s digital gallery. He has taught classes in design at the Gerrit Reitveld Academie in Amsterdam, Centro in Mexico City, Fabrica in Treviso, Italy, and the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. Sterling lives in Austin, Texas; Belgrade, Serbia; and Turin, Italy. 
Bruce Sterling is an American author and one of the founders of the cyberpunk science fiction movement. He began writing in the 1970s; his first novel, Involution Ocean, about a whaling ship in an ocean of dust, is a science fictional pastiche of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. His other works, including his series of stories and a novel, Schismatrix, set in the Shaper/Mechanist universe, often deal with computer-based technologies and genetic engineering. His five short story collections and ten novels have earned several honors: a John W. Campbell Award, two Hugo Awards, a Hayakawa’s SF Magazine Reader’s Award, and an Arthur C. Clarke Award. Sterling has also worked as a critic and journalist, writing for Metropolis, Artforum, Icon, MIT Technology Review, Time, and Newsweek, as well as Interzone, Science Fiction Eye, Cheap Truth, and Cool Tools. He edits Beyond the Beyond, a blog hosted by Wired

Sterling is also involved in the technology and design community. In 2003 his web-only art piece, Embrace the Decay, was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and became the most-visited piece in the museum’s digital gallery. He has taught classes in design at the Gerrit Reitveld Academie in Amsterdam, Centro in Mexico City, Fabrica in Treviso, Italy, and the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. Sterling lives in Austin, Texas; Belgrade, Serbia; and Turin, Italy. 

Read an Excerpt

Islands in the Net


By Bruce Sterling

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1988 Bruce Sterling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-8651-9


CHAPTER 1

The sea lay in simmering quiet, a slate-green gumbo seasoned with warm mud. Shrimp boats trawled the horizon.

Pilings rose in clusters, like blackened fingers, yards out in the gentle surf. Once, Galveston beach homes had crouched on those tarstained stilts. Now barnacles clustered there, gulls wheeled and screeched. It was a great breeder of hurricanes, this quiet Gulf of Mexico.

Laura read her time and distance with a quick downward glance. Green indicators blinked on the toes of her shoes, flickering with each stride, counting mileage. Laura picked up the pace. Morning shadows strobed across her as she ran.

She passed the last of the pilings and spotted her home, far down the beach. She grinned as fatigue evaporated in a flare of energy.

Everything seemed worth it. When the second wind took her, she felt that she could run forever, a promise of indestructible confidence bubbling up from the marrow. She ran in pure animal ease, like an antelope.

The beach leapt up and slammed against her.

Laura lay stunned for a moment. She lifted her head, then caught her breath and groaned. Her cheek was caked with sand, both elbows numbed with the impact of the fall. Her arms trembled as she pushed herself up onto her knees. She looked behind her.

Something had snagged her foot. It was a black, peeling length of electrical cable. Junked flotsam from the hurricane, buried in the sand. The wire had whiplashed around her left ankle and brought her down as neatly as a lariat.

She rolled over and sat, breathing hard, and kicked the loosened wire off her shoe. The broken skin above her sock had just begun to bleed, and the first cold shock gave way to hot smarting pain.

She stood up and threw off the shakiness, brushing sand from her cheek and arms. Sand had scratched the plastic screen of her watchphone. Its wrist strap was caked with grit.

"Great," Laura said. A belated rush of anger brought her strength back. She bent and pulled at the cable, hard. Four feet of wet sand furrowed up.

She looked around for a stick or a chunk of driftwood to dig with. The beach, as usual, was conspicuously clean. But Laura refused to leave this filthy snag to trip some tourist. That wouldn't do at all—not on her beach. Stubbornly, she knelt down and dug with her hands.

She followed the frayed cord half a foot down, to the peeling, chromed edge of a home appliance. Its simulated plastic wood grain crumbled under Laura's fingers like old linoleum tile. She kicked the dead machine several times to loosen it. Then, grunting and heaving, she wrenched it up from its wet cavity in the sand. It came up sullenly, like a rotten tooth.

