Review: Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson

The AIs of Neuromancer have suffered a traumatized, cataclysmic coming to self-awareness and now haunt cyberspace as voodoo powers. Mona’s pimp sells her to a plastic surgeon in New York and she’s turned overnight into someone else. The pimp winds up dead. Mona weeps for him. She’s a sweet, dumb girl so far. Angie the famous Hollywood stim star has started remembering things. Despite the efforts of studio bosses to keep her in ignorance, Angie will discover who she really is and why she doesn’t need to jack into the Matrix in order to enter cyberspace. In the depths of the rustbelt, the ring of steel garbage and toxic waste surrounding the Sprawl, Gentry obsessively seeks the darkest secrets of the Matrix. Seeking rapture. When an impossibly tall and powerful skyscraper of data appears suddenly in the landscape of the Matrix, Gentry is ready for it, Angie is part of it, and Mona is set for overdrive. Rapture is on the agenda for all three, but others greedy for money and power will fight them to the death.


Mona Lisa Overdrive concludes the story begun in Neuromancer and continued in Count Zero. Being the final book, it is useful to have some knowledge of the events of the preceding ones, although Gibson provides reasonable and brief – though sometimes, through the eyes of characters who weren’t there, inaccurate – descriptions of the key plot elements.

Mona is a prostitute who’s pimp cum boyfriend has grandiose plans of making it big in the Sprawl. He’ll do pretty much anything in order to make it, even if it means selling his girlfriend and source of income to strangers for reasons they won’t supply.

Kumiko is the daughter of a Yakuza lord, sent to England days before gang warfare explodes in Japan. In England, she meets Sally Sheers, a mysterious though familiar character who has been hired against her will to perform a bizarre feat of kidnapping and vandalism.

Angie Mitchell, still haunted by the events of Count Zero and now a world famous celebrity, is battling an insidious and debilitating drug addiction. Sequestered in clinics and private mansions for several months, she thinks she is now ready to return to the limelight. Someone doesn’t want her to kick her addiction, and will go to any lengths to ensure that the supply of drugs keeps flowing, and being used.

Slick Henry lives out in the Dog Solitude, a poisonous wasteland dotted with the remains of a once thriving industry. He wants nothing more than to be left in peace to make his robots. Gentry, the man with who Slick Henry shares the Factory, is obsessed with discovering the shape of the Matrix. They get a strange, unexpected and unwanted visitor; a comatose, dying young man jacked in to software the likes of which neither have ever seen. He is known as Count Zero.

Mona Lisa Overdrive does a good job of pulling all the seemingly disparate elements of the previous two books together in to an explosive and weird conclusion. Many characters from both books return as people who drive the plot forward. Failing that, the characters are mentioned in passing, with brief descriptions of what has happened to them since they appeared in their respective books. This helps to give a feeling of completeness and closure that is often missing in books of the cyberpunk genre without feeling contrived.

Gibson is a master of creating links and relationships where seemingly none exist. This happens again quite naturally in the concluding chapters of Mona Lisa Overdrive, and the vast majority of events are given a larger overall purpose and come together satisfyingly. Elements from previous books such as the fate of the AIs and 3Jane, the presence of the Loa, and the purpose of the biochip technology all come together with the major plot elements of Mona Lisa Overdrive in a manner that does not seem forced. To the contrary, the ending seems smooth and natural.

Once again, William Gibson’s distinct writing style is prevalent, as is his attention to the detail of the mundane, though powerfully symbolic, objects and actions that make his writing so endearing insightful. Mona Lisa Overdrive has perhaps a little less of this than the previous books, having more plot strands to follow and more loose ends to tie up before concluding. None the less, the writing and style are still of the highest standards.

Mona Lisa Overdrive also retrospectively makes Count Zero make a little more sense, and brings it closer to Neuromancer. Before reading Mona Lisa Overdrive, it is almost as if the previous two books are separate entirely, sharing only passingly some settings and characters. After reading this book and looking back over the previous ones, it is much easier to see where they all fit in to the bigger, overarching storylines. In a manner of speaking, Mona Lisa Overdrive makes Count Zero better.

If you have already read the first two books, you may as well give the last one a shot. It will tie things together nicely and finish off the main plot. If you are looking to get in to reading William Gibson, there are better places to start than Mona Lisa Overdrive. If you are looking for a good place to begin, then go ahead and get Neuromancer. Mona Lisa Overdrive will still be here waiting for you if – when – you are hooked enough to read the rest and get to the last book. It is a destination that does the journey justice. The familiarity of the characters and settings will be comforting, and the conclusion will leave you equally satisfied, bewildered and wanting more. Just like great cyberpunk should.

  • Genre: Cyberpunk-Science Fiction-Speculative Fiction
  • Demographic: Adult
  • Rating Out of Five: 4
  • Format: Paperback
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: 1988

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