PreromancerThis 1993 novel isn t so much set in the cyberspace of Gibson sNeuromancer , as in the world of an imagined 2005 2006 the exact date doesn t seem to be mentioned in the text itself, and there s a conflict in the extrinsic evidence , after some event perhaps an earthquake has destroyed much of San Francisco, and California has been split into two states, NoCal and SoCal.
The technology isn t as advanced as the digital matrix inNeuromancer , which was apparently set in the 2030 s Some people communicate byfax , not the faxes of the 1980 s, but some type of portable videophone that has an eyepiece It s late stage capitalism, rather than post capitalism Archaic Courier on a BicycleChevette Washington is a messenger, a courier Unlike Y T in Neal Stephenson s 1992 novel,Snow Crashwho rides a motor bike ,she s got a job riding a bicycle around San Francisco, delivering messagesChevetteearns her living at the archaic intersection of information and geographyData needs to be moved around.
Despite the prevalence of computers, there s no mention of the world wide web or emailsEven if she s just riding confidential papers around San Francisco, she s a courier She s entrusted, Rydell The data becomes a physical thing She carries itThe digital world is still partly analogue The exercise might be the reason Chevette s bare legs are smooth and muscular.
Chevette steals a case containing some sunglasses and some data from an abusive asshole she meets at a party The glasses are Virtual Light glassesThere are drivers in the frames and lenses They affect the nerves directlyIt s a Virtual Light displayyou can see the datafeed at the same timeYou can see the input The Business of Real Estate It turns out that the data consists of the plans for the redevelopment of San Francisco that were supposed to be delivered to an important recipientThe problem is that a city like San Francisco has about as much sense of where it wants to go, of where it should go, as you do Which is to say, very little There are people, millions of them, who would object to the fact that this sort of plan even exists Then there s the business of real estateConstant Nieuwenhuys New BabylonThe Bridge People and Their Accretion of DreamsThe people who are likely to oppose the plans are the residents of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge who live in improvised structures they have built on the bridge with found materialsAnd that bridge, man, that s one evil motherfucking place Those people anarchists, antichrists, cannibal motherfuckers out there, man The bridge s steel bones, its stranded tendons, were lost within an accretion of dreams tattoo parlors, gaming arcades, dimly lit stalls stacked with decaying magazines, sellers of fireworks, of cut bait, betting shops, sushi bars, unlicensed pawnbrokers, herbalists, barbers, barsRain silvered plywood, broken marble from the walls of forgotten banks, corrugated plastic, polished brass, sequins, painted canvas, mirrors, chrome gone dull and peeling in the salt air Down on the bottom deck, once you got in past a lot of food wagons, there were mostly bars, the smallest ones Rydell had ever seen, some with only four stools and not even a door, just a big shutter they could pull down and lockNow that he looked around, he saw lots of narrow little stairways snaking up between stalls and shuttered micro bars, and no pattern to it at all He guessed they all led up into the same rats nest, but there was no guarantee they d all connect upGibson displays a sense of humour throughout the novel One of the bars is calledCognitive Dissidents.
Or as one resident says,It s not a bar It s a chillModernity was Ending These dissidents signal not just the end of the past, but the beginning of the future It might even be a continuumWe are come not only past the century s closing, the millennium s turning, but to the end of something else Era Paradigm Everywhere, the signs of closureModernity was ending Here, on the bridge, it long since hadThe novel is an entertaining scifi action thriller with a profound but subtle counter cultural political message.
SOUNDTRACK view spoiler Kraftwerk Computer World of Mercy This Corrosion Bloody Valentine Sometimes from the album Loveless Rolling Stones Moonlight Mile hide spoiler Berry Rydell, An Ex Cop, Signs On With IntenSecure Armed Response In Los Angeles He Finds Himself On A Collision Course That Results In A Desperate Romance, And A Journey Into The Ecstasy And Dread That Mirror Each Other At The Heart Of The Postmodern Experience Was rather disappointed by this one, and I m starting to get the feeling that Gibson s been writing the same book over and over While the technology mattered in Gibson s Sprawl trilogy, Virtual Light seemed like a on the run from bad guys thriller set in a vagueishly sci fi setting The tech that was stolen could have just as well been a candy bar I wanted to find out about the plan on the tech to rebuild San Fran after an earthquake , the Bay Bridge community, and all the other interesting bits that Gibson created Instead, all of that seems to be zooming by on the outside while the story focuses on one long chase scene it s always present but is very blurry and merely serves as a backdrop.
Last week Kevin Mitnick was on The Colbert Report to promote his new book, Ghost in the Wires and talk about hacking For those of us who grew up with the Web as a fact of life and absorbed hacker culture through Hollywood, Mitnick s experiences seem somewhat alien Hacking started long before the Web, of course, and even today hacking is nothing like what one sees on the movies However, it s just in this decade that we, as a society, are beginning to understand and react to the effects of hacking as a phenomenon It seems like not a week goes by without another story in the news about a company or government database being hacked Law enforcement agencies have taken cybercrime seriously for a long time now, as demonstrated by Mitnick s arrest and conviction, but lately arrests of alleged members of groups like Anonymous are making the news often We live in the WikiLeaks era, where it doesn t matter if information wants to be free Once information is out there, there is no taking it back.
It strikes me that William Gibson gets this In fact, he understood it a lot earlier than most of us He was writing about this stuff before I was born Neuromancer is indubitably his most famous and influential work, and the Hollywood vision of hacking probably owes a lot to his portrayal of the cyberspace experience of console cowboys damn you, Gibson With Virtual Light, it feels like Gibson is looking at hacker culture, and its effects on society, from the other side now The main characters are victims of hackers they employ hackers but they are not hackers themselves Nevertheless, Gibson turns them into tools for making information free.
Virtual Light is a little confusing at first I wasn t sure who the main character was is it this nameless courier This weird private security guard named Berry Rydell This messenger whom we eventually learn is called Chevette After the first few chapters, however, the story finally emerged, and its protagonists quickly followed On a whim, Chevette picks a courier s pocket and steals a valuable pair of sunglasses, which contain information encoded optically about a sensitive business deal that will impact all of San Francisco She ends up on the run with Rydell as an unlikely ally.
Rydell and Chevette wormed their way into my heart This is good, because as far as its story goes, Virtual Light is surprisingly linear and predictable surprising because I wouldn t expect it from Gibson So I completely understand why people pan the book because of this aspect story is not Virtual Light s strongest area As an on the run from the bad guys until we can broadcast our information story, it keeps me entertained To really appreciate it, however, one has to be willing to dig further into the way Gibson approaches the role of hacking, the flow of information, and the stratification of society in a broken United States of America.
I ve already talked lots about hacking, but let me say a little I love how Rydell loses his job because someone hacked the computer on his company truck and created a false alarm Not only are the scene and its subsequent debriefing hilarious, but this is something that could happen today and probably already has We get so much of our information from intangible, computer moderated sources and have learned to trust that information implicitly When Rydell s truck tells him there is an armed hostage situation on a client s property, he doesn t hesitate to respond aggressively This trust is useful, because we can react a lot quickly when the information comes to us instantaneously but as Rydell learns, it is dangerous too The same thing happens today, with hackers posting fake releases about celebrity deaths on legitimate news websites So this is a very interesting phenomenon that we, as a society, are still struggling to adapt to, and I like how Gibson tackles it in Virtual Light.
In many ways this book is also similar to Gibson s Johnny Mneumonic , of Keanu Reeves infamy Both feature a courier carrying information that could incite unrest In Johnny s case, it s hardwired into his brain In Chevette s case, she appropriates the package as a pair of sunglasses But the moral remains the same in a world where we can send a message to someone across the ocean less than the blink of an eye, the only truly secure method of communicate remains a physical package even if that package is only a one time pad As Loveless remarks in Virtual Light Look at her, Rydell She knows Even if she s just riding confidential papers around San Francisco, she s a courier She s entrusted, Rydell The data becomes a physical thing She carries it Don t you carry it, baby She was still as some sphinx, white fingers deep in the gray fabric of the center bucket That s what I do, Rydell I watch them carry it I watch them Sometimes people try to take it from them Imagine a map that depicts the world as lights connected by glowing lines people, or buildings, or cities, connected by digital communication Zoom in enough, and along the virtual representations of city streets, you will see glowing blue and red dots These are the couriers, the physical purveyors of digital information The trusted ones.
I guess ultimately what I m trying to say here is that I appreciate Virtual Light for the way it raises relevant, contemporary issues about existing in the digital era As always, Gibson s observations are a combination of chilling and seductive, with a little bit of edgy humour thrown in There s Reverend Fallon s cult of Christians who believe they will find God in old movies, and the cult that worships Shapely, a man whose non lethal strain of HIV resulted in a vaccine Some of these subplots don t seem explored as fully as they could have been considering how much time Gibson devotes to them Shapely s story in particular perplexes me, for we learn it all through exposition that seems otherwise unconnected from the rest of the narrative Why is it all that important I m probably missing something larger here.
That being said, I can at least see how it works with Virtual Light s presentation of the rift between the various classes of American society There s the sleek, slightly antiseptic feel of Karen Mendelsohn the creepy vibe of the man we never see, Cody Harwood the domineering little shit that is Lowell the valiant, heroic, yet tragic Skinner and of course, the working class Rydell, Chevette, Sublett, et al Karen treats Rydell as hot stuff while he is the best thing Cops in Trouble have going, but the moment a higher profile opportunity arises, she kicks him to the curb The people who want the data on those sunglasses kept secret, the people like Cody Harwood, do not hesitate to kill lesser people like Rydell and Chevette And of course, there s the bridge.
People living on a ravaged Bay Bridge, having transformed it into an actual community, is a vision right out of something like The Wind Up Girl, some sort of post apocalyptic world gone mad One might expect to see a little less civilization, and that s certainly what some of the minor characters in Virtual Light suggest Warbaby gives Rydell a description of the Bridge community that Chevette and Skinner patently belie, and it s not entirely clear whether Warbaby actually believes this bit of bigotry or whether he s just coldly manipulating Rydell I suspect the latter, but with Gibson I m not going to bet anything I value on it The Bridge community is intriguing, and I would have liked to learn about it But of course, that s what the other two books in this trilogy are for.
