Trip the light


It’s where film noir meets punk computers a vision of the future

that’s naggingly familiar and all too i

imminent. Craig McLean enters the virtually real world of William Gibson.

‘Hello. Hello. Hello. Strange. ()kay.‘

No one there?

’No. Well, I probably pressed the wrong button. Too technical for me.‘

William Gibson is at home in Vancouver and having ; trouble with the ’phones. So this most visionary technically. socially. politically of science fiction writers has techno-fear. He may have anticipated the computer revolution and virtual reality with the ‘cyberspace‘ in which his debut novel. 1984‘s Neurrmzam'er, was set. but he‘s no boffin. He‘sjust a dreamer.

‘lt’s better for me professionally not to know very much about anything in particular.‘ says the 45-year- old writer. ‘lf l'd known more about computers to begin with 1 probably wouldn't have been able to write those first books. That's why I was able to play all very fast and loose and have a good time with it

because i didn’t know anything about it to get in my way.‘

% Letter of the

Where his knowledge was lacking, Gibson imagined and looked around him. ‘When i started it was the late 70s. early 80s. and it was kind of ' obvious to me that computers were going to become pretty ubiquitous. I couldn‘t afford one in l98l but there were people who could. Home computers were I starting to appear all over. People forget that j Neummancer and the Apple Macintosh are the same ' .‘ age. they‘re both 1984 vintage constructions. it f seems that that stuff‘s been around forever but no,

Equally new (new as in ‘now-ish', new not as in ‘fresh') is Gibson's latest future. Virtual Light, his sixth novel, is set just around the comer, at the turn ofthe century. in the independent states of Northern and Southern California. Society has fissured, technology has run riot, the haves have millions and the have-nots are scrabbling. There is an approximation of an industrial democracy. It is lazy) Reaganomics taken to their illogical conclusion, in

I keeping with Gibson’s favoured device of

: extrapolating and exaggerating, not inventing. l ‘lt’s more overt than it used to be,‘ he says of his 3 politics. ‘But I hope it‘s not didactic. It‘s more like i I‘m trying to figure out what my politics are than

impose my politics on the characters. i don‘t think |

statement. I guess one thing it says is if you want to do an industrialised democracy it's a really good thing to make sure you have a middle class.‘

into this virtually real world comes Berry Rydell. a former c0p with a few bad breaks behind him and uncertain job prospects ahead. Associates in a private police force assign him the task of finding. yes. a girl. A Tank Girl-type bicycle courier, Chevette Washington steals a pair of shades from some bigshot bozo at a party. The shades conceal the computer blueprint for a future model of California, as envisioned by nefarious corporate types. Needless to E say, the baddies are on her tail as well.

What is at core a basic cop/chase/romanee novel is fleshed-out, spun-off and coloured-in by Gibson’s enthralling detailing of science and technology ‘s new frontier: the weaponry, the transport, the dwellings, the drugs, the hackers and slackers who are fantastic visions in themselves. Visions that are readily available to all; you just got to look that bit closer.

‘1 think i just find these things before other people in the general public are aware of them, then put them in the books and exaggerate them a bit. . . I look through all kinds of magazines. I‘m not sufficiently scientifically literate to be able to understand much that I would find in a scientific journal . . . Although there's a very useful thing that‘s happening now. I get big technical people turning up and saying “Hey I‘ve got something you should know about." A lot of the stuff seeks me out now which is a good thing because‘l’m basically pretty

Virtual Light is published by Viking, price £14. 99.


For most novelists, one suspects, the prospect of embarking on a 26-book


instant case of writers’ block, but for American mystery-writer Sue Grafton, it’s a self-Imposed contract, sealed with A is for Alibi, her 1982 novel which introduced sassy California Pl Kinsey Millhone to a waiting world. In a 1991 interview, shortly after the publication of G is for Gumshoe,

is sufficiently complex to see me through: homicide, jealousy, greed,

says, somewhat ruefully. ‘l thought they’d get easier as I went along, but

in fact in the attempt to do new things ; with each one, having to dig deeper lnto my own psyche each time makes

it a strange form of torture: I wish sometimes I had kept my big mouth

There is little sign, however, that Grafton’s loyal body of readers share selles would be enough to W09 0" an her qualms at the prospect of sixteen

further outings with the admirable Ms

Millhone, now firmly established,

along with Sara Paretsky’s VI. Warshawski and Lisa Cody’s Anna Lee, in the elite league of female fictional detectives. Grafton writes recognisany within the American hard-boiled tradition of Chandler and

Grafton was airin confident about her gamma - pa", wisecmcking in”...

W08ch - ‘I think my “hint-matte! monologue narratives, streetwise

idiosyncratic-loner protagonist - but

uses genre conventions as a

from the beginning who’s guilty, the question there is how Kinsey puts the case together. And in .I is for Judgement [which sees Kinsey investigating a corrupt businessman’s faked death or ‘pseudocide’l you don’t even quite know whether there’s a body till the end of the book.’

A is for Alibi, Grafton has said, was originally inspired by fantasies of murdering her ex-husband during a custody fight, and this personal

noveis’ thoughtful characterisation, Grafton’s resistance to depicting murderers as inhuman monsters, which certainly makes for more substantial and satisfying reading. ‘I believe we are all killers at heart,’ she Sue Grafton: a m series is '8 W says. ‘| comm" up." a vow moral,

i m °' “m” ethical person but I know I harbour the 5 never settle into any regular tom. but same passions that drive people to kill 3 I think it’s going to keep me fresher as each other, so what I’m looking at

hat!“ - twenty-8t! Stories about the . springboard rather than allowing them ! the years go by. I’m also interested In every time are the differences

"ma" “Mm” '3 m" m“ "a" t“ 3 to crawl) he! style- I seeing how far the mystery novel can between us, which are sometimes very tMtn°-’ NW. bomb With 3 t3 “If ‘I hope each book can have a : be pushed where possible I keep sIIght.’ (Sue Wilson)

Jfldflmlfllt lust out. the 0“ doubt as ; different personality to it,’ she says. ‘I . within the form’s unspoken rules and I Is for Judgement Is published by

to the wisdom of alphabetically-linked z tend to so. how far | can go rm the

last book, which makes the writing Em!" 300* 98t8 halite! t0 Witto.’ She i much more difficult, because I can

titles is starting to creep in.

{ regulations, but I try not to do straight Macmillan at £14.99; I Is for Innocent ' whodunnits. II Is for IIomchde Is Is now available In Pan paperback at hardly a whodunnlt at all: you know £4.99.

would be able to explicate Virtual Light as a political '

motivation perhaps partly explains the



The List 24 September—7 October.l993 71