Print Reviews
Idoru
by William Gibson
Penguin (1996)
Idoru
6 / 10
It is often amusing to look at how writers past have envisioned the future – our present – to see how wrong they got it. In William Gibson’s Idoru, however, it is frightening to see how closely the author has described our contemporary world. While Idoru was only written ten years ago (and takes place soon after 2000), it prophesized a new Iraq war, obsession with the ever-growing Sport Utility Vehicle, and the prevalence of the digital music format, among other now real techno-gadgetry. Even scarier is how well Gibson can write at his best. He has a beautiful and ironic voice with a truly hip flavor.

Colin Laney, an ability-enhanced market researcher, and Chia McKenzie, a teenage fanclub member, are both seeking the ‘idoru’ (Japanese for ‘singer-goddess’), a robot pop star. Apparently, Rez, the frontman for rock band Lo/Rez, has declared his intention to marry the idoru. Laney, hired by Rez’s bodyguard, and McKenzie, elected by her fellow Lo/Rez fans over the web, travel to Japan to investigate this cryptic declaration, which the band’s managers have worked hard to cover up. Along the way, the two become entangled in smuggling, blackmail, and other fun tourist activities. Also there for the ride are Blackwell, the scary and scarred bodyguard, Yamazaki, an anthropology student (present only for some apparent reason), and, among others, Kathy Torrence, Laney’s evil-but-sexy corporate ex-boss.

The main topic of Gibson’s writing is humans’ reaction to (and perhaps its corruption by) technology. Lo/Rez (read: low resolution) is an old-school rock band from an indie scene. (In one of the best lines, Laney remembers their first album, “when it came out.”) Laney and McKenzie fear that a union between the authentic rock band and the synthetic Idoru threatens Rez’s physical security, but the obvious subtext is Rez’s transformation into the new world where everything is manufactured. This theme is enhanced by the setting, post-millennial, post-earthquake disaster Tokyo. This is the new era of man: “Chia’s now was digital, effortlessly elastic, instant recall supported by global systems she’d never have to bother comprehending.” The sometimes-opaque Gibson achieves a wonderful thematic balance here – these layers of meaning are apparent but not blatantly stated in the narration.

The real beauty of this novel is the language. Torrence is “palest of pale blondes, a palor bordering on translucence, certain angles of light suggesting not blood but some fluid the shade of summer straw.” Tokyo, upon Chia’s arrival: “Grey buildings, pastel neon, a streetscape dotted with unfamiliar shapes. Dozens of bicycles were parked everywhere, the fragile looking kind with paper tube frames spun with carbon fiber.” The most wonderful scene is when Gibson finally introduces us to the idoru, this personification of the synthetic, in person. One downside of the novel is the shortage of such great passages, which are sweet and sharp yet lean and refined. Character depth is also lacking (Laney and Chia are literally and virtually orphaned, respectively, making an easy out for character description). The emphasis here, though, is on the action, which works because the plot is certainly neither too long nor short.

This book has many similarities with Gibson’s most recent, Pattern Recognition (perhaps the inspiration for the track off Sonic Youth’s Sonic Nurse?), but is much more accessible, less vague or ambiguous. Not that either of those things are bad, but this book is tight. If you’re into any of this stuff, also check out the film documentary on Gibson, No Maps for These Roads, it’s mind-blowing if you let him take you there.
Posted by: CJ

Print Reviews (December 11th, 2005)