Broken hearts and virtual glass: a review of Idoru

“If we could ever once stop talking about the music, and the industry, and all the politics of that, I think I’d probably tell you that it’s easier to desire and pursue the attention of tens of millions of total strangers than it is to accept the love and loyalty of the people closest to us.”

IdoruWilliam Gibson, one of the early movers of cyberpunk, wrote a novel in 1996 about cyberspace love. Idoru, which I didn’t even realize was the second book in a trilogy called Bridge when I bought it (and that doesn’t matter), is about virtual avatars and worlds that have become so real that they cross dimensions and enter into existence.

As a gamer, that’s not an unthinkable concept to me. That future is all but here, with virtual reality and technology like Google Glass. Even with our many phones and computers and televisions, we’re constantly plugged in. Our lives are as much online as they are physical.

In Idoru, those realities intersect. The lead member of the popular band Lo/Rez plans to marry a synthetic personality called Rei Toei, the titular idoru — only their love and such a union is impossible. She’s not real, merely a conscious hologram projected by a machine, and everyone around Rez is wondering what’s going on in his head.

Enter Laney, who’s good at figuring out that sort of thing. So good that when he worked at SlitScan, a company obsessed with the ratings roller coaster of making and breaking celebrities, exposing and destroying their lives for entertainment, he predicted that a wannabe-famous young woman would kill herself. Nobody believed him, but he’s good at reading the signs — discerning the “nodal points,” like seeing faces in the clouds. Too good.

Those are skills that could be put to better use — use with Lo/Rez, or at least the people who protect them. Laney’s hired to get inside Rez’s head, so to speak. That’s the idea, anyway. The data isn’t there in the way it should be, and the mysterious idoru plays her own part in it, as does an innocent girl named Chia who travels to Japan to learn if there’s truth to the rumor about Rez’s proposal on behalf of the Lo/Rez fan club she’s part of. Only, she becomes involved in a dangerous sort of business, all accidental, that changes her perception of life, with its many planes, and of her own idol, Rez.

It’s a bizarre plot for sure, but Gibson’s writing has captivated and stuck with me since Neuromancer, and it’s just as absorbing here. Gibson shifts verb tenses and sentence constructions as easily as the characters do realities. His writing is plain, stark on the page, yet totally imaginative in the way that brings you to this whole other state of being, this completely new future. Tokyo. The Walled City. A love hotel. Beautiful and ugly have a way of mixing up together.

Idoru seems to search for a sense of its own meaning toward the later chapters, all switching between Chia’s and Laney’s perspectives even when they inevitably intertwine, but the message to me is one we’re more familiar with each day: the union of technology and nature that’s so pure, so invisible as to be untraceable — to be as one. “Porting” — logging on — is a commonplace phenomenon, no different than walking down the street. The idoru and Rez’s love is real even though she exists only as embodied information. And some people, like the shut-in otaku Masahiko, live more in data spaces like the Walled City than in the real world.

This is a future where anyone’s identity can be fabricated, can be replicated or falsified, as avatars or doppelgangers on video — your face on someone else’s body, incriminating. Or how you want to be seen. The new real you.

Gibson is clever to pair this exploration of a new nature with the widespread, cult-like indulgence in the celebrity. Like the real to the virtual, the digital version to the truth, the images don’t quite match up. They’re slightly off, almost imperceptibly. Rez and the idoru can’t be accepted. Their relationship is too controversial. But they will be. We’re getting there — one reality infiltrating another.

Grade: B

Awesome book cover Friday: Idoru

Wow, May’s over already? Crazy!

Today’s book cover selection is Idoru by William Gibson. I picked this up recently at Half-Price Books. Love, love Neuromancer, so I thought I’d give his other works a chance.

Idoru

Here’s a description:

21st century Tokyo, after the millennial quake. Neon rain. Light everywhere blowing under any door you might try to close. Where the New Buildings, the largest in the world, erect themselves unaided, their slow rippling movements like the contractions of a sea-creature. Colin Laney is here looking for work. He is not, he is careful to point out, a voyeur. He is an intuitive fisher of patterns of information, the “signature” a particular individual creates simply by going about the business of living. But Laney knows how to sift for the interesting (read: dangerous) bits. Which makes him very useful–to certain people.Chia McKenzie is here on a rescue mission. She’s fourteen. Her idol is the singer Rez, of the band Lo/Rez. When the Seattle chapter of the Lo/Rez fan club decided that he might be in trouble, in Tokyo, they sent Chia to check it out. Rei Toei is the beautiful, entirely virtual media star adored by all Japan. The idoru. And Rez has declared that he will marry her. This is the rumor that brought Chia to Tokyo. But the things that bother Rez are not the things that bother most people. Is something different here, in the very nature of reality? Or is it that something violently New is about to happen? It’s possible the idoru is as real as she wants or needs to be–or as real as Rez desires. When Colin Laney looks into her dark eyes, trying hard to think of her as no more than a hologram, he sees things he’s never seen before. He sees how she might break a man’s heart. And, whatever else may be true, the idoru and the powerful interests surrounding her are enough to put all their lives in danger.

Do you guys like it? Hate it?