Mona Lisa Overdrive (Sprawl, #3)

By William Gibson

38,264 ratings - 4* vote

William Gibson, author of the extraordinary multiaward-winning novel Neuromancer, has written his most brilliant and thrilling work to date... The Mona Lisa Overdrive. Enter Gibson's unique world - lyric and mechanical, erotic and violent, sobering and exciting - where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated uni William Gibson, author of the extraordinary multiaward-winning novel Neuromancer, has written his most brilliant

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Book details

Mass Market Paperback, 308 pages
December 1989 by Bantam Spectra

(first published June 1988)

Original Title
Mona Lisa Overdrive
ISBN
0553281747 (ISBN13: 9780553281743)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Paul Christensen

The best of Gibson’s three ’Sprawl’ novels. Dark laughter, cold beauty, hyperlight.

Manuel Antão

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.


Gibsonesque State: "Mona Lisa Overdrive" by William Gibson



Is there a Monalisa Overdrive future in the works? That's not to say that there aren't plenty of SF predicted futures for the world that involve a sort of Utopian society where experiences are increasingly shared and cooperative than individually ring-fenced and private, but it's very easy to discredit them on the grounds of communist and socialist critique and all the heavy baggage that comes along with that. The other biggest practical stumbling block are all those who just can't help but get ahead of themselves - or perhaps panic at what they see as the emergent imminent apocalyptic Gibsonesque state and use this as a justification for taking extreme attitudes towards people who don't agree with them, but when we do this, it's just an expression of weakness and lack of confidence in our own ideas.

Lyn

I love the way William Gibson writes. If I could imagine and set down the kind of books I want to read, his would be as near to the mark as possible.

Gibson is the literary heir to Philip K. Dick’s homey futurism – his is the messenger, the rent-a-cop, the retail appliance repairman in the grimy but tech advanced future – our blue collar, street wise guide to the mesmerizing world building.

Gibson’s 1988 conclusion to his groundbreaking Sprawl trilogy was a demonstration of some of his best writing. What began in the epochal Neuromancer, the Sprawl – that confluence of all the major urban centers on the United States east coast, from Boston to Atlanta – is a setting that provides Gibson’s able mind and extraordinary talent to describe for us a dystopian cyberpunk landscape that has influenced SF writing ever since.

In this novel we see a return of Molly Millions (though she is semi-retired and operating under a different alias) and a seamy tangle of interests involving organized crime, near future state of the market tech, drugs and biotech, corporate espionage, capitalistic anarchy and all rolled up in the neo-noir setting that has become Gibson’s trademark.

And his exceptional writing.

“The world hadn’t ever had so many moving parts or so few labels.”

“This was nothing like Tokyo, where the past, all that remained of it, was nurtured with a nervous care. History there had become a quantity, a rare thing, parceled out by government and preserved by law and corporate funding. Here it seemed the very fabric of things, as if the city were a single growth of stone and brick, uncounted strata of message and meaning, age upon age, generated over the centuries to the dictates of some now-all-but-unreadable DNA of commerce and empire.” 

“Because sometimes it feels good to shake it all off, get out from under. Chances are, we haven’t. But maybe we have. Maybe nobody, nobody at all, knows where we are. Nice feeling, huh? You could be kinked, you ever think of that? Maybe your dad, the Yak warlord, he’s got a little bug planted in you so he can keep track of his daughter. You got those pretty little teeth, maybe Daddy’s dentist tucked a little hardware in there one time when you were into a stim. You go to the dentist?” “Yes.” “You stim while he works?” “Yes …” “There you go. Maybe he’s listening to us right now.…”

“And somewhere, in a black California morning, some hour before dawn, amid the corridors, the galleries, the faces of dream, fragments of conversation she half-recalled, waking to pale fog against the windows of the master bedroom, she prized something free and dragged it back through the wall of sleep. Rolling over, fumbling through a bedside drawer, finding a Porsche pen, a present from an assistant grip, she inscribed her treasure on the glossy back of an Italian fashion magazine:”

Speculative fiction GOLD.

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Clouds


Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my FINISHING THE SERIES! list.

I loves me a good series! But I'm terrible for starting a new series before finishing my last - so this reading list is all about trying to close out those series I've got on the go...

A quick look back:
I said in my review of Count Zero that it wasn't "a direct sequel - it doesn't pick-up the same characters - but it's set in the same world, orbiting the same scene, with some common threads." Mona Lisa Overdrive proves me utterly wrong!

