“Islands in the Net” by Bruce Sterling

“Islands in the Net” is a 1988 novel by Bruce Sterling. I really like Bruce Sterling’s stuff, in general, but there are a few novels of his I don’t really care for. “Islands in the Net” is one of my favorites of his.

I have a six-week old, and read this in the last few weeks, so this review will be a little scattered, but this book has stayed with me enough I want to write even more about it.

Some parts of it are really, really dated, which is to be expected from an SF book from nearly 30 years ago. He mentions faxes, and while there is a worldwide computer network that people use to share information with each other, it’s mostly pre-recorded things–like video recordings or text files, and he nearly completely missed realtime interactions. On the other hand, some parts fly right by without notice. Drones, maybe even quadcopters, that are basically toys, with guns attached as a terrorist tool? Good portions seem like they were written during the 2016 presidential campaign, or at least, certainly after 9/11–but nope, the Berlin Wall was still up when this book was published.

What’s my favorite part? Technovoodoo, or the rewilding with the iron camels, or Rizome, or “The Lawrence Doctrine and Post Industrial Insurgency” by Jonathan Gresham, or ‘Net-burned’, or this song?

Listen, people of the Kel Tamashek,
We are the Inadin, the blacksmiths.
We have always wandered among the tribes and clans,
We have always carried your messages.
Our fathers’ lives were better than ours,
Our grandfathers’ better still..

Once our people traveled everywhere,
Kano, Zanfara, Agadez.
Now we live in the cities and are turned into numbers and letters,
Now we live in the camps and eat magic food from tubes.

Our fathers had sweet milk and dates,
We have only nettles and thorns.
Why do we sufffer like this?
Is it the end of the world?
No, because we are not evil men,
No, because now we have tisma.
We are blacksmiths who have secret magic,
We are silversmiths who see the past and future.
In the past this was a rich and green land,
Now it is rock and. dust.

But where there is rock, there can be grass,
Where there is grass, the rain comes.
The roots of grass will hold the rain,
The leaves of grass will tame the sandstorm.
But we were the enemies of grass,
That is why we suffer.
What our cows did not eat, the sheep ate.
What the sheep refused, the goats consumed.
What the goats left behind, the camels devoured.
Now we must be the friends of grass,
We must apologize to it and treat it kindly.
Its enemies are our enemies.
We must kill the cow and the sheep,
We must butcher the goat and behead the camel.
For a thousand years we loved our herds,
For a thousand years we must praise the grass.
We will eat the tisma food to live,
We will buy Iron Camels from GoMotion
Unlimited in Santa Clara California.

(After finishing this, I *definitely* need to re-read The Caryatids!)

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