Monday, July 01, 2024

the last book I read

Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson.

Kumiko Yanaka is just like any normal teenager, really: Snapchatting, squeezing spots, being hastily packed off to London by her father, a high-ranking yakuza boss, lest she become a kidnapping (or worse) target in the gang war that's about to break out in Japan. 

Kumiko ends up in the house of, and under the protection of, one Roger Swain, apparently indebted to her father and therefore motivated to keep her safe, but to an external observer a bit of a dodgy-seeming character himself, and with a few other suspicious characters on his payroll, notably Sally Shears, who gets assigned the job of keeping an eye on Kumiko. Sally has mirrored lens implants instead of eyes and a general air of simmering dangerousness, and of being a bit of a loose cannon not necessarily inclined to do Swain's exact bidding.

Meanwhile, in a warehouse in a former landfill site in New Jersey, Slick Henry and his mates are taking a delivery - not your usual couple of Amazon parcels, this one is a comatose man shackled to, and wired into, a giant block of computer hardware.

Meanwhile, in a beach house in Malibu, Angie Mitchell, the world's foremost simstim star (basically immersive virtual reality films), is having some time to herself after getting off a pretty brutal drug habit, and contemplating a return to film-making.

Meanwhile, Mona lies in bed in her slum bedroom in Florida after another hard day getting pimped out to various punters by her boyfriend, Eddy. It's grim and dangerous work, but it pays the rent, and her recounting the tales of what the punters make her get up to is the only way old Eddy can get it up these days.

So if you've been paying attention, and have ever read a book before, you'll expect that these threads will start to come together and interweave as the story progresses. Now read on, etc.

So firstly Eddy returns very excited from a meeting with a prospective business associate: he's made a deal for a substantial amount of money and all Mona has to do is travel to this private clinic and submit to a full medical examination, all strictly above board and definitely not suspicious at all. 

Readers who are doing things in the prescribed order and have read Neuromancer and Count Zero will already know Angie Mitchell from Count Zero - daughter of a prominent bioscientist who fitted her with some state-of-the-art cranial bio-implants (which enable her to access cyberspace without having to plug any wires into anything) before arranging her escape from the clutches of the mega-corporation he was employed by. Unfettered access to cyberspace turns out to be a two-way street, though, and Angie is plagued by visitations from various self-aware AI entities which appear to take the form of Haitian voodoo gods.

In a further echo of Count Zero, the comatose guy entrusted to Slick's care turns out to be Bobby Newmark, Count Zero himself and Angie's former boyfriend. And in a callback to Neuromancer, Sally Shears turns out to be that book's principal female protagonist Molly Millions. The fate of her ex-partner Case, expert cyber-jockey and Neuromancer's other main protagonist, is unclear.

That's all very cute, but what's actually going on? Well, Mona's visit to the mysterious clinic provides a clue - she wakes up after surgery to find that she's been surgically altered - some face work, new teeth, new tits - to resemble Angie Mitchell. But why? Barely any time to contemplate this as Sally Shears arrives, beats the shit out of various medical people and the goons minding Mona, and bundles her into a car. Not long after this, following some more ass-kicking courtesy of Sally, Mona is joined by the actual Angie Mitchell and they speed off to a rendezvous in New Jersey, guided by Angie's voodoo gods. They arrive shortly after some other interested parties - interested specifically in Bobby Newmark and the entity he's wired into - arrive and start killing people. Fortunately Angie has special connections both to the voodoo entities and to Bobby, and equally fortunately Sally/Molly is a one-woman ass-kicking machine, and the other parties are swiftly rubbed out, in time for some stuff to play out which might give a small amount of insight into What The Hell Is Going On.

So: Bobby has been using his bespoke cyberspace rig to investigate the appearance of a new and mysterious entity in cyberspace - the rig having been acquired, not entirely legitimately, from the legendary and insane Tessier-Ashpool family, whose sole survivor, 3Jane, a wholly cyberspace entity these days following the demise of her physical self, has taken the whole thing quite badly and hatched plans for various acts of revenge, including the kidnap of Angie Mitchell and the planting of Mona's body (augmented to look like Angie) to make it look as if she'd died. At the same time the voodoo entities (you'll remember I'm sure that these are the avatars of the various fragmentary remains of the merged single AI that was created at the end of Neuromancer) have become aware of the new artifact and have concluded that it is the handiwork of yet another AI, this one a representative of a wholly alien civilisation. Bobby and Angie, now freed from their physical bodies, head off within cyberspace to seek out the new arrivals.

This is the third book in the Sprawl trilogy (or the Neuromancer trilogy, take your pick). Standard sequelitis means it isn't as good as either of its predecessors, largely because the plot doesn't really make sense. In particular, while the alien incursion into cyberspace is easy enough to grasp (it's a theme used, with a twist, in a few other works including Excession), the whole thing about the plot to kidnap Angie Mitchell and the nature of the Tessier-Ashpool family's involvement is just baffling (especially since, as this lengthy analysis points out, the whole bit involving planting Mona's body assumes a future world where DNA analysis doesn't exist). Sure, it gives Sally/Molly an excuse to kick some ass, and maybe that's good enough. Kumiko's role is all a bit confusing as well, being seemingly just required to facilitate the stitching together of some otherwise unrelated plot strands but not otherwise actually, you know, do anything.

The beauty of Gibson's writing, though, is that this doesn't particularly matter. Again, like Count Zero, this is more of a wham-bam futuristic thriller than Neuromancer, with much less focus on the inner-space world of the cyber-jockeys, but that's fine. As always, if you start with Neuromancer and then just read as many of the sequels as you feel inclined to, that'd be fine. 

No comments: