Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson

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For me one of the problems with cyberpunk is that it is easy, and not uncommon, for cyberpunk books to become very formulaic; just fill the book with loads of techno-babble and street jargon, keep the pace so fast the reader gets no chance to draw breath, add cool shades and various cranial plugs, some, usually feisty, love interest and generally large amounts of semi-gratuitous violence and you’ve got a cyberpunk book. Now I’m not saying all those characteristics are necessarily bad or wrong but to be a good book there needs to be some balance between those cyberpunk elements and a good story and characters. Gibson’s Neuromancer arguably created this formula and, though I absolutely loved it, in that book the balance is, for me, just a little out. Count Zero gets it a little better and is the better book for it. Mona Lisa Overdrive gets it spot on and is possibly, despite its terribly inconclusive ending, my favourite of the three.

If you have read Neuromancer and Count Zero you could easily believe that they are related only by being set in the same world. They appear to have no real story elements in common to make them part of a trilogy. Mona Lisa Overdrive fixes that by bringing together characters and story elements from each of the previous books, in a story that perfectly balances cyberpunk elements with both excellent characterisation and story. The structure of the story is similar to the others in that there are, in this case, four separate story arcs that appear to have little to do with each other and I remember half way through wondering how they could all manage to come together.

There is Angela Mitchell from Count Zero who is now a burnt out sim star trying to kick drugs; a reclusive ex-con artist sharing space with an equally reclusive, autodidactic console jockey who find themselves sheltering a comatose Count Zero; Mona a very young prostitute who happens to be a close look alike for Angela and finally Kumiko the twelve-year-old daughter of a big Japanese Yakuza who finds herself in the care of Sally (Molly from Neuromancer).

I found myself with two major complaints with this book that dragged it down; the Kumiko thread and the ending. The Kumiko thread felt largely redundant it was given far more space in the book than its contribution to the story deserved and, from a purely plot perspective, could easily have been removed. I felt Gibson was here just pandering to his tendency for Japanese culture worship. However this thread was still a very enjoyable read. The ending though was abrupt and inconclusive and even asked a major question in the final paragraphs; a question that calls into doubt a significant plot element and yet is deliberately not answered. I can sort of see why Gibson does this (but can’t really comment without spoilers) but for me it simply didn’t work and left me feeling unsatisfied at the end despite a fantastic journey getting there.

Overall I found this a less frenetic and more balanced read than the previous books and a better read for it. But it was ultimately let down by the inconclusive ending. However, despite that ending this was still an excellent book and in my opinion the best of three excellent books.

5 / 5 stars
 
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I think Gibson's skill is in placing the techno jargon in such a pace and style that you don't stop to question it. He describes it so sparely and so well that you don't need a massive info dump on the mechanics of 'jacking in'. It's just there, an accepted part of the reality, and you allow suspension of belief.

What you describe as just a loads of techno-babble and street jargon is actually very difficult to pull off coherently.
 
Nice review.

I agree with you about the ending, which is so crass it's difficult to image an author of Gibson's skill put it there. Heigh-ho...
Thanks! And, yes I was a bit gobsmacked at how he could ask a critical question at the end and then effectively announce that it would only get answered off stage. It almost feels like there was another book intended...

I think Gibson's skill is in placing the techno jargon in such a pace and style that you don't stop to question it. He describes it so sparely and so well that you don't need a massive info dump on the mechanics of 'jacking in'. It's just there, an accepted part of the reality, and you allow suspension of belief.

What you describe as just a loads of techno-babble and street jargon is actually very difficult to pull off coherently.
I agree completely Verse, and that's really my point that just having a load of techno-babble and street jargon is not enough; making it coherent as well is a much bigger challenge and one that I felt Gibson got better at with each of these three books.
 

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