VIRTUAL LIGHT – William Gibson (1993)

Virtual LightI was disappointed with the highly acclaimed Neuromancer, but I thought Gibson nonetheless had an interesting way with words, so I decided to give another one of his novels a chance. Virtual Light is mostly set in San Francisco, and is mainly a thriller about a bike courier that steals high-tech sunglasses with important data on them and finds herself chased by the male protagonist and an assortment of goons, dirty cops and a hit-man with gold canine teeth.

The cyberpunk/sci-fi component isn’t that important actually, and serves more as a backdrop. The Time Out reviewer that’s quoted on the back and claimed that VL is “studded with crackling insights into the relationship between technology, culture and morality” is no stranger to hyperbole: both ‘crackling’ and ‘studded’ seem stretched. Gibson took a risk of writing this book in a 2006 setting, only 13 years after its publication date. In hindsight, that risk didn’t pay off, since Gibson is totally off with nearly every prediction in this book – technologically too optimistic, and socially (much) too pessimistic. At times unbelievable and cartoonish too, with stuff like the Adult Survivors of Satan, the idolatry of an ex-con that provided the cure for AIDS, a cult that believes god resides in reruns of old movies, etc.

Virtual Light has the same gritty, dystopian vibe as Neuromancer, and Gibson still is mainly showing and hardly any telling, with short sentences and realistic, elliptic dialogue, but it all is a bit less dense. As such, I liked it a lot better, and the story got me hooked quickly. After about 2 thirds in though, the mysterious promise that the sunglasses held quickly dissolved. When it became clear why they were so wanted, I lost nearly all interest in the story and the characters. So, in the end, VL turned out to be disappointing too. Still, I’m not ready to fully give up on Gibson.

tl;dr: the language and the mood is excellent, the story not so much.

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3 responses to “VIRTUAL LIGHT – William Gibson (1993)

  1. Yes, I’ve always said that Gibson has obvious problems with plotting and should stick to short stories, or even more avant-garde plotless writing in the vein of Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City. He doesn’t seem to be interested in doing that, however, even though he is probably in a situation where he can do whatever the hell he likes.
    Neuromancer aside, my favorite Gibson novel is probably Idoru, since it sits comfortably in the middle of the Bridge trilogy, so nothing much needs to be explained there and the focus is on descriptions and evocations. With The Peripheral, his latest, I completely dug the entirely incomprehensible, entirely beautiful language of the first quarter, but after that, plot predigtably took precedence. (I think part of the problem with Gibson’s later novels lies in the fact that the important background of the story and its ideological implications seem to be either well-hidden or hand-waved, while a lot of things of secondary importance are clearly spelled out in a way that feels clumsy.)

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    • I’m not sure what to read next of Gibson, I was thinking one of his later novels. I’m not sure if well-hidden ideology is a bad thing – often I feel it works better if a writer isn’t obviously preaching. The parts in Virtual Light on the planned redevelopment of San Fransisco and the criminality surrounding it read as too obvious criticism on corporate capitalism.

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      • >I’m not sure if well-hidden ideology is a bad thing

        We agree here, I’ve not expressed myself well – it’s just that I find the balance between the subtle and the less subtle in some of Gibson’s work a bit puzzling.

        Liked by 1 person

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