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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 16 May 2003
Having read the other reviews of Virtual Light I felt it best to throw in my pennies worth. First, lets all just agree that William Gibson is a great SF writer. NO, just agree, it'll be easier.
Lets also say that Virtual Light is not the best place to start. Most of his books are set in the same near-future setting, and interweave delicately with each other: part of the fun of reading a new Gibson novel is spotting the characters from previous works who occaisionally pop their heads into the plot, either for a guest appearance or for a more starring role (anyone who's read them will remember Molly, in all her incarnations, as being one of the most memorable...). But that's just the point. Unless you've read all of them, starting at Virtual Light might be too much effort. Start at the beginning, with 'Neuromancer', which is, on it's own, both one of the finest cyberpunk novels ever written and the ideal starting point to get to grips with Gibson's writing style.
The first Gibson book I read was Virtual Light, and I have to agree with one of the other reviews here: at the time, it seemed rushed, too flaky, too insubstantial to take in. Then I read Neuromancer, realized they were something of a series, and got the lot. I have now read them all, and while they do vary in content and quality, they all have a particular fast-paced atmosphere that reveals him as an accomplished author. Virtual Light suffers in the same way as Count Zero: if read as part of the whole, they are each a wonderful, engaging dip into Gibson's intricate near future; strange, twisted tales of losers and winners wound round the plots and concepts that will draw fans in further and further...if read on their own, they may seem too distant, so take my advice and START AT THE BEGINNING!!!
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on 18 October 2000
As I read the first couple of chapters I nearly gave up on the book. I even thought it was a series of short stories because it jumped about so much. But I read on and was rewarded by a story that absorbed me so much I was truly sorry when it ended. Looking at some of the other reviews, all I can say is persevere - and the glasses are explained at the end.
The characterisation is excellent and believable - take the journey!
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Virtual Light is set in a near future San Francisco and has an ordinary plot whereby someone gets hold of an item they shouldn't have, and people in power want it back.
In this case it is a pair of sunglasses that have the ability to display virtual light - an overlay on normal vision. Not that the sunglasses matter much, they just give an excuse for big people to chase the little people.
The story, you will gather, is nothing to get excited about, and you will find pacier and more gripping thrillers elsewhere.
What rescues it as a novel is Gibson's vision of the future - not the science, but the society. Power is held by the Corporates, society is fragmented and many people have fallen through the cracks into a sub-culture.
It is close enough to the present to be believable, and Gibson provides vivid descriptions to help you visualise this fractured future.
I shame then, that the story itself isn't very good.
Three stars.
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on 30 April 2000
I found Virtual Light to be a better read than the other Gibson books I have read. The story flows better and I can identifiy more with the characters than I could in his previous novels. The only-a-bit in the future setting is interesting, and there were a lot of clever ideas in the book. Some points could have done with more developement however, for example it wasn't really explained very well why the damn glasses were so important in the first place. All in all though, a very good read.
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HALL OF FAMEon 31 January 2006
Reading a Gibson novel is an act of faith. He weaves seemingly tenuous threads into a vivid plot. Don't expect to fully comprehend where you're going until you're well into his story. Looking at the last pages doesn't help, either. Let him carry you through the story. It's worth the effort. Gibson's characterizations are peerless, even though so many of his people seem outlandish in our perception. His eye for the future is unmatched. Harlan Ellison's dictum that "SF" means "speculative fiction" and not "science fiction" finds its greatest expression in Gibson's works. This book, which became the introduction to a trilogy, is a fine example of all these elements.
Berry Rydell was a Tennessee copper. Caught up in bizarre circumstances while "protecting the public," he becomes a Cop In Trouble. If policemen today think "political correctness" has impaired their effectiveness, wait until they see the future Gibson has in store for them. Lawsuits resulting from law enforcement activities are rampant. But the police have support. It comes from media producers who see enhanced viewer capture in publicizing these cases. Who but Gibson could view the corporate mentality with such perception? By the time of this story, corporate America has built up such a web of interfaces between themselves and the world it becomes impossible to extricate them. Rydell views video screens with the question "Woman or machine?" arising with distressing frequency. Driven from the police force, Rydell takes up with a security firm and relocated to Los Angeles. It's a drastically different world compared to Knoxville, but he hasn't seen anything yet. Before long he's in San Francisco, then off to Texas. Beyond mere survival, which is increasingly problematic, he's seeking a piece of advanced technology - the virtual light glasses. Gibson doesn't dwell on the technology behind this device. He's more concerned with the forces surrounding its possessor. Why do the questors go to such extremities to recover these glasses? Rydell represents us all. He remains honest while working among those clearly outside the law. But it isn't the individuals who bring such tension into Rydell's life. His stress is ultimately due to the hidden agencies with which he must deal. They are faceless and obscure. They impart information of vague worth with a deviousness a Delphic oracle would envy. He isn't even clear whether he's dealing with individuals or cabals. Lofty and condescending, they give him but little satisfaction and what's given is clearly on their terms alone.
It's these faceless entities that Gibson warns us of as he [and we] contemplate the future. Corporate operations are disappearing from view as their powers grow from local to global influence. They can tap growing information resources and their decisions, which impact our lives daily, are taken far removed from our scrutiny. Gibson uses Rydell to exhibit how helpless we're becoming in their grasp. Gibson shows they are subject to no accountability to law or popular review as they make "globalization" a new reality. We can only watch in awe as they form a new ruling class in world society. That Gibson can do this within the realm of captivating fiction garners our admiration. That this book begins a new trilogy commands us to follow where he leads. His view is far reaching and we are grateful he shares that vision with us. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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VINE VOICEon 26 April 2007
Set in the very near future San Francisco (in fact, by now a few years in the past!) this novel follows the trail of a pair of information-filled 'virtual light' sunglasses, the bike courier Chevette who steals them on a whim, and the burnt-out rentacop Rydell who is tasked with recovering them. Plot-wise this is fairly standard thriller territory, with criminals, bent cops, and unwitting heroes caught up in the chase to secure the sunglasses, but it's Gibson's wonderfully colourful SF setting that makes this such a delight to read - the Golden Gate Bridge transformed into a shanty-town; a television worshipping Christian sect; a modern-day martyr responsible for a vaccination against AIDS; a world where the ubiquity of computer data transfer makes physical couriers important and reality TV producers have as much power as the police. An evocative look at a world close to our own but still startlingly different, 'Virtual Light's characters and setting are strong enough to triumph over a workmanlike plot.

