Review of Virtual Light by William Gibson

SFFaudio Review

Virtual Light
By William Gibson
Read by Frank Muller
6 Cassettes – Approx. 9 hours UNABRIDGED
List Price: USD $34.95
RECORDED BOOKS LLC.
ISBN: 0788782533

William Gibson’s novel, Virtual Light (1995), is a bit of a letdown. But this is primarily because Neuromancer (1984), is one of the best novels of the 20th century – so its no wonder lightning hasn’t struck twice. Though comparisons between Neuromancer and Virtual Light are inevitable, and reasonable, we should try to forget that William Gibson wrote such an incredible first novel – Neuromancer won the three most important science fiction awards (The Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Award)… we should try to forget – it ain’t easy – but we should try because Virtual Light is a good SF.

That being said, Virtual Light is a whole different animal, more modest in scope, set closer to the present (in 2005) and more resembles a venture into Elmore Leonard territory than a cyberpunk adventure. It really is a crime novel with a science fiction McGuffin. The McGuffin being, a pair of sunglasses that not only make the wearer look cool, but also make him or her almost superhuman. Here’s the premise – Chevette Washington, a San Francisco bicycle courier has stole some high tech sunglasses. Berry Rydell, private security guard and ex-cop is sent to track her and the sunglasses down. As usual with Gibson novels, the atmosphere created by the prose is spectacular, we see, feel, touch, taste and smell the world Gibson describes and it’s visceral. The characters are compelling, motivated and have cool names like “Rydell” and “Warbaby”. The plot is almost labyrinthine despite the stated simplicity and there are many stops along the way, but we don’t mind too much, the journey is enjoyable, the people are cool and the ideas original.

And of course being an audiobook, the narrator plays an important role in determining the outcome. Thankfully, Virtual Light is read by Frank Muller, which is a good thing. Muller has a good range of voices and a huge vocabulary so there aren’t any pronunciation errors (something that can take a listener right out of the narrative). Virtual Light is an interesting listen, and the unabridged version is definitely superior. The Bantam Doubleday Dell Audio version read by Peter Weller, is well performed but hard to follow, being abridged to a mere 3 hours and two cassettes. But if you are going to listen to this audiobook and you haven’t heard Neuromancer (or read it yet) listen to this one first, it won’t be a let down that way, and it’ll likely whet you’re appetite for more William Gibson.

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