Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: Mona Lisa Overdrive, by William Gibson

Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Published : Gollancz/Bantam Spectra, 1988
Series : Book 3 of the Sprawl Trilogy
Awards Nominated : Hugo, Locus SF, and Nebula Awards

Warning:  This is the third novel of a trilogy, and it may include spoilers for the first two novels (Neuromancer and Count Zero). 

The Book :

“Enter Gibson's unique world--lyric and mechanical, erotic and violent, sobering and exciting--where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated universe known as cyberspace.

Into this world comes Mona, a young girl with a murky past and an uncertain future whose life is on a collision course with internationally famous Sense/Net star Angie Mitchell. Since childhood, Angie has been able to tap into cyberspace without a computer.

Now, from inside cyberspace, a kidnapping plot is masterminded by a phantom entity who has plans for Mona, Angie, and all humanity, plans that cannot be controlled... or even known.

And behind the intrigue lurks the shadowy Yazuka, the powerful Japanese underworld, whose leaders ruthlessly manipulate people and events to suit their own purposes... or so they think.”

I read Neuromancer many years ago, and read Count Zero for this blog last year.  The first two books have very little connection to one another, and can, I think, be read independently.  Mona Lisa Overdrive, on the other hand, brings back characters from both of the previous two novels.  Enough of the plot of the first two books is rehashed through dialogue that a new reader wouldn’t get too lost, but I think that it would be best to read this one after both Neuromancer and Count Zero.

My Thoughts :

Neuromancer was told from a single point-of-view, and Count Zero featured three main characters with disparate plotlines that converged in the end.  Mona Lisa Overdrive moves further in this direction, with 4 even more disparate plotlines.  I’ve enjoyed Gibson’s well-developed world (and cyber-world), all through the Sprawl Trilogy, and I think his writing style is getting more interesting with each novel I read. I also feel like the main characters in Mona Lisa Overdrive were some of the most complex, interesting characters I’ve yet seen in Gibson’s novels.  However, the plot of Mona Lisa Overdrive seemed a little muddled and over-complicated, and I didn’t really feel as though the four plotlines converged in a satisfactory way by the end.

Each of the plotlines in Mona Lisa Overdrive is connected in some way to events in the previous two books.  One main character, Angie Mitchell, was a major player in Count Zero.   Now, she’s a rich simulation star, and her boyfriend (Bobby, from Count Zero) has vanished.  In addition to coping with the stresses of stardom, she’s still dealing with the implications of her father’s meddling with her brain as a child. Second, there’s the ex-con Slick Henry, who reluctantly takes Bobby’s wired-in body under his protection.  Slick, whose character I believe is loosely based on the artist Mark Pauline, creates art in response to the psychological trauma inflicted by his bizarre prison sentence.

Third, there is Mona, an uneducated prostitute who looks strikingly like Angie.  She finds herself in the care of dangerous men who want to use that resemblance for their own ends.  Lastly, there’s Kumiko, a Yakuza boss’s daughter who has been sent to ‘safety’ in London while her father engages in gang warfare.  Kumiko, who is still trying to come to terms with her mother’s suicide, befriends Molly Millions (of Neuromancer), who is being blackmailed by someone off-screen.

I enjoyed reading about Mona, Slick, Angie, and Kumiko, but their stories didn’t have much momentum.  Mona’s story seemed to have the most tension, as she was stuck in a clearly dangerous situation that she didn’t fully understand.  However, all of the main characters, including Mona, seemed to be in something of a holding pattern.  I think there was just so much information to distribute and so much setting up to do, that it sort of seemed like all the characters were just waiting around for the eventual climax of the novel.   

When the novel’s climax did eventually come, and the four plotlines converged, it was a little bit of a letdown.  The ending was pretty entertaining and action-packed, and it was fun to see the characters from all three novels interact.  However, a lot of characters motivations (particularly the villains) didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Also, the relative time spent developing various characters throughout the story did not seem to accurately reflect their importance to the overall novel. Considering how convoluted the story was, I suppose it is unsurprising that the final knot seemed to have a few loose threads. Even so, Gibson’s interesting world and engaging characters still left me happy to have read Mona Lisa Overdrive.  

My Rating : 3.5/5

Neuromancer starts with four wildly disparate plotlines, and it also includes various characters from the previous two novels.  The four plotlines feature compelling main characters, but their stories never quite seemed to merge successfully.  The plot is interesting, but it is so unnecessarily complicated that everything seems to be bogged down by the weight of exposition. Some major plot points revolved around characters who were only briefly even present in the story, and whose motivations never made an awful lot of sense.  Still, I was glad to see Gibson’s gritty future society again.  It was fun to see characters I knew from previous novels, and the four main characters might be my favorite Gibson characters so far.  In the end, I’d say I liked this novel about as much as Count Zero, but for different reasons.


  1. Man, I've fallen behind in my blog reading this month and you've been reviewing several books I've got high on my "to read" list. I'm hoping to get around to this one soon, and I've gotta say that I kind of expected the sort of holding pattern you mentioned in your review. That multiple-viewpoint convergence has been Gibson's MO since soon after Neuromancer, and juggling as many characters as he is in this book it seems inevitable that it would bog down some as he tries to develop them all in concert like that. I kind of wish that technique of his was the spice instead of the main course of his novels, if that makes sense. How do you feel this book closes off the Sprawl trilogy?

  2. You've read some recently that are high on my "to read" list, too! I'm planning on getting around to "The Warrior's Apprentice" sometime soon, though my 'soon' sometimes turns into 'months later'.

    I think his multiple-viewpoint convergence works better in some books than in others. In this case, he was also incorporating characters from "Neuromancer" and "Count Zero", and recapping each of their histories, so I guess it was inevitable that things would get a little bogged down.

    It's been so long since I've read "Neuromancer" that its a little hard to get an overall feeling for the trilogy. I was not altogether satisfied with how Gibson tied together the sets of characters from the previous two novels, and I felt like there was a lot left unexplained or unresolved. It definitely does resolve some things, though. I'll be interested in seeing what you think of it!