J.D. Shapely is a character in William Gibson's 1993 near future science-fiction work Virtual Light. Although he is not a character in the sense of being a participant in the book, he is rather a historical figure that is referenced by many characters throughout the book.

The book is set in the world of 2005, and there are many aspects of life 12 years in the future (from the time of the books publication) that are not fully explained. Gibson avoids the technique of "As You Know, Bob", in describing his dystopic, cyberpunk world. J.D. Shapely is first mentioned in passing in the second chapter of the book, and is continually referenced throughout the book, his story emerging in pieces as a leitmotif. J.D. Shapely was a homosexual prostitute who, despite a very promiscuous lifestyle, never developed AIDS. Researchers discovered that he carried a strain of HIV that was benign and competitive with the normal, fatal strain. From this, they developed a vaccine that consisted of giving people a full infection of benign HIV. This saved many people's lives, causing Shapely to be assassinated by some "racist fundamentalist" who believed that AIDS was God's judgment on the "unclean". After his death, Shapely is elevated to the status of a saint and a martyr, and is the subject of much folk art. Virtual Light concludes with a description of a funeral procession that uses iconography derived from Shapely's life. The fact that the book concludes in this manner shows that Shapely's life and death is somehow central to the theme of the book.

For those not familiar with the book, its plot consists of the attempt of a bicycle messenger and an ex-cop to escape several hitmen and corrupt cops who are looking for a pair of VR sunglasses that give away the plans of megacorporations to rebuild San Francisco. From this brief description, it may be unclear why the life and death of J.D. Shapely could be seen as a leitmotif for the entire work. And actually, I have no idea what the connection is. From the fact that Shapely comes up repeatedly, he must be central to the message that Gibson is trying to transmit, but currently I have no idea specifically what that would be.

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