Loren J. MacGregor’s 1987 The Net is a stand-alone science fiction novel. The Net was the eighth book in Terry Carr’s Third Ace Science Fiction Specials.
Jason Horiuchi, chief executive officer of Horiuchi, Pte., could control the family trust from the comfort of a lavish office. She prefers to ensconce herself in the well-appointed but diminutive starship Argo, cosplaying a tramp freighter captain. Jason claims that her mobility gives her better insight into the trust’s far-flung holdings. Her success in reversing the trust’s decline would seem to support this.
There is, however, a second, more compelling reason why Jason has adopted her current lifestyle.
Jason loves a thrill. Few things are more thrilling than stealing someone else’s stuff and getting away with it. It is no coincidence that whenever the Argo docks at the local spaceport, audacious jewel thefts often follow. Luckily for Jason, the police of many worlds have not made that correlation.
Alecko Papandreou, scion of a rival family corporation, loathes Jason. Unlike law enforcement, Alecko has the time and inclination to do the data surfing that uncovers Jason’s illicit hobby. Armed with evidence that, while not utterly conclusive, is both damning and potentially embarrassing, Alecko confronts Jason with a proposition.
Among the Papandreou possessions is a museum. Within the museum, a ruby that once belonged to Catherine the Great. If Jason can circumvent the museum’s advanced security system and steal the jewel without getting caught, then Alecko will arrange for the Papandreous to relinquish such commercial holdings as conflict with Jason’s. If Jason is caught, then she will abandon the trust investments that conflict with the Papandreou interests.
The alternative being immediate embarrassment and possible legal consequences if Alecko shares his suspicion with the press, Jason agrees. Here the thief bold makes a terrible error in judgement. Alecko’s loathing for Jason cannot be satisfied by mere public shame. Jason has unknowingly staked her own and her friends’ lives.
The Third Ace Specials were a big deal, as I recall. While there had been one or two missteps (Green Eyes and Palimpsests), successes like The Wild Shore, Neuromancer, and The Hercules Text were very successful indeed. However, individual titles within the series could be oddly hard to get one’s hands on. The Net was notoriously hard to find, at least for dolts like me who never considered simply special-ordering it.
Actually, come to think of it, later books in the series tended to be harder to acquire than earlier ones.
The Net of the title isn’t a metaphor for Alecko’s trap for Jason. Or at least not just a metaphor. The Net is a crucial bit of infrastructure that facilitates mental links between crewmates, as well as underpinning interstellar communication. Thanks to the Net, Jason can (and does) recruit seemingly unsuitable charity cases, confident that the Net will allow them to fulfil their role on the ship. How does it work, exactly? To steal a phrase from James S. A. Corey “very efficiently.”
I discovered a new unreasoning prejudice on my part, which is that it’s one thing to be a charming Simon-Templar-esque rogue living off the product of one’s cunning and audacity and another to be a habitual thief almost1 immune to prosecution thanks to lofty social position and vast fortune. In general, the very rich don’t come off all that well in this novel, although Jason at least is loyal to her own, whereas Alecko’s greed is accompanied by homicidal inclinations and uninhibited by loyalty to the friends he lacks and the relatives he does not treasure.
I really wanted to like this book. The Net certainly has many plot elements I’ve liked elsewhere. Alas. Aside from Alecko’s needlessly convoluted scheme, the novel has an excess of description about inessential details, whereas aspects of the setting and background about which I cared were left to the imagination. Neither the primary protagonist nor her primary antagonist were particularly engaging characters (which makes me wonder if perhaps the wrong character had been chosen as the protagonist). Worst of all, caper novels should be exciting but this one isn’t.
My memories of the Third Ace Specials were shiny indeed. Rereading the individual volumes is proving dishearteningly uneven. Ah, well.
The Net is out of print.
1. Jason wouldn’t get a pass on Alecko’s world, where a Papandreou accusation amounts to a conviction.