Near-future good little-guys vs. bad redevelopers tussle--set in a California split into two states: from the cyberspace and virtual reality guru (Mona Lisa Overdrive, 1988; The Difference Engine, 1991, with Bruce Sterling, etc.). By the year 2005, the middle classes have vanished, leaving a vast struggling mass of impoverished workers or unemployed, with the amoral rich insulated by their purchasing power from the social Darwinistic carnage below. The nightmarish, corrosive backdrop combines nanotech medical machines, virtual reality spectacles, data havens, and secret control by multinational corporations--all standard Gibsonian tools--against which the characters are little better than walking shadows. When motorbike messenger Chevette Washington steals a pair of unusual sunglasses from an obnoxious drunk at a rich San Francisco hotel party, unlucky rent-a-cop Berry Rydell finds himself hired, under peculiar circumstances, to drive for Lucius Warbaby, a freelance skip-tracer who has been retained by a big security firm to recover the missing item. But the glasses have a mysterious importance--their erstwhile owner soon turns up with his throat cut; some Russian heavies, ostensibly real cops, muscle in; a terrifying assassin stalks Chevette, forcing Rydell to decide who's side he's on. The glasses, he eventually learns, contain a Japanese multinational's plans to redevelop the entire Bay area, regardless of the opinions of its inhabitants. Gibson combines an extraordinarily rich prose texture with starkly effective dialogue into a convincing, in-your-face future reality. His plotting, though, even more so than in previous outings, is flimsy and contrived. Dazzling snapshots, then--but, like cyberspace, everything disappears when you switch off.