Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony, 18 July 2016
William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive, 1988
Mona Lisa Overdrive takes place eight years after the events in Count Zero and fifteen years after Neuromancer. This is the final article in the series of 5:
Neuromancer, Count Zero, William Gibson’s Art of Prophecy and The Art of Prophecy.
The Story in Mona Lisa Overdrive
Thread 1A The threads appear in the book in reverse order. Mona is an innocent, young amateur prostitute, pimped by her boyfriend Eddy. They live in an ugly concrete squat in LA. Eddy took her away from a severe father and a catfish farm near Cleveland. Eddy has plans but they never seem to come off and the only money they can earn to get by is by Eddy selling Mona for sex. Mona’s one claim to fame is that she resembles Angie Mitchell the Simstim star.
Mona is hired by shady individuals for a ‘gig’ that later turns out to be part of a plot to kidnap Angie. Eddy is excited but he does not last. Mona is taken for cosmetic surgery to make her more like Angie.
Thread 1B We meet Angie in a beach apartment owned by Sense/Net. She has had some form of breakdown and is very vulnerable. She has been taking drugs and these are related to her breakdown. Someone high up in Sense/Net has supplied the drugs They do not help her escape reality but suppress her abilities to access cyberspace directly, an ability she has had since she was a child because of the biosofts put in her head by her father. Something is not quite right and she is suspicious of her colleagues. Someone has left her a supply of the drugs, which she resists taking.
Although these are separate story threads. It is obvious from the beginning that they are interrelated and will come together.
Thread 2 A man called Kid Afrika comes to Dog Solitude an expanse of deserted factories and dumps in a large area of isolated and poisoned land perhaps in New Jersey. Slick Henry a reclusive artist of giant robot sculptures is the viewpoint character. He suffers from short term memory loss as a result of a procedure which was part of the punishment in prison. The sculpture robots are part of his coming to terms with what has been done to him. Slick Henry lives with Little Bird and Gentry. Slick Henry owes Kid Afrika a favour. Kid Afrika foists a comotose man (who turns out to be Bobby Newmark) and a nurse on Slick Henry to look after. Bobby Newmark (From Count Zero) is attached to a piece of hardware called an Aleph, which later turns out to be a self-contained world (like a gigantic hard drive), which was set up by the Lady3Jane from Neuromancer. Naturally, some bad people are after Bobby and later there is a battle when these people find him.
Thread 3 The viewpoint character is a young 13-year old Japanese girl Kumiko Yanaka the daughter of a Yakusa boss who is being sent to London to be looked after by associates, whilst her father engages in a gang war in Japan. Kumiko thinks her father may have murdered her mother and is frightened and far from happy. She stays with Swain and Petal part of the London mob and meets and comes under the wing of Molly, who now calls herself Sally Shears to conceal her identity from hostile parties. Kumiko has with her a very clever biosoft apparatus that appears as a ghost Colin that only she can see and communicate with. Colin is superficially an encyclopedic guide to London, but he can also perform many other functions and help Kumiko.
The Key Characters
Mona Lisa is a 16-year old amateur prostitute, who grew up on a catfish farm, was rescued and pimped by her boyfriend Eddy. She is taken by Prior to be cosmetically modified by Gerald Chin to look even more like Angie Mitchell. Prior kills Eddy when he becomes a nuisance. Mona is addicted to a drug called Wiz. Despite her lack of education and experience, Mona is a likeable character. Even her naivety is charming.
Eddy who charms Mona initially thinks he can aspire to the big leagues, but is killed by Prior. Mona knows this when she sees Eddy’s two black gator-clone suitcases being taken away by the hotel. She knew Eddy wouldn’t leave those suitcases and he wouldn’t sell her for money, because he was much more interested in being part of something big than in the money.
Prior looks like a businessman but is a thug. He is one of those dangerous middlemen who get things done.
Gerald Chin the cosmetic surgeon was Molly’s private surgeon in Neuromancer. Although he is part of the conspiracy, he is helpful to Mona and takes a neutral stance. He does not try to get in the way when Molly/Sally attacks Prior.
Angie Mitchell has matured and replaced Tally Isham as the most successful simstim star. Her partnership with Robin Lanier on Simstim is legendary. She is recovering from perhaps a nervous breakdown produced by a form of drugs.
Continuity is an AI that provides information to Sense/Net and its employees, but is also its most important decision-maker and is part of the biosoft technology innovation fostered by Angie’s father.
Hilton Swift is Sense/Net’s most important human decision-maker the equivalent of the CEO. He is causing some of Angie’s problems but may also be acting directly on the orders of Continuity.
Robin Lanier is Angie’s simstim partner and it is the compatibility of the team that has engendered their remarkable success. Nevertheless, Robin has been suborned by Lady3Jane’s agents and is part of the plot to kidnap Angie.
Kid Afrika is a black dude a wheeler-dealer. He saves Slick Henry from some other brothers who are holding him by the ankles off a 43rd floor balcony in Atlantic City. Slick Henry occasionally leaves Dog Solitude seeking sex.
