Virtual Light is the first book in William Gibson's Bridge trilogy. Virtual Light is a science-fiction novel set in a postmodern, dystopian, cyberpunk future. The term 'Virtual Light' was coined by scientist Stephen Beck to describe a form of instrumentation that produces optical sensations directly in the eye without the use of photons. The novel was a finalist nominee for a Hugo Award in 1994.
The plot centers around Chevette Washington, a young bike messenger who, on a whim, steals a pair of dark-rimmed glasses from a man at a party because she is offended by his demeanor. Soon after, she realizes that the glasses have unlikely importance, as security company henchmen begin tracking and following her. Among the pursuers are Svobodov and Orlovsky, two Russian immigrants that reside in San Francisco and are employed as cops. Rydell, a private security agent, is also hired to reclaim the stolen property. The glasses contain information gathered by a Japanese developer named Yamazaki to rebuild San Francisco
entirely, and for that reason, they are highly coveted and present a danger to the person that possesses them.
Meanwhile, Berry Rydell is contracted to recover the pair of glasses for Lucius Warbaby, an intimidating and presumably affluent man. When he is given the mission, he is not informed of the significance of the glasses and the information they contain.
Eventually, the plot climaxes when Rydell, Orlovsky, and Svobodov all catch up with Chevette. The cops want the glasses; as does Rydell. Realizing the inherent danger of the situation, Rydell is forced to decide who to side with. He decides to fight off Orlovsky and Svobodov and shirk his agreement with Warbaby. Instead, Rydell runs off with Chevette, and embarks upon a wild and treacherous journey in which they must remain one step ahead of their enemies, who have all the advantages of wealth and technology on their side. A subplot also focuses on a romantic relationship between Chevette and Rydell, which is initially restricted because of the nature of their circumstances, but is eventually allowed to flourish.
The setting is California in 2005, part of a dystopian world where the middle class has essentially evaporated, leaving only multinational corporations and their exorbitantly rich elite, and the poor who are mostly security officers, couriers, or otherwise work in minor service positions.
A major theme of Virtual Light is class conflict
; Warbaby and the elite are placed against Rydell and Chevette. The elite see themselves as inherently superior, and view the underclass as amoral, ruthless, and dispensible. Another important element, which is common to cyberpunk
, is the idea of the power structure withholding information from the general population. The information, in this case, are the plans to completely reimagine an entire city, regardless of what its inhabitants think.
, a bike messenger with a rough past and uncertain future; she was abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend. At one point, she was in prison, but escaped and was able to find a job as a courier.
, a security officer who has drifted from one job to another.
, Chevette's friend who set her up with her courier job at Allied and tries to convince her to get rid of the glasses.
, an old man that Chevette lives with. She helps him around the house, and together they also sell odds and ends to people for extra money.
, a Japanese multinational whose research information is contained in the glasses.
, San Francisco cops.