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VWN Product Reviews: Idoru

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Idoru is a strange novel in many ways. It is a William Gibson cyberpunk novel, set in the dark days of the near future, written by one of the masters of the genre. The book itself is dedicated to a concept that is not quite with us yet, but may well be here in the near future ? cyberpunk apes reality.

Teenager Chia McKenzie loves Rez, one half of a duo band called Lo/Rez. Unfazed that Rez is the same generation as her mother, she lives in the digital world of her sandbenders. Age, gender, history, none of this really matters in the cyber world. Only ability matters.

Rez has a fan club in every large town on the planet. Chia?s home city of Seattle is no different. When they start to hear rumours about his latest affair, Chia is the one sent to Tokyo on borrowed credit, to check it out.

Colin Laney is a database operator. Beyond that, using the latest VR hardware and a unique talent of his own, he?s a nodal operator ? he finds the data nodes, the points where interesting data is about to peak, and he ties it all together, doing in hours what others take months to fish out. Working for Slitscan, exposing the iffy side of celebrity lives, so slitscan can blackmail or destroy those celebrities, everything goes wrong when one of his investigative tracks leads to the suicide of the woman he investigates, and he is left with blood on his fingers, literally. He heads to Tokyo in search of work.

In Tokyo, Rez?s corporation, his minders, security apparatus all are concerned over him, he is going to marry Rei Toei, the beautiful, virtual, completely artificial, AI media star in Japan. What is known as an Idoru. Nothing like this has ever happened before. A human marrying an AI? A massive, worldwide celebrity, marrying an artificial intelligence whom only exists inside a computer?

?But do they really have singers who don?t exist??
?The idol-singers,? he said, staring up the hump-backed incline of the bridge. ?The idoru. Some of them are enormously popular.?
?Do people kill themselves over them??
?I don?t know. They could do, I suppose.?

Idoru, page 44.


??Idol-singer?. She is Rei Toei. She is a personality-construct, a congeries of software agents, the creation of information-designers. She is akin to what I believe they call a ?synthespian? in Hollywood.?
Laney closed his eyes, opened them. ?Then how can he marry her??

Idoru, page 92


Idoru is a book of many depths. The plot twists and turns, leaping from Chia?s perspective to Laney?s, in alternating chapters, building up their two very different story halves.

Chia is a low intellect kid, barely 14, approaching the world with a child?s eye. Her Seattle chapter, has sent her out alone, with a credit stipend from them, her only link. In a foreign country, she must deal with predatory elements both old and new, in her search for the truth about Rez and this Idoru.

Laney is a worldly-wise man who?s been round the block a few too many times, and all too familiar with the way the world works. Between them, they paint a wonderfully complete, and haunting picture of the near future world of post-quake Tokyo.

Both find themselves swept up in the events that surround the expected marriage of Rei Toei, and Rez. A marriage that the book does not concentrate on in detail, but instead shows like the eye of a hurricane, with events spiralling round it, out of control.



Spoiler warning. The rest of this document discusses things within the book, which may mar enjoyment if you have not read it yet.

The concept of a human marrying an entirely artificial, virtual entity is the core concept of Idoru, and it is a very poignant concept, as, with the growth in both software-agent AI, and the increasing use of VR-generated actors and front-people, it can only be a matter of time before we have Idoru for real.

At the same time as the core story of the Idoru marriage is occurring, we have many wonderful sub-stories. At many points the cyberspace world is explored in great detail ? as much as the physical world of Tokyo.

They met in a jungle clearing.
Kelsey had done the vegetation: big bright Roussaeu leaves, cartoon orchids flecked with her idea of tropical colors (which reminded Chia of that mall chain that sold ?organic? cosmetic products in shades utterly unknown to nature). Zona, the only one telepresent who?d ever seen anything like a real jungle, had done the audio, providing birdcalls, invisible but realistically dopplering bugs, and the odd vegetational rustle artfully suggesting not snakes but some shy furry thing, soft-pawed and curious.

Idoru, page 11


This is the cyberspace that we all know and love so well, but note the language used, tele-presence. Not sitting at a keyboard, typing away into Moove, ActiveWorlds, SecondLife or There, but actually being telepresent within a virtual environment, being there, through jacking in. This is a theme that repeats frequently throughout the book, and indeed, most of cyberpunk.

The concept of a shared creation is also present, as in the jungle scene above, which continues to be described for quite some time beyond that passage. Each participant has been able to add something to the whole, and, as later worlds explored show, can be truly massive in size and scope.

This too, is precisely the direction today?s virtual worlds are heading, but Idoru covers them in such breathtaking detail, and logical extension, that you find yourself longing to experience VR as Idoru paints it, instead of the far more primitive VR of today.

Beside the water bag lay her schoolwork, represented by a three-ring binder suffering the indignities of artificial bit-rot, it?s wireframe cover festered with digital mung. She?d have to reformat that before she started her new school, she reminded herself. Too juvenile.
Idoru, page 34


The above quote, represents a different aspect of the virtual worlds of Idoru. Reminiscent of modern-day equivalents like 3DNA. In which, the traditional WIMP paradigm ? windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers ? is translated into 3D.

Items can look however the user likes, whether that be a ?three-ring binder festered with digital mung? or a chipped coffee mug, a stack of tapes, or a squeaky toy on a shelf. All however, are the equivalent of icons in a windows environment. Select them, to open their contents, and run whatever program is associated with them.

This ?beyond WIMP? interface has long been sought after by many labs, and many lesser products, precisely because it is completely intuitive and natural, making it more efficient, and easier to use for all, regardless of computer expertise. Idoru discusses such systems in detail, integral to the flow of the book, and repeatedly returns to embrace them.

Major spoiler warning


?She is nowhere?, the Etruscan said.
?
?Whatever the next stage of her plan,? the Etruscan said, ?she had exposed her presence in the website. The original owners became aware of her. She was forced to discard her persona.?
?What persona?? Chia felt a sinking feeling.
??Zona Rosa?? said the Etruscan, ?was the persona of Mercdes Purissima Vargas-Gutierrez. She is twenty-six years old, and the victim of an environmental syndrome occurring most frequently in the Federal District of Mexico.?

Idoru, page 285


The final element Idoru looks into deeply, is the persona of Zona Rosa. Zona is a main supporting character throughout the book, working with Chia from the digital world. Her life is fleshed out all through the book. Right at the very end, this truly helpful, fully fleshed out character is revealed to be the digital persona of a physically disabled woman.

This profound statement, adds to the trend which has emerged since the books? original publication, and is, like the other trends, moving towards the point Idoru prophesises, where life online is truly possible, independent of any despised physical existence. It also makes a side-remark in doing so, that a life online, may well be a better life than the one a person with severe disfigurement or disability would face, in the physical world.

 

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