That’s right, three books in one post.
I didn’t get my hands on the works of William Gibson until somewhat late in life. The reasons behind this are boring and not worth digging into. Gibson is credited with the founding of the cyberpunk genre, stories that mix technology with social disorder, though one could argue the elements of cyberpunk had appeared in science fiction well before Gibson’s Neuromancer was released in 1982. If one really wanted to argue that. Does it matter?
I’ve read Neuromancer a dozen times at least, which means I’ve also read the other books in his Sprawl trilogy as many times. You can’t stop with Neuromancer (I’m sure the spines on my paperbacks won’t last much longer). I’m always finding new things in those books, details hidden in the grime. The stories of the Sprawl Trilogy seem to be about a world made of – and buried under – technology, but it’s really about people, his characters, the denizens of that world shaped by innovation and, often, the abuse of technology. It’s our world, extrapolated, as are the people that inhabit it.
But I wanted to talk about the Bridge trilogy.
The first time I read these, I accidentally read them out of order. I bought Idoru first, not realizing it was book 2 in the series. That little fact wasn’t clear on the cover, and I didn’t bother to look it up beforehand. Seems the order I read them in, though, wasn’t a particularly bad one. After Idoru, I went back and read Virtual Light, then All Tomorrow’s Parties. As the author himself said: “Actually, All Tomorrow’s Parties has a lot more to do with Virtual Light than Idoru. Idoru sneaks in its own universe of other stuff.” So it worked out okay that first time, but on re-reads, I stick to release-order.
I imagine you’re already familiar with the books. They take place in a future closer to our present than the future of the Sprawl Trilogy. Which is to say, it was the future when the first book was released in 1993. Year-wise, it’s not the future anymore, but it still feels like it. The bridge to which the name of the trilogy refers is the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, which, in the story, had been damaged by an earthquake and closed off to traffic. Shortly thereafter, the bridge was taken over and made in a shanty town, an autonomous region of the city, with makeshift structures on the road deck and secured to the cables and towers, multiple levels of houses and shops composed of junk. If that doesn’t excite you, there’s no hope for you.
As fantastic as the bridge and the other places visited in these books are, what keeps me re-reading are the characters. Science fiction, or any literature, is nothing without characters that I care about, characters that materialize in my head, fully-formed, as I’m reading. For my money, Gibson does it better than most, living or dead. I can’t really explain why I think that. When it comes to the Bridge trilogy, everyone stands out. Chevette, Yamazaki, Rydell, Chia, Laney, Blackwell, Sublett, Skinner. I want to read a thousand books like these, which is why, as a writer, I often cite these books as being the most influential to my own work, the ones from which I’ve learned the most. I owe a debt to these books.
A final note on these: one of my favorite things about reading science fiction is that it often leads me to looking up and learning about other things. In the case of the Bridge trilogy (Idoru, specifically), it lead me to Kowloon Walled City, a fascinating place with a fascinating story. It’s not there anymore, but you can still read about it. I recommend, as mentioned in the “Thanks” page of Idoru, the book City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City by Ian Lambot and Greg Girard (link is to Amazon for convenience only). I borrowed a copy using the vast network of academic libraries I was able to access at the local University, back when I used to work there. The ability to borrow books like that is the only thing I miss about that job.
Though I do still have friends that work there.
See you next week.