The world of Virtual Light is the California of the near future — 2005. Now the state is divided into NoCal and SoCal in what appears to be a post-cataclysmic world of the haves and the have-nots. Earthquakes and political upheaval have devastated not only California but Japan, and although some remnants of government remain, the world is controlled by powerful corporations for whom misconduct, fraud, and greed are the status quo.
Gibson pursues the concept of community in much more detail here than in previous novels. The devastation brought about by the earthquakes has, for some, forced increased separation and solitude. Wealthy inhabitants of SoCal live in bunkers protected by the security service IntenSecure or in barricaded enclaves. Late in the novel, Gibson satirizes the separatist quality of community when he describes the religious enclave of Paradise, a gated community that conducts an examination of conscience on any visitor who wants to enter. In sharp contrast to this, Gibson creates the vibrant chaos of the Bridge, a diverse, creative, organic neighborhood that has sprung up spontaneously on the remnants of the earthquake-damaged Golden Gate Bridge in what was formerly San Francisco. On the Bridge, Chevette and Skinner's home, the inhabitants care for and watch over their neighbors in the difficult times and begin to create their own rituals and culture.
The religious community of Paradise is only one part of Gibson's satire on religion in the novel. In the background, but there as a continuing motif, is the story of J. D. Shapely, a savior of sorts for this diseased world. Shapely is idolized as the "saint" who, through the miracle of his blood which has served as the basis for a new vaccine to prevent the AIDS virus, was martyred and has thus become the center of a cult. Shapely has become a godlike sacrificial figure often compared to Jesus, subject of religious fervor and ritual. Gibson also satirizes conservative religion in the figure of the Reverend Fallon, a shyster evangelist whose cult worships old television shows and movies because they all contain the word of God. Followers of the religion lament the fact that the only...
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