I admit that I find Gibson to be rather oblique reading. I first read Neuromancer for CBR IV, and I wasn’t really motivated to read the rest of the Sprawl books for a number of reasons. But I really like the *idea* of cyberpunk, and after watching Netflix’s Altered Carbon I thought I might give some abandoned cyberpunk series another chance, including this one and, yeah, the Takeshi Kovacs books.
I don’t remember Neuromancer all too well, but from what I do remember, some of the super esoteric Gibson-ness appears to have been dialed back in both Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. In my review of Neuromancer, I talked about responding poorly to abundantly used, illegible patois, and that didn’t appear in these two books. But, they’re both still rather challenging to follow, as Gibson is fairly punishing with his liberal use of invented jargon and concepts, few of which are explained in real-world terminology. The reader truly is 100% responsible for attempting, along the way, to figure out what’s going on. Following the plot and playing along with the characters as they do their various sleuthing and uncovering is only part of it; we also have to parse Gibson’s language as he discusses environments and concepts that don’t exist, gathering context for what these things are in media res. If some sci-fi leans really hard on infodumps to explain their worlds and what is going on, Gibson’s books are the polar opposite, as they tell you nothing at all and you either play along, or don’t.
For my part, I definitely looked up the plot of both Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive after finishing, to make sure that I’d actually made sense of what I just read. Turns out I mostly did, and moreso for the latter than for the former, but still, it should tell you something that I was so unsure. So, I find myself unsure how to respond to these books, because surely, clarity is of some importance in any story, and even if an author doesn’t spoon-feed the reader, a reader that is paying proper attention ought to have some level of confidence that s/he followed the most basic progression of the story. I’m not talking deeper themes or anything here: if a reader reads a 350 page book and can’t reliably explain what they just read, is that acceptable? I find that as I get older, my tolerance for material that seems to be intentionally confusing declines. (This also applies to TV.) I can’t help but come away with the impression that this type of stuff uses its anarchic approach to storytelling as a shield against criticism, as “You just didn’t understand” is, in these cases, an easy (and probably factual) defense that puts the responsibility back on the reader, somewhat unfairly.
The overall concept, across all three Sprawl books, is around the creation-destruction cycles of power in our technological and human systems. The jockeying of unfathomably wealthy corporations and private/family entities around technology that might give them godlike influence and a reasonable facsimile of immortality is, in turn, waylaid by the forces employed by the technology itself: after all, if that exists in cyberspace that can elevate human intelligence beyond what is natural, why might AI not be able to leverage that same ability? All of these mega-interests carry out their schemes and dirty work through a menagerie of human bit players. From there, the specifics get … complicated.
I just don’t know. As much as it’s somewhat facile to try to summarize everything using these unspecific, subjective terms, the most general way I can describe my personal rating of Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive is that I was entertained by them, but I didn’t fully enjoy them. They’re frenetic and fast-paced, and they give the impression of having a lot go on that makes you want to keep reading. Whether that reading becomes actual comprehension is much less certain and not guaranteed. For me, I like being able to come away from something and have enough understanding to, well, write a review about it, where the review is not ~400 words about how hard it is to understand.