Virtual Light
By William Gibson

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Rating: Terrific!
3.5 Stars

First Published: 1993
US Jacket Illustration © 1993 Don Brautigam 
Pages: 323

Review © 2009 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Science Fiction, Cyberpunk, Noir Thriller



William Gibson pioneered the cyberpunk genre of science fiction with his justly famous trilogy headlined by Neuromancer.  In my opinion, Virtual Light surpasses his earlier novels, which is not an easy feat.  This book has a lot more action in the real world than in cyberspace which is a plus for me because I love the gritty noir post-modern world that Gibson paints.

Virtual Light is set in 2005 which was futuristic at the time it was written, 1993.  Gibson should have set the date to somewhere around 2020.  An even better idea would be to indicate that it is set about a decade in the future from the present time of the reader.

Gibson envisions a postmodern world where the information age has replaced the industrial age.  With this future so close to our own, the technology is not nearly as far advanced as in other cyberpunk genre novels like Gibson’s earlier works.  California has been separated into NoCal and SoCal, a logical split when you consider the vastly different attitudes of southern and northern Californians.  The San Francisco Bay Bridge has been closed after an earthquake and has been taken over by the homeless who have transformed the bridge into a combination of low income housing and post-modern art. 

The characters in this novel are two of the best Gibson has created.  Chevette is a young streetwise bicycle messenger who steels a pair of glasses that turn out to be much more valuable than she could have imagined.  Rydell is an ex cop who is given the task to find Chevette and recover the glasses.  Both characters are very likable and both have flaws that just make them more interesting and realistic.

Gibson creates a fast paced thriller as every chapter leads to new discoveries or new mysteries.  There’s a lot of humor which I really enjoyed and the technology is very believable.  For a good introduction to the cyberpunk genre where you won’t get overwhelmed with technology, read Virtual Light.  Then if you want to jump into a much more far future imagining of a world gone virtual, read Neuromancer.