A quick summary:
In the Sprawl, all roads lead to MLO . We're re-united with key characters from both Neuromancer and Count Zero, plus a few fresh faces, then treated to a ranging tour though Gibson's seedy world of cyberpunk espionage.

Neuromancer was a heist story.
Count Zero was a thematic portmanteu.
MLO is the tense, 'thriller' climax.

If anything, this is the most accessible of the series. The hard work has already been done; Gibson has already gauged out his stylistic niche. He's scattered his electric seeds in the darkness, and nurtured the neon flora that's emerged to grow under bickering strobe-lights... The ideas are still silhouetted as sharply as ever, but the characters are gentler...

A quick assessment of the cast:
With the eponymous prostitute Mona and gang-lord's daughter Kumiko, we've got two young female character, less interested in crime and technology, more interested in hope, escape and survival. With Slick Henry we've got a young artist - he's looking for catharsis, healing and peace. They're reactive, submissive and accepting. It's the old characters, Molly/Sally from Neuromancer and Angie from Counter Zero, who set the agenda, drive the plot and flesh out the fiercer aspects of attitude and angst. Those two are looking to force a confrontation and settle the turmoil unleashed by Neuromancer. Together... it all... balances.

What not so good?
So why didn't it get 5 stars? I thought it was better than Count Zero (4-stars), but not as good as Neuromancer (5-stars). I was torn between a 4 and a 5 for MLO... and that hesitation decided it for me. I don't hesitate over 5-star ratings.

Why I hesitated is harder for me to untangle. There's something about the ending that didn't quite nail it for me. It needed something big and bold, something that would blow my pitiful little mind. It needed something to leave me in awe. What I got was good, it was clever and nuanced, but I've been spoilt by Dan Simmons - I've experienced awe - and I didn't find it here.

Still no awards?
Count Zero got swept aside in the award polls by Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead (which is awesome!)
Mona Lisa Overdrive was also denied, but it was far less clear cut. Gibson missed out on the Locus, second behind Cyteen - Cyteen also took the Hugo, and Bujold's Falling Free nabbed the Nebula.
For once, I've read all three! I love Bujold but this is definitely a better book than Falling Free. It's in the same ballpark as Cyteen, but in a straight head-to-head I'd have to give this one to Gibson.

Carry on?
Well, this is the end of the Sprawl series, but Gibson's definitely done enough here to count me as a fan. I'll probably take a bit of a break before picking up another series... but I've now got that pleasant choice... the Bridge trilogy or the Blue Ant trilogy... anyone got any recommendations there?

After this I read: Cryoburn

Carmen

William Gibson's "conclusion" to the Sprawl trilogy. Conclusion is in quotes because it's a loose trilogy.

Gibson does what he does best in this novel: takes three different story arcs and weaves them together into a wonderful story that comes together neatly in the end.

Kumiko is a young teenager who is the daughter of a powerful yakuza. She's sent to England to hide from her father's enemies, with only a "ghost," given to her by her father, to keep her company. The "ghost" is really an AI unit that can help her in almost endless ways. It presents as a British child named Colin.

Slick is a poor young man who is homeless and living in a junkyard with a few other boys. He builds robots to express his anger and fear and negative feelings about the time he spent in prison for stealing cars. Soon trouble comes to his door in the form of a comatose man on a stretcher. He comes equipped with his own personal nurse, Cherry, another poor person who at least knows some med-tech. This mysterious comatose man is delivered with instructions to keep him hidden and safe, and there sure is a lot of money - and fear - behind that desire.

Angie is Angela Mitchell, you'll recognize her from Book 2: Count Zero. She has been lucky - she leads a life of fame and fortune and glamour as a very popular TV star. But being so famous also means being monitored very closely, and after being in rehab to get off some drugs she feels the need to rethink her life. Especially since her boyfriend Bobby Newmark has left her and no one has any idea where he is...

Lastly, we have Mona. The character that made me very anxious throughout the book. She's a 16-year-old whore and her pimp Eddy is a nasty piece of work. He acquired her when she was 14 and he's got this sick dating-you/pimping-you-out relationship with her that just made my skin crawl. Especially hearing Gibson explain what he has her do in order to get off. *shudder But then a man shows up - a man very interested in Mona's looks. He gives Eddy $2,000 to take her away and have extensive plastic surgery done on her... Can she find her freedom or is she going from the frying pan to the fire?

....

This was not as good as the first two books in the trilogy, in my opinion, but it was still VERY good. I knew it was good because I was anxious and worried about the characters and what would happen to them.

