Friday 25 November 2011

Virtual Light

(November 2011)

‘They shouldn’t oughta said that. About Godzilla, I mean.’
Yamazaki found himself blinking up at the earnest face of the girl behind the counter.
‘I’m sorry?’
‘They shouldn’t oughta said that. About Godzilla. They shouldn’t oughta laughed. We had our earthquakes here, you didn’t laugh at us.’

This is the first part of Gibson’s Bridge trilogy, which is something I wish I’d know before I read the other two parts (Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties). But it’s been so long since I did that I've long forgotten any spoilers they might have contained. That’s a relief, eh?

Scarily, this book is almost two decades old now, and there’s always something slightly jarring about reading SF novels set in the near future from the recent past, because we’re in that future now, or maybe it’s even in the past of our present.


With stuff that’s obviously of another time it’s far easier to process the failed predictions or lack of novelty of the ‘new’. Nemo’s use of electricity as this magical new force in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea springs to mind. But with stuff that’s supposed to be happening now it’s harder to suspend that disbelief. Faxes in cars and buildings which can grow themselves somehow both co-existing as peaks of technological sophistication.

This isn’t Gibson’s fault, of course; all SF authors are hostage to progress to some extent. I saw Peter Hamilton do a book reading once and he said his solution was to ‘black box’ everything; don’t explain how it works, it’s just a thing which does a thing. Accept it. Gibson’s braver than that, as you’d expect from the man who invented cyberspace, and more power to him.

We also get another spunky counter-culture heroine, which again has lost something of its novelty over the decades, and a glorious example of the villain monologuing to fill in some key plot points. Still, it trips along at a fair old pace and it’s nice to actually get some help with working out what all the new vocabulary means (in one of those spooky little coincidences a minor character actually name-checks Blood Meridian). It’s an interesting and enjoyable exercise in world building and I’ll probably revisit the other two books sometime soon.


  1. I tried to read "Neuromancer", but got fed up with the things you listed:
    - "slightly jarring about reading SF novels set in the near future from the recent past"
    - "another spunky counter-culture heroine"
    - "monologuing to fill in some key plot points"
    - and of course, the Internet is not now like he described then

    It's poor writing choices that keeps giving SF a bad name, although it can reach grander heights. SF is philosophy, or anthropology, by extreme example: put humans in an exaggerated universe to tease out the essence of who we are. For that to work the writing has to be good, human behaviour believable, and the SF universe internally consistent: the first two seasons of the new "Galactica" come to mind (until the writing went to hell), as does Stanisław Lem's "Solaris". The most impressive thing about "Solaris" is how much an alien world is... alien: unknowable.

  2. I forget where, but I once read something which said that thrillers are basically about plot, 'literary' novels about character, and SF about ideas. Philip K Dick is normally held up as an example of someone with amazing ideas but not much actual writing ability.

    I think Gibsons' actually a pretty good writer, but some of the stuff hasn't age well. It's so commonplace now it's past pastiche, like how they had to give James Bond a 'gritty reboot' because Austin Powers the killed old version so effectively. I'd rather he took these risks and they didn't come off instead of not taking them at all. And like Jules Verne, maybe in another few decades it'll be so obviously outdated it'll be easier to read

  3. "‘They shouldn’t oughta said that."

    LOL. Reminds me of a Brian Regan skit....think this is it??

    sorry for the off topic response..I'll be back on target soon!

  4. Sorry for being off topic? You've read this blog, right? If I'm allowed to include links to Disney movies in a post about cyber-punk I think we can cut you some slack with the stand-up ;)

    "Trying to eat your snack while your elbows are touching"

    That's why I always get the 'asian style' meal. It's all going to taste awful anyway, but you can at least use chopsticks with only one hand.

  5. Sorry to necro an old thread but I love the William Gibson and want to make some defences.

    1. Neuromancer (also the start of a trilogy) was written in 1983 and what's happened is that in our minds newer material has overlaid it so it seems much less fresh than it did at the time.

    2. Despite being billed as SF, a lot of Gibson's work is a commentary on current society. The rust belt cities of Count Zero, for example, mirror the real social development (disintegration) of industrial America during the 70s and 80s. Bits of technology and sociology mentioned in the novels are contemporary. The urine solidying gel in the nightclub in Idoru is an actual Japanese product you can buy in supermarket.

    3. In some cases, history has finally caught up. A lot of Americans did laugh at the Japanese after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, and call it revenge for Pearl Harbour.

    In these respects

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by. No apologies necessary for the tread-necro. It's nice that people are taking the time to browse the archives.

      I think, though, that you've maybe misinterpreted what I've written a little bit. While I wouldn't say I 'love' Gibson, I've certainly got a lot of time for him, and this wasn't meant to be a negative write-up (overall, at least). To take your points in order-

      1. Absolutey, that's always going to happen. That's why I mentioned Jules Verne. It's not the writer's fault, of course, but it is an occupational hazard of 'near-future' writing. Acknowledging its effect on the reader doesn't (necessarily) mean I'm having a go a the author.

      2. Absolutely. Again, quite a lot of SF is. By creating artificial worlds authors are able to more fully explore social issues by painting them in bolder colours. China Mieville springs immediately to mind. I've only read the first two 'Bigend' novels (Count Zero is on the shelf), but they're not really hard SF in the way the Bridge novels are, so hopefully won't fall foul of the march of progress in quite the same way.

      3. Absolutely. I didn't choose the opening quote at random, you know ;)

      It's great that you care about this stuff, and I'm glad you felt you could comment (genuinely), but you seem to be defending Gibson against attacks I've not really made. To my mind at least.