I was a bit disappointed with the 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 a thriller about a bike courier that accidentally 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 writing this book with a 2006 setting, only 13 years after its publication date. In hindsight, that risk didn’t pay off, as 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 mainly shows and hardly tells, with short sentences and realistic, elliptic dialogue – albeit 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. Burning Chrome is next on the list.
tl;dr: the language and the mood is excellent, the story not so much.