I'm telling you, nothing makes my heart sick with worry and aching pain than reading about a whore. So Gibson immediately had my full attention when little Mona was introduced. She's got a drug addiction, she's with this creep - she's got no past and no future. Then, to make things worse, this man comes in and we have no idea if this guy is a creep, if he's going to do something horrible with her - or if this will be her ticket out of the Life, or what,... I was nervous as heck and screaming at my book. Luckily, I trust Gibson not to let me down and he didn't.

The writing is wonderful.

And I love, love, love when Gibson surprises me with a character. I liked feeling like I knew the character, and underestimated her - and then Gibson would have her do something smart or brave that was unexpected and I would cheer! He's very good at this. It's not as if the person is acting out-of-character, it's as if there's a level to the character you never realized or a layer you hadn't known existed. It's amazing. This is what's missing from a lot of books, the extra sauce that gets you a five-star rating from me.

Another thing I liked about this book was that Gibson brings back characters from Books 1 and 2 - characters you thought had dropped off the face of the earth - and you are so glad to see them again and find out what happened to them.

Now, Gibson's not a pretty, happy, everything-is-wonderful writer. I mean, this is gritty cyberpunk and a lot of dirty, grimy stuff happens, a lot of inventions, a lot of cyberspace, a lot of action scenes. It's pretty awesome. But the most awesome thing is the human thread through the whole trilogy. Addiction, poverty, fame, prostitution - all these themes come back again and again. When I started reading Neuromancer I was afraid all the tech-stuff would be too much or too difficult for me. But even thought this book is jam-packed with all the cyber-punk goodness a geeked-out nerd could want, it also has such a touching, human element to it that hooks people like me.

I am so glad I picked up this trilogy - I had avoided it for so long and all my fears were for nothing. It turned out to be a 5-star trilogy for me. It's definitely not for everyone, though.

Graeme Rodaughan

One of the later books of Gibson that I read. It left me with the fundamental idea of warring corporations and states on the wane that still lives with me now.

Darwin8u

“The world hadn’t ever had so many moving parts or so few labels.”
― William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive

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There is something about Gibson that keeps me coming back. Part of it is how, like PKD, he seems to always have a sense of what is around the next two corners. Not just the objects. No. The textures and smells and ambiguities too. It is like Gibson doesn't just have foresight, he has foresmell and foretaste. Anyway, even with that, this wasn't his best book and not in the strong half of the Sprawl trilogy.

In this book Gibson is weaving together four plot threads.

Thread One: Japanese Yakuza princess in peril hides in London and hangs with "Sally Shears" aka Molly Milions (of Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic fame).

Thread Two: Angie Mitchell from Book 2 (Count Zero) of the Sprawl trilogy seeks to find lost boyfriend while dealing with the addiction and costs of Simstim fame.

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Thread Three: Mona a innocent prostitute is sucked into a crime world where she is made to look like Angie as a piece in an abduction attempt on Angie.

Thread Four: Slick Henry and friends care for the comatose body of the "Count" Bobby Newmark from the 'Count Zero'.

One note. I did appreciate how diligent Gibson is in building strong female characters. There are just as many ass kicking females as damsels in distress. Gibson doesn't flirt with feminist ideas. He is able to incorporate strong women naturally. It isn't decoration or an after thought. It appears as natural to him as writing about fabric or fashion.

Gibson weaves these various plots and characters together and it all only frays a bit toward the end. I get where he was trying to go with everything, it just lost a bit of focus, the resolution wasn't great, the pay-off was subpar. But still I know when Gibson writes another book, I'll get sucked back in because the Matrix/Cyberspace/Sprawl worlds Gibson builds feel bright enough to attract and worn enough to comfort.

Rob

Executive Summary: I've owned this book for years, and for some reason never picked it up and read it. Thankfully I participated in a "Secret Santa" book thing of sorts, and someone out there finally got me to read it.

Full Review
I've always been more of a Snow Crash person than a Neuromancer person. I found it the easier read, and enjoyed the lighter nature/faster pace of the story. It took me quite a few years to circle back and read Count Zero and later Burning Chrome. I enjoyed them all, but partially because I love the ideas of cyberpunk worlds and appreciate the role of these books played in the genre than for the actual story itself. I know, I'll go turn in my computer geek card later.

I picked up this book at the same time as Count Zero, but I was just never in a rush to read it. As it's been quite some time since I read those books, I'm hard pressed to say this is my favorite of the series, but it's quite possible.

I always enjoyed Molly more than Case. Add in a Yakuza plot line on top of all the fun cyberpunk tech and I couldn't put it down. Of course I read this book mostly while I was on a 5 hour plane ride, but it seemed to make the time pass rather quickly.

