STRIPPED of their futuristic hardware and software and of their dystopian settings, William Gibson's novels and stories are, for the most part, straightforward adventure tales of the sort that have long appealed to adolescent readers, particularly boys. Gibson's new novel, Virtual Light (Seal Books, 325 pages, $24.95 cloth), offers more of the same.
Chevette Washington, a young bicycle courier who lives in an anarchistic community built atop the obsolete Bay Bridge, steals a pair of "virtual light" glasses, which contain the details of an insidious plan to redevelop San Francisco. In the company of Berry Rydell, an ex-cop on the run, Chevette is pursued by a variety of ruthless men. Inevitably, Chevette and Berry turn the tables on their pursuers, and good triumphs, more or less, over evil.
However, it is the hardware and the software, as well as Gibson's unique ability to reveal and explode the structures of contemporary society, that distinguish his writing from other work in this genre. Set in the year 2005, when information technology is controlled by invisible multinational cartels and the poor are either outlaws or religious fanatics numbed by television, Virtual Light offers a dark, if occasionally satirical, view of the future we have already entered.
Yamazaki, a Japanese sociology student, notes: "We are come not only past the century's closing .... but to the end of something else.... Everywhere, the signs of closure." It is this "end of something" that Gibson's writing mourns, while, at the same time, it is "feeling for the new thing's strange heart." In many ways, Virtual Light is Gibson's finest work since Neuromancer, a novel that not only predicted the present but also shaped it.