It was a video cassette recorder. Twenty years of grit and brine had made it a solid mass of corrosion. A thin gruel of sand and broken shell dripped from its empty cassette slot. It was an old-fashioned unit. Heavy and clumsy. Limping, Laura dragged it behind her by its cord. She looked up the beach for the local trash can.

She spotted it loitering near a pair of fishermen, who stood in hip boots in the gentle surf. She called out. "Trash can!"

The can pivoted on broad rubber treads and rolled toward her voice. It snuffled across the beach, mapping its way with bursts of infrasound. It spotted Laura and creaked to a stop beside her.

Laura hefted the dead recorder and dropped it into the open barrel with a loud, bonging thump. "Thank you for keeping our beaches clean," the can intoned. "Galveston appreciates good citizenship. Would you like to register for a valuable cash prize?"

"Save it for the tourists," Laura said. She jogged on toward home, favoring her ankle.

Home loomed above the high-tide line on twenty sand-colored buttresses.

The Lodge was a smooth half cylinder of dense concretized sand, more or less the color and shape of a burnt bread loaf. A round two-story tower rose from the center. Massive concrete arches held it a dozen feet above the beach.

A broad canopy in candy-stripe red and white shaded the Lodge's walls. Under the canopy, a sun-bleached wooden walkway girdled the building. Behind the walkway's railings, morning sunlight gleamed from the glass doors of half a dozen guest rooms, which faced east to the sea.

A trio of guest kids were already out on the beach. Their parents were from a Rizome Canadian firm, and they were all vacationing at company expense. The kids wore navy blue sailor suits and nineteenth-century Fauntleroy hats with trailing ribbons. The clothes were souvenirs from Galveston's historical district.

The biggest kid, a ten-year-old, ran headlong toward Laura, holding a long wooden baton over his head. Behind him, a modern wind-sculpture kite leapt from the others' arms, wing after tethered wing peeling loose in blue and green pastels. Yanked free, each fabric aerofoil flapped into shape, caught the wind, and flung itself into flight. The ten-year-old slowed and turned, fighting its pull. The long kite bucked like a serpent, its movements eerily sinuous. The children screamed with glee.

Laura looked up at the Lodge's tower roof. The flags of Texas and Rizome Industries Group slid up the tower's flagpole. Old Mr. Rodriguez waved at her briefly, then disappeared behind the satellite dish. The old man was doing the honors as usual, starting another day.

Laura limped up the wooden stairs to the walkway. She pushed through the heavy doors of the front lobby. Inside, the Lodge's massive walls still held the coolness of night. And the cheerful reek of Tex-Mex cooking—peppers, cornmeal, and cheese.

Mrs. Rodriguez was not at the front desk yet—she was a late riser, not as spry as her husband. Laura walked through the empty dining room and up the tower stairs.

The tower's trapdoor slid open at her approach. She emerged through the tower's lower floor, into a round conference room lined with modern office equipment and padded swivel chairs. Behind her, the trapdoor accordioned shut.

David, her husband, was stretched out on a wicker couch, with the baby on his chest. They were both fast asleep. One of David's hands spread cozily across little Loretta's pajama'd back.

Morning light poured through the tower's thick, round windows, slanting high across the room. It lent a strange Renaissance glow to their faces. David's head was propped against a pillow, and his profile, always striking, looked like a Medici coin. The baby's relaxed and peaceful face, her skin like damask, was hauntingly fresh and new. As if she'd popped into the world out of cellophane.

David had kicked a woolen comforter into a wad at the foot of the couch. Laura spread it carefully over his legs and the baby's back.

She pulled up a chair and sat by them, stretching out her legs. A wash of pleasant fatigue came over her. She savored it a while, then gave David's bare shoulder a nudge. "Morning."

He stirred. He sat up, cradling Loretta, who slept on in babylike omnipotence. "Now she sleeps," he said. "But not at three A.M. The midnight of the human soul."

"I'll get up next time," Laura said. "Really."

"Hell, we ought to put her in the room with your mother." David brushed long black hair from his eyes, then yawned into his knuckles. "I dreamed I saw my Optimal Persona last night."