I thought this wrapped up several dangling plot lines of the last two books pretty nicely, and I found the pacing far more enjoyable than Neuromancer.

One of these days I should really get around to reading more by Mr. Gibson, and I've enjoyed everything of his I've read and he tends to write about subjects right in my wheelhouse. Maybe this will finally inspire me to do so.

So thank you Secret Santa (whoever you are) for getting me to finally finish this series.

Kara Babcock

It’s common to accuse a writer of writing the same thing over again. In many cases this merely means the writer sticks to variations on a theme. Sometimes, though, it feels like each novel is another installment in an iterative process designed to get at a central idea. As I continue to read William Gibson’s novels, I continue to get a better idea of the novel he is trying to write. Mona Lisa Overdrive mixes the legacy of the previous two Sprawl books with a corporate espionage–fuelled plot worthy of Spook Country. The result is a novel that bridges these two aspects of Gibson’s writing, providing a pivot around which his work revolves.

Neuromancer was fundamentally a caper. Fondly remembered now for introducing cyberspace and cyberpunk, it’s an adventure across the world and into low-Earth orbit at the beck and call of an AI seeking to escape from itself. In contrast, Count Zero is almost more grounded in the petty machinations of we lowly humans. Mona Lisa Overdrive reconciles these two universes: in the years since the events of Neuromancer, something strange has been happening in the matrix. People have noticed, and they are trying to find out. But Angie Mitchell—daughter of the late Christopher Mitchell from the previous book—has risen to no small fame of her own, and her interesting abilities with the Sense/Net have made her a target. Mona is likewise a target—because she looks like Angie. Kumiko? Doesn’t look like Angie, but as the daughter of a powerful Japanese businessman, she is a target all the same.

I love how Gibson writes excellent women characters. I mentioned this a little in my review of Pattern Recognition . Can we take a moment to stop and reflect on the fact that Gibson features great women in all of his novels? Molly/Sally, Chevette, Marly, Chia, Hollis, and Cayce (my fav). It’s not a fluke. Gibson is proof that a white man can not only write women like they are people (because they are), but he can do it over, and over, and still write good books. And he’s been doing it since the 1980s.

This is relevant to Mona Lisa Overdrive in particular because of how three main characters are targets, as I explained above. Angie and Mona are being constantly manipulated, one by her corporation and the other by the people plotting to kidnap her. Kumiko (who is 12) has been shipped off to London—literally halfway around the world—because it should be safer for her, yet she gets embroiled in the power plays there and finds herself on the streets with a semi-sentient biochip personality guiding her. (I don’t think it’s an accident that the youngest of these three women also fares the best and, in the end, exhibits the most independence and resilience.)

Gibson once again shows his ability to quickly establish a character with some broad but careful strokes. Mona in particular spends time ruminating on her days in Cleveland, and we quickly get a sense of the experiences that have shaped her as a person. I wish we had more time to spend with her; of all the characters in the book, hers feels like it had the least time to develop. Kumiko learns a great deal in London; Angie is gradually coming out of her shell; Slick is shocked, I would say, out of the torpor he has fallen into in Dog Solitude. Mona, arguably eponymous, is afforded only the briefest of opportunities to shine.

The ending is both open-ended and curious. I’m fascinated by the dual culmination: Mona becoming Angie, Angie joining Colin and the Finn and Bobby, echoes and whispers again of that Centauri intelligence first hinted at in Neuromancer. Gibson frustratingly refuses the play the game: there’s so much more story he could tell, but he leaves off—that’s not the story he’s telling here. This is not a book about AI evolution or posthumanism so much as it is a book about the way that people’s lives can be influenced by the most esoteric and indirect events. There are times when Gibson’s characters, though always with agency, seem to lack much power. Even Sally—aka the venerable Molly Millions—is manipulated, by someone else who is himself manipulated by a higher power. Where does it stop? It probably doesn’t, is the implication. And so even as our technologies advance and we hurtle forward towards our bright and grimy future, we continue manipulating each other at the same fundamental levels we have for thousands of years.

I enjoyed Mona Lisa Overdrive as an adventure. It’s fast-paced, a little emotional and brutal, and very engaging. It’s not as adept as some of Gibson’s other novels at portraying the strange, usually unanticipated consequences of our exploration of digital technology and cyberspace. That’s OK, though. I don’t mean to discount this novel for that, only underline that within the margins of tolerance that define a “Gibson” novel, this one adheres to some parameters more than others.

My reviews of the Sprawl trilogy:
Count Zero

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