Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the third (and final) entry in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, the books which established the appearance of cyberspace. Really, however the internet is imagined, the roots of pop-culture’s interpretation are here. What I’ve found interesting reading these years later is how unimportant the cyberspace part of the stories are. Well, perhaps not unimportant – but less central than the rep would have you believe.
What’s important in these stories? People. Sure, information, hacking, breaking ice, constructed personalities and visualisation is a key draw – this is science fiction after all – but what pulls the attention is the personal side of the tale. Nowhere is Gibson’s portraiture more profound than in the matter-of-fact description of addiction, of walling-off of the self which informs prostitute Mona’s life. It’s grim stuff, technology just backing boards for a shitty situation – little more than slavery – which has existed for centuries.
The character of Kumiko is an interesting one, as she provides the first extended Japanese focus of the series. Sure, there’s always been Japan in the background – that neo-Tokyo, futurist-and-traditional-blended thing going on, but this is the first time it’s been more than window-dressing. She’s instilled with a hardness – the daughter of Yakuza stock would probably be thus – but also a delicacy which is appealing, and deeply human.
Gibson’s usual tactic of pulling together a couple of main characters in ways which aren’t apparent until story’s end is again a feature here, except it feels more portentous as he brings back characters from across the series – including a Neuromancer staple. Count Zero? Oh, he’s here, just not how you’d expect. Gibson’s narrative ropes in some of the key concepts of earlier books – the long shadow of family clans, of spirituality, of the ghost in the machine and of the lengths corporations will go to to protect their investments – and while it doesn’t exactly sparkle the way the previous instalments did, it is a hell of a ride.
Once again, Gibson’s rep as some SF technowizard takes focus from the fact that his tense plotting is first cousin to the muscular intrigues of a Ludlum or a Clancy. They’re just neon shrouded here. Popcorn? Indeed, but popcorn with some deeper questions, if you care to look.