Home » “Mona Lisa Overdrive” by William Gibson – Idols in Cyberspace

“Mona Lisa Overdrive” by William Gibson – Idols in Cyberspace

“Mona Lisa Overdrive” by William Gibson (Header image)

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Short Summary

William Gibson has decided to take us on a rather imaginative tour of what the future of mankind might bring with the Sprawl Trilogy, and with Mona Lisa Overdrive he introduces the final work in the series. The story follows a young girl, Mona, who collides with a Net star, Angie Mitchell, who is capable of tapping into cyberspace without a computer. However, someone is masterminding Angie’s kidnapping, and they have great plans for her, Mona, and even humanity itself.



William Gibson Embarks on the Ultimate Quest

The question surrounding the possibility of eternal life has surfaced time and time again throughout human history, especially since the advent of the technological age. The possibilities now seem nearly limitless, and in Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson, the third novel in the Sprawl Trilogy, we embark on a journey to realize one of the more improbable ones.

Before we proceed, I do recommend you read Neuromancer and Count Zero, the two novels before this one. Even though they all can be read as standalone works, I think it’s quite important to get acquainted with the world and the various recurring characters before jumping into the final chapter of a trilogy. With this being said, if this is the only book of the three which interests you, feel free to jump right in, but expect to be a little confused from time to time.

Just like the two previous books, this one has three separate plots on a collision course with each other. For starters, the protagonist from our previous book, Bobby Newmark (now know as Count Zero) is in a coma and his mind has been transferred into a virtual reality complex outside the matrix. Slick Henry, an artist and builder of killer robots, is taking care of Bobby.

The second plot revolves around a teenage prostitute named Mona whose life simultaneously takes a turn for the both the better and the worse. She runs afoul of a plot to kidnap a famous Net star, Angie Mitchell, who has the ability to tap into cyberspace without a computer. Mona and Angie look remarkably alike, and she sees in this the opportunity to change her existence for the better.

Finally, the daughter of a ruthless and powerful Yakuza crime lord has been whisked away from the underworld and is being protected by Molly Millions, an assassin of nigh-legendary status, at least for those acquainted with the previous novels. Though her father will stop at nothing to get his daughter back, as many will soon find out, the Yakuza has much bigger plans in store, and few will be spared their consequences.

An Intrigue of Spies in Mona Lisa Overdrive

Every talented writer has some qualities which are particular to them, ways of writing they cannot help but revert to during the creative process, so deeply they are ingrained in their nature. While I don’t personally know William Gibson and naturally might be off-base here, but it seems to me one of his particular and most prominent qualities is the ability to maintain an extremely consistent pace which ensures interesting events always keep on happening.

With three different plot threads at our disposal, there are seldom any empty or pointless moments to wade through. We have a large number of characters to get acquainted with and follow, ensuring there are always some plot-relevant events taking place to keep our attention from dissipating. While I wouldn’t say the events themselves are particularly action-packed, the juggling of the three storylines creates a constant forward movement few authors can achieve.

What type of action are we treated to in Mona Lisa Overdrive exactly? While there are a few scenes of a traditional and physical confrontations, to my great pleasure William Gibson placed the majority of his efforts to play up the intrigue and espionage elements of the book.

The major players are about as towering and domineering as one might expect from the most powerful entities in the world, and the fights they have against each other are, more often than not, fought on an intellectual level. Information is turned into an extremely powerful tool, while subterfuge and misdirection are the weapons of choice.

I don’t want to spoil the plot more than I have already, but I would like to add that the ultimate reveal might feel a little dated by modern standards, even if it feels more relevant than ever and is presented in an appropriately-grandiose manner. One would do well to remember this book first came out in 1988, and back then the idea was certainly a novel one.

The Waters of the Underworld

The two previous novels of the Sprawl Trilogy placed their focus on different elements in the world, and in Mona Lisa Overdrive we’re actually taking a step back from cyberspace, even if many elements of the plot do take us there. On the contrary, we spend more time visiting the real world, or more precisely, the cruel underworld which has established itself in it.

While this novel is certainly a cyberpunk story, I would venture to say it belongs in the Noir genre as well. The picture William Gibson paints of his world is rather dark, disjointed and at times minimalist, reflecting the inner nature of human beings in this fictional universe (one we’re getting closer and closer to). The narration is, at times, a little difficult to follow because of its fragmented nature, but it can be tamed due to it having a purpose, rather than simply being a stream of consciousness.

In the first novel, the real world was quite startling to explore as we were plunged head-first into a mystery we were largely left to figure out on our own. This time around, the excursion feels a lot more level-headed, and even the fact we’re following a war behind the veil of the ganglands isn’t enough to make the world feel as shocking as the first time around.

As far as the characters are concerned, I enjoyed them for the most part, though I did have a couple of issues. To begin with the positive aspects, Mona and Angie definitely stole the show in my opinion, both of them fleshed-out and part of what I found to be the most fascinating aspect of Gibson’s universe: cyberspace.

Additionally, the recurring characters from the previous books were a welcome sight, even if they didn’t live up to their previous exploits, especially in the case of Count Zero and Molly Millions. However, I can understand this choice by the author; this is, after all, not their books anymore. There were a couple of characters such as Kumiko whose purpose I couldn’t quite understand, but in the end I managed to accept their place in the story.

Mona Lisa Overdrive marks the end of a celebrated trilogy which played a huge role in developing a specific genre of science-fiction, and I have to say, I was a little surprised at how it went with more of a whimper than a bang. The ending gives us a lot of food for thought, and even if it does present a fascinating idea (which, once again, might feel a little dated by now), it leaves us, the readers, to work out its possibilities and consequences. In my mind, it’s a sign of respect from the author towards his readers, a respect of their intellectual capabilities… the kind of respect I sorely wish was more prominent in modern literature.

PAGESPUBLISHERPUB. DATEISBN
260Bantam BooksOct. 1 1988978-0553052503

The Final Verdict

Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson is an excellent conclusion to the cyberpunk Sprawl Trilogy, and even if there are a couple of aspects in which it falters, on the whole it’s a fascinating and exciting romp through a technologically-dominated world populated by (mostly) interesting characters. It has action, intrigue, espionage, and food for thought in equal measures.

If you’ve enjoyed the two previous chapters in the trilogy, or are looking to explore the earlier days of the cyberpunk genre, then this book, and series as whole, will probably be of great interest to you.


William Gibson (Author)

William Gibson

William Gibson is an American-Canadian writer and essayist whose greatest contribution to literature, to many, was pioneering the sub-genre of cyberpunk. Neuromancer is his most widely-acclaimed novel, his other notable works including Count Zero and Agency.

He is the recipient of the 1985 Nebula, Hugo, Philip K. Dick, 1995 Prix Aurora and 2016 Inkpot awards, not to mention his countless other nominations.

David ben Efraim (Profile image)

David Ben Efraim (Reviewer)

David Ben Efraim is a book reviewer living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and co-owner of Bookwormex, as well as the Quick Book Reviews blog, along with Yakov Ben Efraim. With a love for literature reaching across all genres (except romance), he has embarked on the quest to share its wonders with the world by helping people find their way to books which truly speak to them, whether they be modern sensations or relics from a bygone era.

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