(My own copy))
(Original Review, 1993)
"Web of Angels" by John M. Ford is an interesting new book, sort of a mixture of Samuel Delany's style and the subject of "Shockwave Rider". A future galactic civilization has FTL ships, anti-gravity, life-prolonging treatments etc., but the greatest of their tools is the Web, a universal communication and processing system that can reach any part of the Galaxy instantaneously. As a result, people are graded by their ability to use the system: First Literacy is the ability to understand symbols, i.e., to use the Web as a communications device only, Second Literacy to run programs, i.e., the ability to retrieve and store data in open Web storage, to use existing precoded programs in normal access patterns, and Third to write code, i.e., the ability to change the structure of existing Web. People without First Literacy are not allowed to leave their planet. The book's protagonist has Fourth Literacy: the power to make unauthorized use of the system resources in spite of safeguards. He calls it Webspinning. The Bell Stellar Communications Corporation terminates spinners with extreme prejudice. The black-clad agents of CIRCE are constantly hunting for them. Far worse, though, are the Geisthounds, semi-intelligent programs that roam the Web in search of tampering. While the hero is teaching his lover to become a spinner she is murdered by them. All of this is mixed in with legends, the Tarot, and old folksongs. The way he scatters these tidbits around shows either amazing erudition or, if they are all invented, equally amazing imagination. His view of computers is perhaps too romantic, but the glitter of the rest of the story more than makes up for it.
I went off and thought for awhile, and then decided to ask what other books have been written which were a) based on computer technology; b) not outrageously incorrect; and c) based mainly on HUMAN characters, not cardboard cut-outs. The only three books or novellas I can think of that satisfy all of these criteria are "The Shockwave Rider", by John Brunner, "Fireship", by Joan D. Vinge, and now, "Web of Angels", by John M. Ford. The last is not up to the first two but is certainly a VERY impressive first showing.
Note that "When Harlie Was One" is not included since by my lights it violates both (b) and (c). "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" violates (b), somewhat.