Where Reality Is Just Another Bad Dream: William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive

Cover art copyright © 1989 by Will Gormier. Copyright © 1988 by William Gibson.

In Neuromancer, he gave us a data heist by hackers and mercenaries.  In Count Zero, he gave us a new generation of hackers, mercenaries, and art dealers trying to unravel a corporate conspiracy.  And in the final book of his “Sprawl trilogy,” William Gibson gives us yet another ragtag band as they resolve the intricate plots of new corporate conspirators and a few AI, some of whom may be the virtual ghosts of actual human beings.

Confused?  Don’t worry, it’s just the hip and happening cyberpunk world of Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Just as in Count Zero, where there were three storylines to follow, in Mona Lisa, we get four different storylines, all bound together by select individuals and occurrences and all of which converge by the end.  The storylines are based around the following characters and events:

  • Kumiko Yanaka, the young daughter of an oyabun, or Japanese mob boss, who is sent to England for her protection, where she encounters a mercenary named Sally Shears, later revealed to be Molly Millions from the first story.
  • Slick Henry, an ex-convict living in an abandoned factory in the middle of nowhere who’s given the responsibility of looking after an older Bobby Newmark, now plugged into his own simulacrum of reality.
  • Angie Mitchell, a former victim-turned-Sense/Net celebrity who suffers from visions from the “loa” and finds herself at the center of a conspiracy by Lady 3Jane, the last descendent of the decrepit Tessier-Ashpool clan.
  • Mona, a sixteen-year-old girl and occasional drug addict who’s just trying to get by, but gets caught up in the same conspiracy as her idol, Angie Mitchell.

The story jumps fast through these storylines, and one really has to pay close attention to catch everything that’s being said and done.  But I found that, despite my initial skepticism, these storylines do link together far more closely than they seemed to in Count Zero.  And since this is the last book of a trilogy, the plot threads of previous stories–like Mitchell’s biochip visions and the merger of two AI in Neuromancer–are given some resolution.

I know some readers might call the whole book a mind screw and I don’t mean to spoil things when I say that the end involves some of the cast “ascending” to a new life inside cyberspace, but the whole process is well set-up and comes off beautifully at the end.  It is a story of romance and maturity, of intrigue and revenge, of ghosts that never die and scars that never fade.  It is raw with blood, tears, and silicon, but it is wonderful all the same.

Bibliography: Gibson, William.  Mona Lisa Overdrive.  New York: Bantam Books, 1988.

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