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(Deutsch: Die virtuelle Frau). By William Gibson

William Gibson: Idoru (deutsch: Die virtuelle Frau), Berkley 1997
Berkeley Publishing Group, ISBN 0-425-15864-0, 383 pages; München 1999, Heyne, ISBN 3-453-15636-6, 332 Seiten

02.05.2000 · Reviewed by Christina Teuthorn

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She does not have eyebrows. But whoever watches the beautiful woman's face, finds an Antarctica of information: tombs in steep alpine meadows, their lintels traced with snow. The curves of a river resembling strokes of distant silver. Orange sunset off a tilted, steel-framed window. Oilslick colors crawling in the sky.

Nearly all Japan adores Rei Toei, and now, the country's most famous Rock Star decided to marry her. The only problem: Rei Toei is not real, but information. She is a hologram, something generated, animated, projected - an entirely virtual media star, the "Idoru."

William Gibson is credited with coining the term "cyberspace", and his idea of a shared visual space still influences research in the field. With "Idoru" he outlines a world built of digital bits and nanotech, a place, where artificial intelligence has emerged, "privacy" lost its meaning and crime is organized in a new way.

The novel's scene is 21st century Tokyo, after the millennial quake. Nanotechnology has been used to immediately pull up a gigantic urban jungle of skyscrapers. By night, people can watch those towers growing - like watching a candle melt, but in reverse. Walls just seal themselves over, one after another. Tokyo is also the scene of organized crime. The Russian-Japanese Mafia, "gumi", infiltrated secret channels, lurking for nanotech and digital bits.

Colin Laney is this world's hero. His business: he puts on eyephones, haptic datafaces, and crawls the universe of information of Dat America, a kind of Internet-successor, in order to find a person's digital footprints. As an information-snooper, netrunner and natural channel-zipper, he shifts from program to program, from database to database, from platform to platform and intuitively fishes for patterns of information. For Laney, data is vivid, an endless vanilla plane, a sea of tapioca.

His talent is to find structures in immense masses of data enabling him to prognosticate changes. To correlate a celebrity's calls with parking charges - credit card businesses - is one of the easiest. To affect the market in patent gene futures is already somehow tougher. The biggest challenge certainly would be to trace someone, who doesn't leave any footprints in the digital sphere. But who does not? In the digital society, as Gibson suggests, everyone's life is reflected by a pool of data, the digital fabric of the world. The "End of Privacy" has become reality.

Gibson constructs his visionary worlds with a special accuracy for the leftovers from the past. Future is not such a cool and sexy showroom for hip technologies, as a lot of Gibson's colleagues would draft, but a place of recycled junk, a blend of antique fragments. The book's fascination owns a great part to those scenes and places, which are described with astonishing meticulousness by Gibson. For instance, there is "Death Cube K", a Franz Kafka theme bar, where visitors step out of the elevator into a long space announced in acid-etched metal as "The Metamorphosis". In "The Penal Colony", a deserted disco, pulses of silent red lightning mark people's steps. The walls of the theme bar "Le chicle" consist of chewed gum. And in the "Grotto", chemically frozen frescoes of urine stick out.

On the other hand, Gibson draws the reader's critical attention towards current trends, where he also does not mean with details: at the airport, passengers who have cleared security may be subject to non invasive DNA-sampling. Their DNA is in their passports, converted into a kind of bar code. Little robots, with dirty pink rubber tires and big cartoon eyes rolling morosely, carry fancy luggage. School girls have global positioning systems on their wearable computers, wireless ear-clip headsets, are able to talk to foreigners in their natural language, as their computer translates immediately, and smoke cigarettes, which cannot produce cancer.

Beneath metaphorically dense descriptions and an entertaining plot, it are the questions Gibson raises, that really open the readers' eyes to a new, dreamlike, but deeply plausible digitized, nanotech world of tomorrow: What will happen to a networked society, if privacy diminishes? What is the dark side, what the bright one of technological innovation in the fields of nanotech and digitalization? Should the process of innovation be better controlled? What is reality? Who is human? Will a new understanding of technology as natural matter arise, with new human-tech "species" as the Idoru coming to life?

With brilliance, Gibson does not provide clear-cut answers, but takes the reader to a speed-bumped tour through a sexy, scary future. "Idoru" therefore is not only a futuristic novel, a surreal thriller, but also a sharp satire. And so, Gibson leaves a dazed-dazzled reader, who has tasted, felt and sniffed the fancy future, but is glad to live in the presence.

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