Dan Sandman

07: Virtual Light by William Gibson

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 13/02/2015 at 12:00 pm

Virtual Light by William GibsonIn an interview for Wired magazine, the American-Canadian novelist William Gibson (1948 – ) quipped that science fiction writers are “almost always wrong.” And yet, Gibson himself has been nearly spot-on (almost right) with quite a few skeptical predictions regarding this crazy internet age that we surf in. In his debut novel Neuromancer (1984), he predicted the internet, inventing the word ‘cyberspace’ to rightly described this World Wide Web as a “consensual hallucination […] experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation.”

Virtual Light (1993), the first part of the Bridge Trilogy, is a noir techno-thriller based in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ex-cop Berry Rydell and bike messenger Chevette Washington get caught up in a thrill-ride, running away from bent cops and an assassin called Loveless. The story hurtles along at great pace, freely flicking perspective, and often leaving readers overloaded with information. Thematically speaking, all the Gibsonian hallmarks – sub-cultural norms, postmodern realities, evil corporations, voyeuristic television and surveillance, gated societies divided along poverty lines – are treated with his usual imitable style, mixing a carefree flamboyance with an understated simplicity.

As you might have guessed, I’m a William Gibson fan, and if you’d have popped into Primrose Hill Community Library (my local) this week, you might have seen me engrossed, sitting in a comfy red leather chair, sometimes laughing and sometimes scratching my head, but always turning pages and always enjoying this thrill-ride book. Gibson has been criticised for coming across as “adolescent”, particular because he uses graphic violence and colloquial vulgarity to entertain the reader. But when I was a teenager reading Star Wars books every night before bed, growing up in what would become the ‘age of the internet’, Neuromancer got me excited about words in a new way. In those formative years, William Gibson turned my love of science fiction into a love of literature. That was before James Joyce, before John Keats and all the rest. Revisiting Gibson now, I can admire his technical wizardry, marvel at his almost poetic prose, and appreciate his great imaginative capabilities.

Science fiction and literature at its fully engrossing best.


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