William Gibson is better known for his 1984 Cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, which was responsible for the popularisation of terms like ‘cyberspace’, and in which he loosely predicted the rise of the Internet you are using to view this piece, than he is for this novel.
His novel, Idoru, however, stands out on its own as a work of tech-predictive science fiction. Published in 1997, it is a weirdly comfortable read, by which I mean its prediction of the digitally-immersed laptop/iPad/smartphone culture of today, online social networks, and the existence of an economically-viable ‘Second Life’ feels like I was reading about a world only fractionally different from our own.
Possibly its craziest prediction was the existence of completely-digital Japanese pop stars, such as Aimi Eguchi, who was outed in 2011 as the computer-generated composite of members of her band (see_here and here_for_more_information ).
It is at the intersection of digital and musical personalities that the narrative of Idoru begins to unfold. Chia Pet Mackenzie and her friends are horrified to hear a rumour that their idol, Rez, the lead singer of Lo/Rez, has commenced an affair with an idoru, Rei, an artificial celebrity in her own right, created by the advertising conglomerates which control a monetized media. Chia is sent by the band’s fan club to find out the facts. In this richly digital world, Chia’s quest to discover the truth about her idol contrasts with the efforts of data specialist Colin Laney to preserve it safe from the mainstream audience.
“We’re the media, Laney. We make these assholes celebrities. It’s a push-me, pull-you routine. They come to us to be created.” … Slitscan’s business was the ritual letting of blood, and the blood it let was an alchemical fluid: celebrity in its rawest, purest form.”
The nature of fandom, fame, originality and artificiality, all seem to be wrestling for some kind of prominence in this novel, and the price of it all might just be a little girl’s innocent love of the lead singer of her favourite band.
K.L gives Idoru 4.5 out of 5 artificial intelligences eating sushi in clubs with superstars. Don’t worry. They’re artificial – the .5th of an AI will be fine.
SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!
I particularly appreciated the strongly-hinted-at but never named presence of David Bowie as Chia’s virtual tutor the Music Master, in a virtual Venice. The aside that the copyright infringement had been settled out of court, and “had mainly had to do with changing one of his eyes” was particularly amusing.