Some Thoughts on William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy

Detail from the cover of the 1993 Penguin edition of William Gibson's Virtual Light, the first novel in The Bridge Trilogy. A woman with red lips parted to show white teeth is wearing dark glasses that reflect what she is looking at; a person, and the golden gate bridge. The background is read, and the whole image is composed of different shades of red.

I read Virtual Light in… 2020? 

*checks Goodreads*

I was reading it towards the end of 2020 and finished it on January 8th 2021, and I can remember absolutely nothing about it except the names of the main characters, broadly who they are, and then of course the actual main character, The Bridge. I was recently in the mood for some William Gibson again as it’s been a while, and I’d bought Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties for 99p each on Kindle. Here are some quick thoughts, very quick, because I have some things I want to say and cannot think of a cohesive thread. 

  • It didn’t matter that I couldn’t remember the plot of Virtual Light, and once I got to the bit in All Tomorrow’s Parties that brings up Skinner’s room, the important stuff came back to me anyway.
  • I put off reading Idoru because I wasn’t interested in a novel about a virtual pop star. I should have remembered that William Gibson doesn’t just conceive of cool new tech, he conceives of how it will change everything. In one sense, Rei Toei is so far out of what we currently have, because she’s alive. In another sense, we’ve blown past Gibson’s conception of a virtual star. Never mind Hatsune Miku, anyone with a modest budget can be a VTuber. I ended up caring a lot.
  • I do not expect hard SF from Gibson. He is a student of the New Wave and that’s great, I love the New Wave. That said, the way he explains the Idoru is just so handwavey it made my eyes roll. Some fudge about emergent systems. Maybe when it happens that’s the way it’ll happen, but I doubt it. 
  • I really love all the stuff about autonomous zones, the Bridge, the Walled City. It’s just cool as hell. Different ways of living, different ways of thinking, it’s New Wave, it’s hip, it’s great. It’s that social thing, that’s what Gibson captures really well, better than anyone. 
  • If you want me to be instantly interested in your novel, name it after a Velvet Underground song.
  • When I think of the Bridge Trilogy now a couple of weeks after finishing it, I am astounded at how little I remember, and then I recall how little I remember of the Sprawl trilogy. My retention isn’t always great, but I genuinely think the plots in William Gibson novels are unimportant. It’s the change that is happening, or will happen, that’s important. 
  • I remember vibes and themes. William Gibson is Raymond Chandler but he writes about computer stuff. Think about the fact that, when you’re reading a William Gibson novel, the plot is often moved forward by a guy bursting into a room with a gun. It’s classic noir. I’ve read plenty of Chandler and the shapes of his books in my memory are similar to the spaces Gibson’s inhabit. 
  • I glanced at a review of All Tomorrow’s Parties that complained it had an anticlimactic ending. I disagree. A thinking, feeling computer program taking control of a global network of Star Trek replicators and using them to create biological forms for itself is not anticlimactic, it is in fact the paradigm shift the novel constantly talks about. Yes, the foreshadowing is heavy handed, but so are Gabriel’s trumpets. 
  • Gibson has a fine understanding of how technology doesn’t change the world until your average guy on the corner can use it. Making Boomzilla a witness to the historic, nodal moment, is a great way of making that point. Something something unevenly distributed. 
  • One way to stop your author self-insert getting on everyone’s nerves is to destitute him and make him live in a cardboard box in a train station. Absolutely. That’ll do it. 
  • The other nodal guy, Harwood, and the assassin he hires, yeah they aren’t great characters and introducing them in the final novel to bring it all to a conclusion does kinda suck… but between Chevette, Rydell, and Laney, you are already getting way more good character stuff than you’ll usually get in a Gibson novel. Remember your Raymond Chandler. There’s Marlowe, there’s the guy who gets his face reconstructed, and then there’s… do you see what I mean?
  • I am looking forward to starting the next trilogy. If Sonic Youth have written a song about your novel I am gonna wanna read it. I need to write an essay about the amount of literature rock music has introduced me to.
  • I am very surprised to hear that Pattern Recognition features a main character whose talent involves being able to capture the zeitgeist. 
  • It’s easy to sneer, but if you could do it the way Gibson can, then you’d be a great writer yourself. 
  • William Gibson is a great writer. 


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