Cyndy Aleo's Reviews > Virtual Light

Virtual Light by William Gibson
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May 21, 11

did not like it
bookshelves: sci-fi

A huge William Gibson fan, I honest have to say I had never read anything of his, from short stories to novels, that I ever truly hated. When Virtual Light was released back in 1993, I was there within the week to pay full retail for the hardcover and devour it with my usual relish. By the third paragraph, I realized I wasn't reading the usual Gibson novel, and by the time I was halfway through, I was pretty darn sure that I would never re-read the book. Well, never say never, because I've been ill and not able to do much other than read lately, and am trying to read more books to free through BookCrossing. I had truly forgotten everything about Virtual Light, but struggled through just to say I'd read it again before freeing it.

::: NoCal and SoCal, or Gibson As Done By John Jakes :::

Virtual Light is set in 2005, which may have seemed a long way off back in 1993, but makes the book even more painful when you read it "in the present." In Gibson's 2005, California is actually two separate entities: NoCal and SoCal, and the Golden Gate Bridge is little more than an elaborate junkyard civilization comprised of homeless people. We meet our two main characters, Berry Rydell and Chevette Washington, in two very different situations. Berry, a former police officer who was fired for killing a man holding his family hostage, is working as a private security guard when he and his partner are sent out on an assignment and authorized to use deadly force. Chevette is a bicycle messenger who ends up at a party and steals what appear to be a pair of sunglasses from an arrogant partygoer just because he annoyed her.

Of course, this being Gibson, Rydell learns that the communications system was hacked and there really was no need to drive the company-issued SUV through the house they were responding to, and Chevette learns that the sunglasses are more than just sunglasses, wanted by people willing to kill to get them back.

As Rydell accepts a freelance job to pay the rent and Chevette goes on the run after she and a friend from work are attacked for the glasses, the two characters end up working together, which of course, you expected all along. What the glasses are, why everyone wants them so badly, and how Chevette and Rydell get out of the mess they find themselves in is so convoluted and trite that you'll find yourself groaning as you turn each page.

::: When Gibson Isn't Gibson :::

There were so many things wrong with Virtual Light that I almost didn't know where to begin. Gibson, of course, is best known for his novel Neuromancer, the father of all cyberpunk novels. With Virtual Light, he hits way too close to the present for the story to be very believable. The concept of the bridge as a sort of homeless camp set up after an earthquake decimates the area just seems a bit too cutesy and contrived, and the use of a sociology student studying life on the bridge as an expository method seems like a failed lesson right out of Fiction Writing 101.

Gibson's characters are drawn so thinly that not only can the reader not muster up the desire to care about them, I don't think he did either. Chevette's boyfriend is a caricature, placed only as a plot device, and in such an obvious way as to say "Hey! Look at me! You'll see my use later!" Silly little props like a business card Rydell gets during the backstory are such obvious plants that I was almost wondering if they were paid product placement.

As you can imagine, the plot plods along like a dot-to-dot picture. Gibson plops down points A, B, and C, which we will later join up with points D, E, and F, most of the time, in the exact order in which they were presented. Rydell meets an annoying woman on the plane, and OF COURSE they run into her later. Rydell's partner belonged to a religious sect who believes God is in reruns of old movies on television, and of course, they come into play later on. As do the hackers. It's so predictable that instead of anticipating a big climax, you find yourself falling asleep at the end, just wondering when it will all be over.

Virtual Light would have been a disappointing read no matter who the author was, but the fact that it is Gibson makes it a staggering disappointment.

This review originally published on Epinions: http://www.epinions.com/review/Book_V...
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