Top critical review
Reading the Sprawl trilogy from a writer's perspective
Reviewed in the United States on November 7, 2019
I set out to read the Sprawl trilogy from a writer's perspective to try to glean Gibson's magic--plumb his style. Here's what I found in Mona Lisa Overdrive.
Like the previous novels Gibson is minimalist, disjointed, and noir. Lots and LOTS of people like that. Ultimately, I couldn't get into it. Problems I had with MLO.
Sally Shears/Molly Millions: Really an awesome character but totally underachieving her potential here. She was a bad ass assassin in Neuromancer but here she hardly ever even twitches her cat claw razors. One of the most powerful physical characteristics and it's left on the table! Why??? She could have been slashing through a couple of henchmen on a revenge sub-plot but that never happened. No. Here she's pretty much a bad ass but reasonably well behaved babysitter for most of the book with a kidnapping near the end with a VERY disjointed and confusing conclusion. So much potential wasted!
Slick: Had trouble giving a damn about Slick. His robots like "The Judge" may be pretty cool but they serve as little more than window dressing--not a whole lot of substance contributing to the story.
Gentry: Got confused with Slick sometimes. Gentry owns the factory. Slick is an ex-con with a court ordered 5 minute memory span who works in the factory. . .and that's about it..
Kumiko: Why is she in this story! She's a bystander and sucks up a third of the book. I don't get it. What is her purpose here?
Count Zero: Comatose throughout most of the book. Strangely key but superficial involvement at the end. Why, why, why?
Angie: Interesting. Central to the plot but kept at arms length throughout most of the book until near the end. Rich celebrity from Count Zero working in a popular but banal reality internet show.
Mona: Most interesting. Teen prostitute we feel for her the most. Improves her lot in life by assuming Angie's role in the show. Mmmm. . .okay. Good for her. I'm happy.
The book contains marginally interesting players but barely developed--skin deep characterizations but strangely powerful motivations. Sure wish I knew what motivated them to do what they do (Mona being the exception. We root for her to get the hell out of her situation.) The plot is unclear where it's going and then ends up in a spectacular achievement (SPOILER ALERT! We can upload our psyche--our soul--to the internet. Pretty mind blowing!) BUT accomplishes the climax in the most shockingly nonchalant manner. It's like a book building up to alien first contact and ending it with, "And then he shook hands with the first alien. The End." What? Wait! Where's the excitement? The abilities? The MAGIC of uploading yourself to the internet? It's just there and. . .close the book.
And speaking of "first contact" there were supposed to be voodoo gods in this book! Hinted at in Count Zero they barely take the stage here. Big disappointment! If you're looking for internet voodoo gods read Queen of Angels by Greg Bear. That's some REAL internet voodoo! Bear picks up what Gibson leaves on the table.
I think Gibson has. . .SOMEthing. I'm not sure what it is. He certainly has consistency. The characters are who they are without jumping the rails to do something completely OUT of character. But then again, we don't have a whole lot of input or back story on them so they could do whatever the hell they want and who are we, the readers, to challenge? And MLO is a noir book in line with the previous two. I like noir. I LOVE the movie Blade Runner! Gibson was deeply concerned that Neuromancer would be too close to the recently released movie that people would think the book was a knock off of Blade Runner. No chance of that. Two very different noir stories. I liked Blade Runner much more but that's just me.
So I suppose Gibson's followers don't mind or even enjoy massive anticipation, even tease, with little or no payoff. His minimalist style works for millions of fans but I like my unexplored territory of science fiction with a healthy dose of description, world building, and. . .well, color. Gibson doesn't paint a picture with words. He writes a gritty black and white story. Sgt. Friday would say, "Just the facts, ma'am." And that's kinda what you get. Maybe you like that kind of book. For me, I'll move on and won't look back.