Virtual Light (William Gibson 1993)

Virtual Light

Curiously, this is the first William Gibson book I’ve read as oppossed to the more popular Neuromancer. This in part because this book started off as an impulse buy. It was just luck that I found this book first. Seeing that William Gibson is one of the central figures in the cyberpunk genre, I figured it was worth a read. Virtual Light is the first book of the Bridge Trilogy, Gibson’s second cyberpunk trilogy. The book revolves around Chevette Washington, a young bicycle messenger. . She steals a pair of glasses from a man at a party on impulse. However the glasses turn out to be important, as they contain plans to rebuild San Francisco using nanotechnology and as a result they are highly desirable to a number of parties, including Svobodov and Orlovsky, Russian immigrants employed as cops and the corporate hitman Loveless. Chevette quickly finds herself in mortal danger and becomes entangled with former cop Berry Rydell, who is employed by Lucius Warbaby to retrieve the glasses but eventually finds himself conflicted and is forced to choose a side in the conflict.

In terms of characters, I felt like Chevette was a weak protagonist with a weak personality. She was a victim of circumstance and is really just caught in the middle of a larger conflict. What bugs me is that in the end, the most interesting thing in her character arc is her growing relationship with Rydell. Rydell is a touch bit more interesting. A former policemen with a checkered past. Nothing that I haven’t seen before but interesting all the same. Sammy Sal Dupree, Chevette’s  gay best friend, is a character who initially seemed like he was thrown in to create diversity and I didn’t like it when Loveless shot him, leaving me to think he was dead. At the time it reinforced a belief that Gibson wanted to add him in for the sake of diversity but didn’t actually know what to do with him. Gibson saved himself by revealing Dupree to have survived the gunshot, but the event left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth and still left me wondering if Gibson treated him as little more than a plot device.

The book is not very long so I felt it strange that Gibson would devote a subplot to the character Shinya Yamazaki. Even as the novel ended I didn’t see how the subplot intersected with the main plot, and served no purpose but to reinforce the book’s themes. I believe that subplots in works, particularly standalone works, should in some way intersect with the main plot before the work ends, whether that be near the start or during the climax. Hence I couldn’t help but feel that Yamazaki’s subplot was a waste of time, since every chapter of his deviated from the main plot and never really reconciled itself with it. Every other point of view character eventually becomes involved in the main plot, so it would have been an improvement if they managed to tie Yamazaki’s subplot back to the main plot in a stronger fashion beyond shared themes.

As a whole the book had its moments, and a few of the point of view characters had an unusual voice in their chapters. The web of corruption was interesting to unravel but to be honest I was a apathetic to the fact that nearly everyone in a position of authority was corrupt in some way. This is partially a gripe I have against traditional cyberpunk as a whole, and William Gibson did codify a lot of the tropes. Yet I can’t shake the impression that Gibson’s world no longer reflects reality. Good and bad people exist on all ends of society. I liked reading it but I couldn’t shake the impression that something was missing. I still have yet to read Neuromancer so I can’t say how the two compare, but as my first William Gibson novel I found Virtual Light somewhat disappointing, though still decent in its own way.

SCORE: 3.5/5

IN A WORD: DREARY

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