This book grabbed me right from the get go, and it never loosened its grasp. Net Impact is a fast-paced, high-intensity read, and I really enjoyed it. Let me just get that out of the way right now.
The plot starts out as this: Dick, our main character, is a spy. He works for a mysterious international agency known as the Subsidiary. The purpose of the Subsidiary seems to be, roughly, to operate outside of the boundaries of international law and “protect the world” with extreme prejudice. This is morally shaky territory, and it impinges on the sovereignty of nations, and Bingle knows it. He’s actively trying to push our tolerance levels and, ultimately, to break them. We don’t trust the Subsidiary from the moment we learn of it, and that’s the point.
Dick’s a man on a mission: he’s out to recover the lost plans for a very portable, efficient, spy drone. It’s an interesting point that this is the thing that threatens the world now. In a classic 1980s spy tale, this would invariably have been the secret to nuclear weapons. In the 90s it would have been the recipe for Sarin. In today’s world, it’s about a spy drone. That’s an interesting choice on Bingle’s part, and it gives the book a very near-future flavor.
Dick starts the book out by trying the normal spy thing, which is to say he blows up a warehouse and lights an entire port on fire. To noone’s surprise, this chapter-one gambit fails to work. Oh, Dick successfully returns with the laptop, but the plans aren’t on the laptop.
And here’s where things start to break from your classic spy novel.
Allow me to take a moment and tell you about Second Life. Second Life is an online virtual world where people hang out and do stuff. The creator, Linden Labs, has made it possible to create items within the game and exchange them. There’s an internal economy in Second Life revolving around “Lindens,” the currency of that world. Most interestingly, though, generating “Lindens” for oneself in-game can lead to generating actual, US dollars out of game. There’s a stable currency exchange.
I say all of that so that I can say this: Bingle knows about Second Life, and he’s seen the enormous potential for abuse it presents. If a person can simply trade the virtual currency for real money, and you can trade virtual currency in-world across the borders of nations, then it becomes pretty easy to use Second Life to clandestinely transfer large sums of cash from anonymous account to anonymous account.
Which is why, in Net Impact, there is a world called Reality 2 Be, presumably because Bingle didn’t want to get sued by Second Life. It turns out that the plans for that drone are being stored on a character in Reality 2 Be, and Dick has to start doing his spycraft in-game, with the help of a geek who is actually competent at playing the game. Of course, this is made more difficult by the fact that the geek also follows him around in real life, which means in-game, one of our pair of characters leads the other, and in-real-life the situation is reversed, leading to a really interesting power balance.
There’s other plot lines woven in, but the fun of the book is the twistyness and the fusion of real and digital worlds, a fusion performed gracefully here.
Now to the downside. This book will take you through an awesome ride, but it’s like one of those waterslides that simply ends. Net Impact has a terrible ending sequence, and it lets most of its plotlines dangle. It’s not even really a cliffhanger of an ending; it just feels like this is where the book ran out of gas, so we’re pulling it to the side of the road now. I can’t tell you why, because in doing so I would wreck all the totally awesome plot twists that got us there, but It just feels like Bingle threw a dart at a board to determine where to separate books one and two. Plots I thought he would tie together he didn’t, and given the intricacy of the book up to the end I went through the book assuming there would be some tying of the plot lines.
I understand there’s a book two in the works, though, and I will probably end up reading it. This book was an absolute blast, and I loved getting to read it.