Déjà vu or Reality: On Reading William Gibson’s Virtual Light

Over the weekend, I began reading William Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy” beginning with his novel, Virtual Light (1993).

Reading the novel, I had a tremendous sense of déjà vu that was impossible to shake. I asked myself these questions in response to this strange feeling that persisted during the hours of reading and after:

Have I read this before? This is entirely possible. I used to have copies of the Bridge Trilogy novels, but I sold them before moving to Liverpool for graduate school. As I look back on my blog–or am reminded of things I have wrote about on my blog when I occasionally receive and respond to a comment on something long forgotten–I have read a number of things that I cannot now recall in my memory.

Have I read so much secondary literature about it that I feel as if I have read it? This is definitely a possibility, because I read through a lot of secondary literature on Gibson’s oeuvre as I was writing my dissertation and in preparing for my research trip to the University of California, Riverside Library in 2012. In academia, I have found myself circling works through the secondary literature. I learn bits and pieces through summary and arguments that I then piece together in my mind as a kind of jigsaw puzzle version of the work in question. You triangulate the narrative and characters from that data that you have. Of course, this is not the same as having read the real thing, but it is akin to how we know about some Greek dramas and ancient philosophies–the surviving references instead of the thing itself.

Are there so many aspects of the present (or recent past) like those we encounter in Virtual Light that I feel as if the novel mirrors the present? Besides the image of the bridge and its bricolage/assemblage/community, Virtual Light has augmented reality, navigation systems, cracking car computer/communication system, SWATTING (of a kind), armed drones, an erased Middle Class, a San Francisco dependent upon the service industry, and a security-industrial complex. I recently read Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown (1992), which seems to figure into the novel by anecdote and theme (differentiating hackers/merry pranksters from hackers/criminalization). The connection between the themes of his over two-decade old novel and the present is strong. Maybe it should be required reading for contemporary security analysts.

So, have I read it before? I’m still not sure, but I’m left with a strange feeling about the novel and the present.