cover image Virtual Light

Virtual Light

William Gibson. Bantam Books, $21.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-553-07499-4

In his first solo novel in five years, Gibson ( Neuromancer ) hasn't entirely left his cyberpunk baggage behind, but he has brought his vision closer to home. It's California, circa 2005: the rich are even richer and the poor, of course, poorer; the Medellin crime cartels move not only drugs but illicit data; the Reverend Fallon preaches a television-worshipping religion; and legions of the homeless have seized San Francisco's Bay Bridge and turned it into a bizarre, jury-rigged shantytown. As in his previous novels, Gibson's plot is very simple. Chevette Washington, a bicycle courier, impulsively steals a pair of ``virtual light'' glasses that feeds images directly to the optic nerve, not realizing that it contains extremely valuable secret data that its owners will stop at nothing to recover. Rent-a-cop Berry Rydell loses his job due to a hacker's prank, so he teams up with Lucius Warbaby to track the stolen shades, only slowly realizing that Warbaby and his former employers are tied in with the evil corporate scheme revealed by the glasses. The plot is not the point here; it's Gibson's ability to create a world that distinguishes his work and has made him not just a rising science fiction star but a genuine cultural phenomenon. He has his finger on the pulse of popular culture and social trends; he molds a near-future world more frighteningly possible than that of any other recent writer. Although the happy ending seems a bit too happy for this grim environment, this novel's viscerally convincing dystopia should confirm Gibson's reputation as one of science fiction's chief visionaries. (Aug.)