"Oh?" Laura said, surprised. "What was it like?"

"I dunno. About what I expected, from the stuff I read about it. Soaring and foggy and cosmic. I was standing on the beach. Naked, I think. The sun was coming up. It was hypnotic. I felt this huge sense of total elation. Like I'd discovered some pure element of soul."

Laura frowned. "You don't really believe in that crap."

He shrugged. "No. Seeing your O.P.—it's a fad. Like folks used to see UFO's, you know? Some weirdo in Oregon says he had an encounter with his personal archetype. Pretty soon, everybody and his brother's having visions. Mass hysteria, collective unconscious or some such. Stupid. But modern at least. It's very new-millennium." He seemed obscurely pleased.

"It's mystic bullshit," Laura told him. "If it was really your Optimal Self, you should have been building something, right? Not beachcombing for Nirvana."

David looked sheepish. "It was just a dream. Remember that documentary last Friday? The guy who saw his O.P. walking down the street, wearing his clothes, using his charge card? I got a long way to go just yet." He looked down at her ankle and started. "What'd you do to your leg?"

She looked at it. "I tripped over a piece of hurricane junk. Buried in the sand. A VCR, actually." Loretta woke up, her tiny face stretching in a mighty toothless yawn.

"Really? Must have been there since the big one of '02. Twenty years! Christ, you could get tetanus." He handed her the baby and fetched a first-aid kit from the bathroom. On the way back he touched a console button. One of the flat display screens on the wall flared into life.

David sat on the floor with limber grace and put Laura's foot in his lap. He unlaced her shoe and glanced at its readout. "That's pretty rotten time. You must have been limping, babe."

He peeled off her sock. Laura held the wriggling baby to her shoulder and stared at the screen, distracting herself as David dabbed at her raw skin.

The screen was running David's Worldrun game—a global simulation. Worldrun had been invented as a forecasting tool for development agencies, but a glamorized version had found its way onto the street. David, who was prone to sudden enthusiasms, had been playing it for days.

Long strips of the Earth's surface peeled by in a simulated satellite view. Cities glowed green with health or red with social disruption. Cryptic readouts raced across the bottom of the screen. Africa was a mess. "It's always Africa, isn't it?" she said.

"Yeah." He resealed a tube of antiseptic gel. "Looks like a rope burn. It didn't bleed much. It'll scab."

"I'll be okay." She stood up, lifting Loretta, and disguising the pain for his sake. The rawness faded as the gel soaked in. She smiled. "I need a shower."

David's watchphone beeped. It was Laura's mother, calling from her guest room in the Lodge, downstairs. "Gomen nasai, y'all! How about helping Granny surround some breakfast?"

David was amused. "I'll be down in a minute, Margaret. Don't eat anything with the hide still on it." They went upstairs to their bedroom.

Laura gave him the baby and stepped into the bathroom, which shut behind her.

Laura could not understand why David actively liked her mother. He'd insisted on her right to see her grandchild, though Laura hadn't met her mother face to face in years. David was taking naive pleasure in his mother-in-law's stay, as if a week-long visit could smooth over years of unspoken resentment.

To David, family ties seemed natural and solid, the way things should be. His own parents doted on the baby. But Laura's parents had split when she was nine, and she'd been raised by her grandmother. Laura knew that family was a luxury, a hothouse plant.

Laura stepped into the tub and the curtain shunted shut. The sun-warmed water washed the tension from her; she put family troubles out of mind. She stepped out and blew her hair dry. It fell into place—she wore a simple cut, short, with light feathery bangs. Then she confronted herself in the mirror.

After three months, most of her postnatal flab had succumbed to her running campaign. The endless days of her pregnancy were a fading memory, though her swollen body image still lurched up sometimes in her dreams. She'd been happy, mostly—huge and achy, but cruising on motherhood's hormones. She'd given David some rough times. "Mood swings," he'd said, smiling with fatuous male tolerance.

