Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) by William Gibson

“The Angie stims were sealed in plastic. She took one at random, slit the wrapper with her thumbnail, slotted it, and put the trodes on. She wasn’t thinking; her hands seemed to know what to do, […]. One of them touched PLAY and she slid into the Angie-world, pure as any drug, slow saxophone and limo-glide through some European city, …” (p.143)

 

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Art by Daniel Brown.  Gollancz 2017 edition

The third book in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, Mona Lisa Overdrive continues the story of Angie Mitchell, one of the characters from the second book Count Zero. It is set a few years later than the events of the second Sprawl book. Angie is now a famous “simstim” star, and we join her post detox clinic in a beach house in Malibu.

“The doctors at the clinic had used chemical pliers to pry the addiction away from receptor sites in her brain.” (p.18)

 

As well as Angie’s story, the narrative follows three other plot threads. The first introduces Kumiko, the young daughter of a Japanese yakuza boss. The second thread features an artist known as Slick Henry who lives out in the sticks in a place called “Factory”. The remaining plotline focuses on Mona, a young prostitute who resembles simstim star Angie. As in the previous book, Gibson takes us on a journey through cyberspace as he skillfully weaves together the four narratives.

“It wasn’t like the not-caring of the stillness, the crystal overdrive, and it wasn’t like crashing, just this past-it feeling, the way maybe a ghost feels.” (p.293)

 

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Art by Steve Crisp

Mona Lisa Overdrive is close to being the best book of the trilogy. It feels more accessible than both Neuromancer and Count Zero, but that is probably due to a kind of unconscious acclimation from having read the first two books. We have become familiar with this incredible world, but it still takes effort to follow Gibson’s striking language and ideas. His writing style is hard to define; all I know is that at times it flows off the page like an electric current, plugging us into the matrix.

“People jacked in so they could hustle. Put the trodes on and they were out there, all the data in the world stacked up like one big neon city, so you could cruise around and have a kind of grip on it, visually anyway,” (p.16)

 

In what is becoming a bit of a theme with Gibson’s books, Mona Lisa Overdrive requires your undivided attention to get the most out of it. It is helped by having such well-realized characters who each make you care about their fictional lives. It is also refreshing to find such well-written female characters in a book of this genre, penned by a male author. I would be interested to hear what any female readers of the Sprawl trilogy think about these characters, as well as the individual books. As you can no doubt surmise, I am a BIG fan of Gibson now and am keen to read more.

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Japanese edition

At this point in time, I’m unsure if I will be able to complete my twelve-books-in-twelve-months William Gibson Read-Along 2017. Burning Chrome, Neuromancer, Count Zero, and now Mona Lisa Overdrive have all been brilliant reads. I know it’s difficult to commit to such optimistic reading challenges, and if anyone out there is keeping up, RESPECT! The next book is 1990’s The Difference Engine, co-written with Bruce Sterling.

Mona Lisa Overdrive, along with the first two Sprawl books, is highly recommended!

 

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