Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Friday, June 24, 2011


I have read Idoru before. I could not tell you when that was -- probably shortly after it came out, since I have it in hardcover. I realized recently that I remember nothing about it, so when it came time to put a fresh book in the backpack, I plucked it from the shelf.

Reading fifteen-year-old SF is a great way to make yourself feel old. Remember the nineties, and what we thought the future was going to look like? Things never work out quite the way we thought they would, and not only in the jet-packs and household robots department. One of the most anachronistic things about this book is the idea of a fourteen-year-old who doesn't know what a love hotel is, not to mention an Internet so tame and compartmentalized, so disconnected from other people, missing most of its inter-ness. There are beautiful virtual landscapes everywhere, but with the exception of Walled City they are sterile.

Today, he would probably not feel compelled to define otaku, though he also might not set the book in Japan, which seems to have lost its place as the lodestone of the technoculture. He uses the word "fractal" several times. In the now that the imagined future turned into, we don't seem to be interested in the immersive virtual reality idea that so much SF of the late 20th century dealt in, though you can bet that I sat up and took notice when this story ran in Gizmodo during my reading.

Anyway. Turns out that the reason I don't remember what happens in the book is that for 200 pages, nothing much happens. Laney is immersed in mystery and Chia in a vague sense of threat; meanwhile, Gibson indulges in stylistic riffing, scattershot, fragmented moments of sensation and image that reflect a world sad and lost and confused, a world that doesn't know what it looks forward to any longer. Often, he can't be bothered with a complete sentence; I am left uncertain as to whether this was a choice, reflecting the characters' incomplete perception and experience of the world, or simple laziness.

I do feel compelled to mention that the name Slitscan is perfect, combining the clinical, invasive, and vaguely obscene, and is a stroke of genius, even if the character of Kathy Torrance is of dubious believability, given less depth than the titular idoru.

Or perhaps that's the point. It's difficult to tell purposeful from unintended irony any longer. Perhaps the book's overall thinness is part of the effect. Because after those first 200 pages, there is a flurry of activity, and then... next to nothing actually happens. The conflicts that barely appeared on screen are resolved with a negligent handwave. The characters go back to their lives. The point of the whole business remains hints whose fruition lies elusively in the future. The book reads like a lacework of notes draped across a scribbled skeleton of plot; like something that could have been reduced to a few chapters of another story, or even to a poem, stripped down to its images and feelings, a meditation on modernity and celebrity without the burden of narrative.

I'm likely to forget about it now that I've read it again.

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