Slick Henry spent three years for sealing cars in a chemo-penal unit where he was treated with Korsakov’s, which prevented his remembering anything longer than five minutes. He moved to Dog Solitude, where he lives with Gentry and Little Bird, and builds giant radio-controlled robots out of junk as therapy.
Gentry is the boss at Dog Solitude, or thinks he is, because he is essential to fiddle their electric power out of the Fission Authority. Gentry is also an artist but on decks, FX organs and holo projectors. Gentry’s obsession is about the shape of cyberspace.
Little Bird is very thin two metres tall with lacquered wings of brown hair. Little Bird is also a white, small town bigot and an ignorant redneck.
Cherry Chesterfield is from Cleveland with bleached blond hair and four leather jackets worn in layers. She is a med-tech paid by Kid Afrika to keep Bobby Newmark alive. She tells Slick Henry to keep his hands off, but one wonders if they’ll be a romantic interest later.
Bobby Newmark leaves Angie and disappears to New Mexico after stealing the aleph. He goes to Cleveland and pays Kid Afrika to take care of him while he is jacked into the aleph.
Kumiko Yanaka is a 13-year old Japanese girl whose father has sent her to London to protect her from a Yakusa war that is about to break out. She is an unhappy young girl who believes her father may have murdered her mother. Sally Shears takes her under her wing but also uses Kumiko to help her.
Colin is a biosoft personality manufactured by Maas Neotek in a pocket sized case. He is an AI and can be used as a guide to a foreign country. His capabilities are much greater than expected. He can only be seen and heard by Kamiko who refers to him as ‘ghost’.
Sally Shears/Molly Molly after the events in Neuromancer has fled to Europe under the pseudonym Sally Shears. She has been involved in several quasi legal enterprises since then. She is involved in some way with Swain and Petal.
Swain is a London mobster beholden to Kumiko’s father the Japanese Yakusa boss.
Petal is Swain’s factotum and though a huge man is personable and kind to Kumiko.
Tick is a friend of Sally, a cockney east end data thief who helps Kumiko.
The Finn Sally takes Kumiko briefly to meet the Finn who is dead, but has his personality filed in a ROM construct set-up near his shop and referred to locally as the oracle.
Concepts in Mona Lisa Overdrive
There is not much new in cyberspace, simstim or medical procedures in Mona Lisa Overdrive worth mentioning. Continuity is a continuation of the development of AIs with the new biosofts, but the powers of Continuity are not really explored.
The aleph as an enclosed world is interesting, but would probably fit easily in a few terabytes of hard drive today.
Gentry is obsessed with the shape of cyberspace:
And Gentry was so strange anyway, [Slick Henry] thought, feeling his knees creak as he stood up and took the Judge’s control unit from his jacket pocket.
Gentry was convinced that cyberspace had a Shape, an overall total form. Not that that was the weirdest idea Slick had ever run across, but Gentry had this obsessive conviction that the Shape mattered totally. The apprehension of the Shape was Gentry’s grail.
But the shape idea is not really explored.
The idea of Colin is also interesting but it is not followed far either.
One gets the feeling that Gibson is rounding off the story and only introducing new concepts as necessary to the current story. He’s done it all in the first two books. Hence the ideas in Mona Lisa Overdrive are rounded off also but only to the depth required by the story, a marked change from Neuromancer and Count Zero.
The new characters and the situations in Mona Lisa Overdrive as well as the thriller plot make Mona Lisa Overdrive a compulsive read. Mona herself, Kumiko and Slick Henry are enticing point of view characters. We want to know their stories. The Factory and Dog Solitude are compelling locations. Slick Henry’s vengeful robots are fascinating. Gentry and Little Bird are great support characters, as is Cherry as a potential romantic interest. Gibson makes London real as a location.
Porphyre is the most interesting character in the Angie Mitchell thread other than Angie herself, but only has a bit part.
All in all Mona Lisa Overdrive is a fitting end to the Trilogy.
Clouds a Goodreads reviewer cited in Count Zero has an interesting take on the Trilogy:
Neuromancer was a heist story;
Count Zero was a thematic portmanteu;
Mona Lisa Overdrive is the tense, ‘thriller’ climax.
It is a nice idea but perhaps slightly overstated. He doesn’t like Count Zero as much as Mona Lisa Overdrive. I’m not that much different but I have a soft spot for Count Zero because of the ideas contained and perhaps because of Turner and the Oungans.
Key Words: William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive
Wikipedia on Mona Lisa Overdrive
Wikipedia on Mona Lisa Overdrive
Characters in the Trilogy
Anton Rauben Weiss has covered the characters well. I’ve used for some of his character portraits in the text above.
Goodreads on Mona Lisa Overdrive
Goodreads on Mona Lisa Overdrive
Clouds Review on Mona Lisa Overdrive
Fascinating overview. Thanks.