In the last weeks they'd both been spooked and twitchy, like barnyard animals before an earthquake. Trying to cope, they talked in platitudes. Pregnancy was one of those archetypal situations that seemed to breed clichés.

But it was the right decision. It had been the right time. Now they had the home they'd built and the child they'd wanted. Special things, rare things, treasures.

It had brought her mother back into her life, but that would pass. Basically, things were sound, they were happy. Nothing wildly ecstatic, Laura thought, but a solid happiness, the kind she believed they had earned.

Laura picked at the part in her hair, watching the mirror. That light threading of gray—there hadn't been so much before the baby. She was thirty-two now, married eight years. She touched the faint creases at the corners of her eyes, thinking of her mother's face. They had the same eyes—set wide, blue with a glimmer of yellow- green. "Coyote eyes," her grandmother had called them. Laura had her dead father's long, straight nose and wide mouth, with an upper lip that fell a little short. Her front teeth were too big and square.

Genetics, Laura thought. You pass them on to the next generation. Then they relax and start to crumble on you. They do it anyway. You just have to pay a little extra for using the copyright.

She lined her eyes, touched on lipstick and video rouge. She put on hose, knee-length skirt, long-sleeve blouse in patterned Chinese silk, and a dark blue business vest. She stuck a Rizome logo pin through the vest's lapel.

She joined David and her mother in the Lodge's dining room. The Canadians, here for the last day, were playing with the baby. Laura's mother was eating the Nipponese breakfast, little cakes of pressed rice and tiny popeyed fish that smelled like kerosene. David, on the other hand, had fixed the usual: cunningly disguised food-oid stuff. Fluffy mock scrambled eggs, soybean bacon, pancakes from batter made of thick, yellow scop.

David was a health-food nut, a great devotee of unnatural foods. After eight years of marriage, Laura was used to it. At least the tech was improving. Even the scop, single-cell protein, was better these days. It tasted all right, if you could forget the image of protein vats crammed with swarming bacteria.

David wore his overalls. He was going out house wrecking today. He had his heavy toolbox and his grandfather's old oil-company hard hat. The prospect of bashing up houses—filthy, crowbar-swinging muscle work—always filled David with childlike glee. He drawled more than usual and put hot sauce on his eggs, infallible signs of his good mood.

Laura's mother, Margaret Alice Day Garfield Nakamura Simpson, wore a Tokyo original in blue crepe de chine, with a trailing waist sash. Her woven-straw sun hat, the size of a bicycle wheel, was tied across her back. She called herself Margaret Day, since she had recently divorced Simpson, a man Laura scarcely knew.

"It's not the Galveston I remember anymore," Laura's mother said.

David nodded. "You know what I miss? I miss the wreckage. I mean, I was ten when the big disaster hit. I grew up in the wreckage down the island. All those beach homes, snapped off, washed up, tossed around like dice.... It seemed infinite, full of surprises."

Laura's mother smiled. "That's why you stayed here?"

David sipped his breakfast juice, which came from a powdered mix and was of a color not found in nature. "Well, after '02, everyone with sense pulled out. It left all the more room for us diehards. We BOI's, Born on the Island folks, we're a weird breed." David smiled self-consciously. "To live here, you have to have a kind of dumb love for bad luck. Isla Malhaldo, that was Galveston's first name, you know. Isle of Bad Luck."

"Why?" Laura's mother said obligingly. She was humoring him.

"Cabeza de Vaca called it that. His galleon was shipwrecked here in 1528. He was almost eaten by cannibals. Karankawa Indians."

"Oh? Well, the Indians must have had some name for the place."

"Nobody knows it," David said. "They were all wiped out by smallpox. True Galvestonians, I guess—bad luck." He thought it over. "A very weird tribe, the Karankawas. They used to smear themselves with rancid alligator grease—they were famous for the stench."

"I've never heard of them," Margaret Day said.

"They were very primitive," David said, forking up another scop pancake. "They used to eat dirt! They'd bury a fresh deer kill for three or four days, until it softened up, and—"

"David!" Laura said.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling. Copyright © 1988 Bruce Sterling. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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