NB: This novel stands well enough alone, but it is followed by two sequels: 'Idoru' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties'.
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on 14 August 2003
Set in a future that is as close as this afternoon, this is a book that shows why Gibson is one of the masters of speculative fiction. The story is tight, fast paced & full of the little details that Gibson does so well. If you have read Gibson before & liked it, you'll want to read this. If you haven't, this book is a great place to start.
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on 11 February 2002
This is obviously completely different from "Golden Age" SF, a fan of which contributed a rather negative review. If you like cyberpunk, though, all of Gibson's work is surely essential reading...

Some notable things: the (Oakland Bay) bridge, which became unusable after the "little one" and was occupied by homeless people who turn it into a thriving, independent community. The story of the man who cured AIDS, which is slowly revealed as the plot advances. The character of Chevette Washington, who surely inspired Neil Stephenson's kourier in Snow Crash.

Also, Gibsons prose style, which obviously doesn't appeal to everyone. The chapters may seem choppy because each one gets inside the head of a single point-of-view character, and is written in that character's voice. So there's a lot of stylistic variety, different idiom and grammar, etc. Gibson is excellent at inventing voices and dialects for his various characters.

One thing I wish is that it was more gripping, I would like to have to have been pulled to the edge of my seat a few more times.
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on 12 June 2010
While the Neuromancer series seemed to be 100 or so years in the future, the bridge trilogy seems to be based around the nearer future and it does it very well. In the time which the novel has been written some of the things really have become true and there is a sharp divide between the rich and poor and gibson seems to lead us into the future but not the far future. Everything seems plausible bar some characters who just seem to be highly generic and unbelievable.
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on 2 November 2009
More great sci-fi from Gibson.

Very interesting characters, a brilliantly portrayed future landscape, and a fast and compelling story.

Not quite as mind-blowing as some of his earlier stuff, and I felt the main character was too much like Max from "Dark Angel" and so gave off a whiff of unoriginality.

Great, though, and well worth a read.

7 / 10

David Brookes
Author of "Half Discovered Wings"
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