Study Guide

Virtual Light

by William Gibson

Virtual Light Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Virtual Light is set in a less dystopian and more satirical future than Neuromancer. The title refers to a form of instrumentation that produces optical sensations directly in the eye without the use of photons and which was originally developed to help blind people see. The story primarily takes place in California in 2005, as Gibson imagined it might be like when he wrote the book in the early 1990’s. Besides holding normal jobs and paying taxes, the characters have lives and families, unlike most of the characters in Neuromancer. Some of those characters are actually motivated by moral values, and the novel has a relatively happy ending.

Virtual Light takes place in a time of social, political, and economic turmoil. California has split into two states, NoCal and SoCal, but governments, especially police departments, are still relevant. The main characters are immersed in and dealing with this turmoil, while powerful organizations have their own agenda without regard to the human consequences of their actions. There are interesting supporting characters, such as Skinner, one of the first squatters on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and Sublett, a Texan who was raised in a religion that believes God can be found on television.

Originally from Beaverton, Oregon, Chevette-Marie Washington is a bicycle courier who lives with Skinner on the bridge. The bridge became a haven for the homeless after it was closed to traffic following an earthquake. When Chevette crashes a party in a hotel in San Francisco, an obnoxious man she immediately dislikes comes on to her. In revenge, she picks his...

(The entire section is 671 words.)

Virtual Light Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Gibson’s Bridge stories, media permeates lives in unexpected ways. For example, IntenSecure security guard Sublett has left Reverend Fallon’s cult, which is centered on watching television in order to discover God. Criminal identification is more efficient by means of Separated at Birth, which lists what celebrities a person looks like. The reason Berry Rydell decides to become a police officer is the television show Cops in Trouble.

Unfortunately, Rydell was quickly fired when, playing with a homemade weapon, he killed a fellow officer. His case was picked up by Cops in Trouble, and Rydell was taken to Los Angeles by the lawyers Wellington Ma and Karen Mendelsohn (who seduced him). Abandoned by the show and his lover when a better story came along, Rydell becomes a security guard for IntenSecure and a partner of Sublett. The two get in trouble when hackers fool them into raiding a house which had no real emergency, merely to expose a cheating wife.

Faced with unemployment, Rydell agrees to freelance for IntenSecure on a case in San Francisco, acting as a driver for freelancers Lucius Warbaby and Freddie. The freelancers, in turn, consult with a pair of homicide detectives of Russian descent. The case is gruesome: Hans Blix, a courier, had his virtual-light (VL) glasses stolen and was found dead in his hotel room. VL glasses provide a virtual-reality medium which conveys to the wearer information on whatever he or she gazes. Rydell must track down the bike messenger who is considered the top suspect in the murder, though what the others really want is to retrieve the VL glasses.

Chevette Washington was the one who delivered a package to Blix and then stole the glasses out of spite, recalling Blix’s rudeness at a party. Chevette lives on the Bridge with Skinner, an old man who helped establish the Bridge as a haven for outcasts after the Little Grande earthquake and construction of an underground tunnel rendered it useless. Skinner himself is the subject of a case study by Shinja Yamazaki,...

(The entire section is 838 words.)