Mona Lisa Overdrive: Stylish, lacks impact of prequels

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsfantasy and science fiction book reviewsMona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson

In Mona Lisa Overdrive, the third and final novel in William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, it’s been seven years since Angie Mitchell (from Count Zero) was taken out of Maas Biolabs and now she’s a famous simstim star who’s trying to break her designer drug habit. But a jealous Lady 3Jane plans to kidnap Angie and replace her with a cheap prostitute named Mona Lisa who’s addicted to stimulants and happens to look like Angie.

In a dilapidated section of New Jersey, Slick Henry makes large animated robotic sculptures out of scrap metal. He owes Kid Afrika a favor, so now he has to hide the comatose body of Bobby Newmark (aka “Count Zero”). Bobby is jacked into an Aleph where he’s got some secret project going on. A Cleveland girl named Cherry Chesterfield is Bobby’s nurse.

Kumiko is the daughter of a Japanese Yakuza crime boss. Her father has sent her to live in London while the Yakuza war is going on. There she meets Gibson’s most iconic character, Molly Millions, who’s going by the name Sally Shears. Molly is being blackmailed by Lady 3Jane, so Kumiko inadvertently gets dragged into the kidnapping plot.

Mona Lisa Overdrive contains several exciting action scenes which feature kidnappings, shoot-outs, helicopter escapes, remote-controlled robot warriors, collapsing catwalks, and falling refrigerators. These are loosely connected by the continuation and conclusion of the AI plot which began in Neuromancer. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the sketchy ending or the wacky reveal on the last page, but that’s okay. I was mainly reading Mona Lisa Overdrive for the style, anyway.

So much of Gibson’s style and success stems from the mesmerizing world he’s built — a future Earth in which national governments have been replaced by large biotech companies. Japan is modern and glitzy and much of the former United States has fallen into decay. By the time you get to Mona Lisa Overdrive (don’t even attempt to read it before reading both Neuromancer and Count Zero), you’re feeling rather comfortable (or as comfortable as is possible to feel) in this world, so the setting lacks the force it had in the previous novels. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, you’ll visit London, but it seems to be stuck in the 20th century, so it feels instantly (and a little disappointingly) familiar.

But Gibson manages to keep things fresh and highlight his unique style by introducing new characters and delving deep into their psyches. Even minor characters are works of art, such as Eddy, Mona’s low-class scheming pimp, and Little Bird, who earned that moniker because of his weird hairdo. Even when the plots don’t satisfy, it’s entertaining enough just to hang out with Gibson’s unforgettable characters. The exception is Kumiko, who has little personality and seems to exist mainly to remind us that Japan has surpassed America, and for an excuse to show us a new bit of cool technology (Colin, the chip-ghost).

In 1989, Mona Lisa Overdrive was nominated for, but did not win, the Nebula Award, the Hugo Award, and the Locus Award. It lacks the impact of its prequels, but it’s still a stylish piece of work and not to be missed if you’re a fan of William Gibson. I listened to the audio version narrated by Jonathan Davis. He is excellent, as always, and I recommend this version to audio readers. You may have to work at Neuromancer on audio if you’re not familiar with this world and its slang, but by the time you get to Mona Lisa Overdrive, that problem is long gone.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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