The novels that William Gibson produces are few and far between: this time difference enables the reader to see the change in Gibson's writing style and content. From the convoluted, Chandler-esque demented vision of Neuromancer, Gibson has come along way. First Virtual Light, and now idoru, are considerably more sophisticated and accomplished pieces of fiction.
idoru uses the same basic setting as Virtual Light, and even shares some of the same characters, though it cannot be considered a sequel as such. Instead of the former novels setting of California, the focus in idoru is upon a dark, post-earthquake vision of Tokyo. This vision is more reminiscent of the Sprawl or No-Cal in its feel than the plastic vision of So-Cal in Virtual Light, but it has a peculiar Japanese slant, and unlike the unremitting darkness of the Sprawl has a more varied, and consequently more plausible atmosphere. The earthquake has also had a considerable impact, and it allows Gibson to explore the reactions and mind-set of the people as they rebuild.
Gibson is reknowned for complex and convoluted plots, and again in idoru he does not let the reader off the hook. The central characters of the novel are Colin Laney, a researcher with an uncanny knack for discovering the minutae of a person's life to gather an overall picture of them; and Chia, a young fan of a pop-band who travels to Tokyo to discover the truth about a rumour, falling deeper into confusion and culture shock. Both of them are investigating the 'romance' between Rez, one half of the pop duo Lo-Rez and the idoru: pure information, a software construct who can only manifest herself as a hologram or on the Net. Of course, nothing is simple and as both Laney and Chia reach the truth they must contest with smugglers, Russian gangsters, Japanese 'slackers', vengeful former employers and finally, Rez and the idoru themselves. The pace rarely lets up and of all his novels, idoru is probably the most coherent, and yet original. In the past, I have read Gibson's work for the atmosphere and characters, and while these aspects are still present, I found with idoru that I was hooked into the plot as well.
Gibson's characters are a cornerstone of his work, and in idoru this is still very true. Colin Laney is perhaps an archetypal Gibson 'hero' in the Case/Rydell mode. A background of secrets and heart-ache, he is penniless, out of work and in trouble when he is employed by Rez's badly scarred bodyguard to look into Rez's marriage to the idoru. Chia, on the otherhand, is a character more open to development, her voyage to Tokyo being an awakening for her: the progress from naive fan-girl to greater understanding and empathy is gradual but complete, and is quite delicately written. As ever, the secondary characters are all colourful and well-written providing a deeper background to the novel.
I didn't know what to expect of idoru. My pessimistic nature had expected Gibson to have burnt out, but thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. idoru does not have the same trailblazing, giddy feel of Neuromancer, but it is by far a better novel. It's background is more complete; its characters more complex; its writing far more sophisticated. They may come few and far between, but Gibson's novels are well worth the wait.