Laura and David Webster, along with a small staff, run a guest house in Galveston, Texas, for the Rizome firm, a quasi-communal corporation structured loosely around a Japanese feudal system. David and Laura are associates of this multinational firm and have become coordinators to rear a family (they have an infant daughter, Loretta) and to make themselves visible to the Rizome dignitaries who vacation at the guest house.
Both Laura and David are on the fast track to success in their occupations when the company informs them that they will be hosting special guests for a conference. Through Emily, a close friend in Rizome, Laura learns these guests are data pirates, people who live on “islands” outside the established Net structure, stealing and selling data to whoever is willing to buy it. Laura soon finds herself entwined in the debates among three data pirate factions and Rizome.
The stakes are raised when, during the night, a Grenadian representative at the conference, a Rastafarian named Malcolm, is shot to death by a flying assassin drone as Laura watches. A terrorist group claims responsibility, but Grenada blames its rival data pirate, Singapore. Laura perceives an obligation, as a Rizome associate, to go to Grenada and help defuse the situation. This quickly involves Laura in an adventure that takes her from Grenada to Singapore to Africa and finally back to Galveston and the Rizome headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
The journey takes a little more than two years. During this time, Laura develops as an individual and as a member of humanity. She is exposed to myriad cultures and ideologies throughout her travels. By the end of the novel, Laura has matured. When she returns to her husband and child, she finds that her life will never be the same. Islands in the Net is thus a twenty-first century feminist Bildungsroman.