Virtual Light is not as stunning as Neuromancer, and it deserves the criticism levelled at its story and structure I reject the idea that this is a bad novel, however, and certainly that this is somehow a lesser work of William Gibson I think it does something useful and interesting, from its portrayal of hackers to the importance of securing the information that comes into Rydell and Chevette s possession It might not do this as artfully or as skilfully as I would like, but it is still a fascinating piece of science fiction.
Except, of course, that it is no longer science fiction Sure, the specifics of this 1990s novel, set in 2005, did not come to pass but all of the issues Gibson raises are things we are confronting, or will soon confront, in our present decade Virtual Light is a noteworthy example of how science fiction does not need to predict the future in order to predict the problems we will be facing and prompt us to ponder solutions before it s too late As usual, William Gibson demonstrates that science fiction is valuable.
My reviews of the Bridge trilogy Idoru I m re reading the early Gibson because I remember liking them and I can t keep the books straight Virtual Light stands as high quality, maybe one of his underrated titles, at least to me, upon a second reading, because except for a somewhat abrupt ending, the novel is excellent The book s true star is the bridge, and if Gibson ever releases a greatest hits of passages from his work, his initial description of the bridge deserves a place of honor You can see him extending Ballard s influence and perceptions of concurrent decay and advancement The glasses connected to the title are cool, of course, and even better than whatever google s cooking up, but I think, throughout Gibson s work, the underlying focus is the tough, stubborn ability of humans to adapt, whether criminally or not, to roadblocks and opportunities He s one of the best, one of my favorites, really, and his early work holds up.
read The last time I read this book was in the mid 90s It came out in 1993, nine years after Gibson s Neuromancer, the novel that coined the phrase cyberspace and posited a world where we d all be interconnected through an information network He was wrong about the virtual reality stuff, but right about almost everything else If Neuromancer was somewhat predictive of the future, Virtual Light reads like someone had gone to the future of 2005 and sent a postcard back to us Reading it now and reading it in 1995 are two different experiences Back then, I read this and saw a future that was advanced, but full of sickness and decay I saw some hope because humans had ingenuity, but despair because of waste and pollution Now, I read it and it seems that we re only a few years away from things like the disappearance of the middle class, the privatization of public space, the adulteration of natural resources, and the occupying of space by squatters who turn unused space into a living space It s the future, AIDS has been cured, but new diseases pop up Journalism and entertainment have merged to give us shows like Cops in Trouble, a show that Fox would be proud to show Berry Rydell was a cop in trouble because he shot a guy who held his family hostage, and was subsequently sued by said family for his trouble But in the midst of all this, a new story comes up about a cop who shoots a serial killer that preys on children and Rydell becomes yesterday s news before his story hits the air Trapped in Los Angeles, Rydell again becomes a victim of circumstance and computer hackers as he gets fired and ends up working as a driver for a bounty hunter in San Francisco Chevette Washington lives on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco the suspension side, not the cantilever side it makes a difference in the book She s in her early 20s, a ward of the state who was abandoned by her mother, and who made it from an orphanage in Oregon with barbed wire surrounding it, to NoCal and was taken in by Skinner, an old man who was there when the homeless occupied the bridge In the book, she s lived there for some time and is a bike messenger Some guy at a party she accidentally walked into hit on her in an obnoxious way and she stole a pair of very valuable glasses from him to shut him up These aren t ordinary glasses though They act as both MacGuffin and object through which social commentary on gentrification is dispersed Rydell and Chevette s paths cross And that s what this book is about Intersections Just as the Bay Bridge becomes a living place that used to connect two cities but is now a place where many people s lives connect, we also see what happens when rich and poor meet, when technology and art meet, and when reality and entertainment meet Gibson not only wrote a good story, but could predict things like the rise and fall of the Euro, the use of drones by law enforcement, and the shrinking of the middle class, and make them only passing mentions in this book to add color and background to the story While reading, I saw I had used many of his conventions in stories I have written, but forgotten where they d come from Things like jumping in time chronologically, using objects for something different than they had been intended for, and characters with convoluted pasts dealing with the situations they find themselves in now, are themes I recognize in my writing But ultimately, that s what good writing comes down to You write something that other writers steal without realizing they have stolen it Like the bridge in the story, it all melds together to form a new place, a new setting, and a new way to look at things This look at the future of 2005 helps us to see our present in a new way.
I felt like Gibson created a cool world for the story to take place in, but then just never wrote the story A messenger nabs some VR glasses and gets the help of some ex cop blah who cares He just never got me to care about the characters or their conflicts.
I wanted to hear about the dystopian California states and the fancy VR itself, but then all Gibson wanted to talk about Berry and Chevette.
3 stars purely because of the world Gibson dreamed up, but if you re looking for a good story you should probably try elsewhere.
Not Gibson s best work, but still thoughtful The whole cyberpunk genre is a valuable exploration of ideas about our near future A future within reach of many who are alive today.