I like reading fiction, I like romances and love stories.

Exactly 20 years ago, in 1996, William Gibson published “Idoru”, translated and published in Portuguese in 1998 by Gradiva. It was his second novel. William Gibson is well known by fans of cyberpunk, a literary genre that apparently is no longer fashionable. Gibson is also widely known for having created the concept of cyberspace in his first novel, “Neuromancer” (in 1984 and also published by Gradiva): “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.”
I read “Idoru” some years ago and I wrote an experimental academic text about it at the time [1]. Now back to the novel. After all, isn’t a good story one that intrigues and challenges us, one that we want to know how it ends, which finale is surprising and that we remember from time to time?

The setting is a mix of cyberspace and a nano-technologically rebuilt Tokyo after a violent earthquake, a city where buildings seem to change their shape as you look at them. The two spaces don’t mix; characterssubmerge in one or another space without apparently feeling confused or not located.
The main characters are: Rei Toei, an idoru – artificial being, an hologram, an “idol opera singer”; Rez – a humanbeing, a rock star; Laney – a human being, specialised in data analysis. Let’s keep aside, if possible, the creator and Rei Toei’s designer.
Rez belongs to a rock band. A worldwide success. His life is seen through Internet by thousands of fan clubs spread across the planet: what he wears, what he eats, what he says, who he’s dating… All details matter. Rez is, in short, a conventional rock star. He is in love with Rei Toei and wants to marry her. Rei Toei is beautiful, mysterious, and an idoru, and because of that she is totally artificial. Both fans and Rez’s agents are not happy about the idea of this marriage. No one understands what is happening. After all, he is going to marry a Japanese girl who doesn’t evenexist! “And he knows, but says we have no imagination.”So the company that manages Rez’s career decides to hireLaney for him to help everyone understanding and toexplain. Laney, a specialist in tangles of data, is an “intuitive information standards hunter: the kind of signature that anyone inadvertently creates in the Net.” Heis intuitively “a natural sailor, jumping from program toprogram, from database to database, from platform to platform”.

And of course, like in any series B novel, Laney finds himself involved in a seductively dangerous relationship. “He looked into her eyes. What kind of computing power would be needed to create something like that, something that gives back a look?” Right there, in her face structure, in her inner features’ geometry laid ciphered stories of dynastic escapes, privation, terrible migrations. She had seen stone tombs in steep alpine meadows, gravestones edged by snow. A loaded pony row, the white cold breath, followed by a rail over a gorge. In the background, the river’s curves were far away silvered brushstrokes. Iron bells in the harnesses resounded in the blue twilight.

Warning… elucidates Rei Toei’s creator: this idoru is “the result of a multitude of elaborate constructs which we refer to as desire machines. Not literally… but please picture assembled subjective desires.”

Yet Laney shivered. The idoru’s eyes, herald of an imaginary land, met his eyes… and the idoru smiled, lit from the inside. Laney closed his eyes but the image was still there. He opened them in front of the idoru, a fringe of fur around her features. She was looking at him. But then the image lost its definition, mingling with the textures that ran through data reefs, and he let it all go, let it go with that, and he felt like passing through its center, exactly in the middle of his crucial point, and then out on the other side… The idoru’s data began somewhere after that, but began as something with a regular and deliberate type, but lacking complexity. But at the points where he reached more of Rez’s data, Laney found Rei Toei had begun to acquire that kind of complexity. Or a more chaotic aspect, he thought. The human side. That’s how she learns.

Under Rei Toei’s data lays a latent, permanent, presentsubjectivity and her eyes express it. If the data are bits, how can we scan, transport, rebuild the subjective? The How can she feel desire, how could she dream ? How is itpossible? No, she isn’t a merely creation of designers. Laney finds an answer in the whirlwind of cyberspace, right there where Rei Toei’s and Rez’s data meet, where they get married: the Idoru learns her human side with Rez’s data…

P.S. HatsuneMiku, a virtual hologram singer and a phenomenon of our time is far from being Rei Toei. Thank God.

 

[1] My experimental academic text was published in Interact#9 in 2003.

The romance quotes and the personal recomposition of the story were taken from the Portuguese edition of Gradiva and translated to English by the author.

 

This text was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the original text.