Mona Lisa Overdrive

by William Gibson

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 734

In Mona Lisa Overdrive Gibson explores the transformations and accommodations that must be made to cope with a changing technology. Understanding the way in which the matrix has changed as a result of the raid on the Villa Straylight in Neuromancer is a central question for the character Gentry, the console cowboy of Monta Lisa Overdrive who is the direct spiritual descendent of earlier figures Case (in Neuromancer) and Bobby Newmark (in Count Zero). He is preoccupied with questions of When It Changed and How It Changed, questions whose answers all stem from the union of the two AI's in Neuromancer.

The union of Wintermute and Neuromancer has a significant impact on the lives of several characters in Mona Lisa Overdrive. In particular, Angie Mitchell's life is changed by the aftermath of the change in the matrix. The unity achieved at the end of Neuromancer apparently lasts only briefly when the matrix is splintered into the "ghosts in the machine" known as the loa, reincarnations of the traditional voodoo gods. They seem to represent the closest paradigm to the new state of the matrix. Angie, with her direct biochip access to the matrix, becomes the vehicle through which these new manifestations of the matrix are embodied. The matrix continues to change in the wake of the union of the artificial intelligences, and a consuming question for Gentry is to determine the new Shape of the matrix.

Mona Lisa Overdrive also reveals Gibson's interest in the entertainment industry. Generated in part by Gibson's experiences with screen-writing, the issue of the complexity and hypocrisy of the simstim industry and its superstar Angie Mitchell takes center stage. Like the zaibatsus of Neuromancer, the simstim enterprise Sense/Net seems to run independently of the executives who theoretically run the company. Variously manipulated by 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool and by the artificial intelligence Continuity, but also seemingly independent of these sources, Sense/ Net controls vast resources and permeates the lives of millions of people, forming their fantasies and satisfying their needs. Sense/Net is capable of manufacturing a superstar like Angie Mitchell and, just as easily, of creating her replacement Mona. Mona (as well as Bobby and Angie) are Horatio Alger characters, coming from obscurity, and sometimes poverty, to achieve dreams of wealth and fame.

Gibson also pursues the theme of gomi (garbage). He uses the relationship with the artifacts of the past to contrast the different cultures of the Sprawl (New York), the Smoke (London), and Japan, primarily through the eyes of the Japanese girl Kumiko. London preserves and treasures its junk, New York integrates it into its everyday life, and Japan replaces and discards the rubbish of the past.

Gibson, as in Neuromancer and Count Zero, combines the image of garbage with his interest in the relationship between technology and art. One of the central figures in Mona Lisa Overdrive is Slick Henry, an ex-car thief whose short term memory has been damaged during his time in jail. He uses art therapeutically as he creates junk sculptures of the Judge, the Investigators, and the Witch. This art helps him to purge his hostilities and nightmares while at the same time, on a literal level, it defends the residents of Dog Solitude against the invading forces. Even the central AI of Mona Lisa Overdrive, Continuity, is an artist — he is writing a book.

Perhaps more significant than any of the other themes developed in the novel is Gibson's interest in developing complex character relationships. Technology is still important, but the emphasis shifts to the effect of technology on more fully developed...

(This entire section contains 734 words.)

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characters and on the relationships of these characters to one another. The technological breakthrough of the aleph, for instance, leads to the transformation and reunion of Bobby Newmark and Angie Mitchell. They use the aleph as a means to making choices about the nature of their "life" together. Kumiko's AI guide to London, Colin, helps her form a close relationship with Sally, to understand the nature of her host Swain's deception, and to come to terms with her mother's suicide.

In Neuromancer the technological changes at the end of the novel lead to the separation of the human team. In contrast, at the end of Mona Lisa Overdrive, the tendency is toward reconciliation and commitment. Slick Henry leaves with Cherry for Cleveland; Angie and Bobby are together in the aleph; and Kumiko returns to a reconciliation with her father.