Book review: Idoru

Idoru.Idoru by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second in Gibson’s Bridge trilogy is much more enjoyable than the first. Well, scratch that – it’s enjoyable in a different way. I found it entertaining as one of its characters is demonstrably based on Australian standover man and garrulous toecutter Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read, which immediately gave me a cultural ‘in’ on the work. But also of importance, for me, was its focus on pop fame, and the construction of identity.

As ever, Gibson is a thriller author concealed in tech. He’s adventure by stealth, and this examination of fandom and identity is a crackingly brisk read. The usual skillful sketches are here: whether he’s writing of band members, shady underworld figures or of fangirls playing tough, there’s plenty of believable detail.

Idoru sees the author exploring identity and reality. It’s proper sci-fi stuff – can computerised life ever merge with us meat-sacks? Could a guy marry an AI? What’s involved in having a relationship with an idoru – a digital idol, a computer creation of a human? How does this singularity come about – and will people ever be happy with it? Certainly, there’s characters in the novel who aren’t too crash hot on the idea. It’s an interesting spin on one of Gibson’s previous concerns – tech as voodoo – though here, vodoun is reduced to a couple of misnomers – Sam Eddy, anyone? – perhaps a wry statement on the transience of belief, of the way appearances can be forgotten.

The story of the idoru and her boy-band boyfriend is paralleled by the story of Laney, who experiences the intimacy of information in the search of nodal points. The difference is that the information surrounding individuals isn’t parsed, in Laney’s case, into a humanoid form as it is with the idoru – it’s raw and unmediated. It’s a portrait of acquaintance by immersion, about how we learn to make relationships based on interpretation of data. Though they seem very different, Laney and Rez are experiencing the same effect, albeit from different angles.

Body horror makes an appearance too: in the creepy movements of nanotech buildings and the movement of contraband devices. The reader is confronted, as with the idoru with things which are alive, but aren’t. It’s unsettling, as you’d expect a visit to the Uncanny Valley (via Tokyo) to be.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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