John M. Ford’s Web of Angels bears the same relationship to Neuromancer as Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind stories bears to Dune: containing all the core elements of that genre-defining work, and coming first, but containing too much extra strangeness to be easily categorized or to become the template for later work.

Where the Instrumentality stories introduce Dunes epic-scoped space-feudalism political intrigue surrounding a backwater planet’s monopoly on the supply of a naturally-occurring immortality drug (Spice, the effluvia of a sandworm, in Dune and Stroon, the cancerous growths of mutant sheep, in the Instrumentality stories), the Instrumentality also adds to the mix:

  • uplifted animals and their political struggles
  • space australians
  • a thief’s guild
  • a prison planet (Sheol) where people are cronenberged as punishment for war crimes
  • the use of algae and mussels to protect sub-light-speed ships from the psychological effects of cosmic rays
  • the use of cyborg cat-human-hive-mind gunners to fight hyperspace dragons

Likewise, where Web of Angels gives us Neuromancer’s loser protagonist, corporation- and government-run automated deadly cyberspace attackers, dense dive into the underworld, and cross-planetary chase corresponding to a cyberspace heist, it also gives us:

  • immortal but incredibly fragile patriarchs, whose immortality comes from slowing cell metabolism by a factor of thousands
  • networked portable computing devices modeled on flutes and harps
  • tarot imagery
  • an eighteenth century style dandy subculture who fence with real swords in a complicated dance as an elaborate form of gambling/suicide

Web of Angels is a book I started in high school (literally fifteen years ago now) and that fascinated me, and at the time, I never finished it (because I excitedly lent it to someone who never gave it back). I recently bought a new copy, and I look forward to seeing all the things I missed.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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