Is it okay, do you think, to say I find William Gibson s cycle of short stories, Burning Chrome, to be a work of profound beauty Probably not, but I m going to say it anyway Burning Chrome is beautiful.
But how can it be How can something like the Sprawl, Gibson s pollution choked mega city, and our shared technological future nightmare be beautiful My description suggests it can t, yet I find much beauty in Gibson s future There s something magnificent about monomolecular wires and Razorgirl fingernails, something profound about the rejection of a sterile utopia for a filthy sprawl, something thrilling about dreamy future noir, something tragic about the thirst to belong for even the most peripheral people, something eerily familiar in the desire to offer the ultimate sacrifice, something nostalgic about the Soviet era trappings that are long gone, something terrifying in the prescient vision of corporate power, something hopeful in the concept of future immortality, something touching in its melancholy, and something comfortable about improvements that can t hide a classic love story of the if you love her let her go kind.
WellI m a guy who loves the magnificent the profound the thrilling the tragic the familiar the nostalgic the terrifying the hopeful the touching and the comfortable I find all of them beautiful And if those aren t beautiful enough for you, consider this Burning Chrome coins the word cyberspace William Gibson imagined it, and computer geeks made it Can you beat that for beautiful Ten Tales, From The Computer Enhanced Hustlers Of Johnny Mnemonic To The Technofetishist Blues Of Burning Chrome Johnny Mnemonic The Gernsback Continuum Fragments Of A Hologram Rose The Belonging Kind With John ShirleyHinterlands Red Star, Winter Orbit With Bruce SterlingNew Rose Hotel The Winter Market Dogfight With Michael SwanwickBurning Chrome I jacked into the Toronto construct matrix and downloaded Gibson s Burning Chrome onto my deck, plugged the simstim recorder on and zoned out.
Gibson s Sprawl collection from eighty six was as lethal as black ice, but my neural implants would keep me dosing through all ten shorts A handful of amitriptyline and a slug of Sobieski would also keep me running Gibson is at his best in the short medium and I wanted to catch it all.
Some stories shine on BAMA and others are stand alones, but all good Last summer when I took the glider into Kiev to torch the Maas Biolabs, I thought about Molly and Johnny Mnemonic , Gibson s anthem blaring like Lado Acheson Stories like Dogfight and the Belonging Kind show that William can collaborate Red Star, Winter Orbit is a tasty alternate history where the rooskies won the space race The Gernsback Continuum reminds me of Gibson s golden age roots and also a Bradburyesque salute.
Two sticks of dex gets me to Freeside and a meeting with the Yakuza rep A Tessier Ashpool goon smashes the deck under his jack boot but I was already done, Gibson s smooth prose gliding through the pages like chrome.
Now it s off to Chiba City where I think I can find Molly.
I think this is the collection where I finally understood the cyberpunk of William Gibson despite having read four of his novels.
For me he is all about the mileau, the crafting of the dystopian world that his stories exist in and his characters evolve from is his primary skill, everything that comes evolves from there Not to doubt his acknowedged talent as an ideas man.
I was particularly impressed with New Rose Hotel, his style of narration called to mind Chris Markers La Jetee and Wong Kar Wai s Chungking Express, the overall feel of the piece settles on melancholy without even attempting to play with your emotions or adrenaline Johnny Mnemonic is a completely different proposition to the movie, I m not even sure why that was allowed to happen, which was a great surprise.
Some of the stories are a bit clunky and the better ones are co written with somebody else but even so this would work as a great introduction to the world of Cyberpunk, much so than jumping straight in to Neuromancer.
We are very spoiled, and very privileged, to live now in the twenty first century We look back on works of science fiction from the 1950s, 1960s, and onward that reference the 1990s or 2000s as the future and make grandiose predictions we ll have flying cars a eugenics war robot apocalypse It s interesting to note that such extrapolation, while often falling very short of the mark, tends to be conservative when it describes the technological platforms through which we acquire these flying cars, supermen, and killer robots The twenty first century of the early twentieth century still involved cassette tapes and analog computers The digital revolution is a true paradigm shift in science fiction just as it has been in the rest of our society, rendering such visions of the present future quaint For people open minded than myself, this is often not a problem I have difficulty immersing myself in stories that allude to now obsolete technology as if it were the future I can do it, as is evident by my enjoyment of the original Star Trek series, but it is difficult I m a child of the digital age, and I m spoiled that way.
William Gibson is a special case His work, too, is vulnerable to the effects of aging Yet he is rightly called a visionary and a prescient master of this field after all, he coined the term cyberspace, and his descriptions of virtual reality have influenced its depictions in film and literature ever since Neuromancer first appeared on the scene So even though Gibson s stories have aged as his future never came to pass, they remain amazing and brilliant He infused them with ideas and conflicts that continue to grip readers even as the futures these stories depict turn into alternative versions of history.
Burning Chrome is a wonderful treasure trove of Gibson s genius I did not like every story within, but every story is brilliant in its own way I never liked the film version of Johnny Mneumonic, and the short story, though substantially different, did not change my mind Gibson throws around some intriguing ideas, but he never really explores them with the depth I d like I wonder if I would feel the same way about Burning Chrome if I hadn t read Neuromancer like the novel, it makes computer hacking into an exciting, adrenaline fuelled experience, as the name console cowboy might suggest And I really enjoyed Burning Chrome for the way its narrator judges the relationship between Bobby Quine and Rikki Unlike Johnny Mneumonic, Gibson establishes the backstory just enough to justify the main action but not so much that one feels like one is missing out on the larger picture But if you do, and you haven t read it, then you really should go get a copy of Neuromancer Though Johnny Mneumonic is very well known and Burning Chrome lends its title to this entire collection, these were not the most memorable stories for me Those stories are tame compared to some of the utterly weird stuff that Gibson has displays in between them From recorded personalities lurking just off stage to a man slowly discovering he might not be human after all, Burning Chrome delivers stories that demonstrate Gibson s grasp on the breadth of what science fiction can accomplish.
I m not sure how to describe The Winter Market I could say a recording engineer discovers an artist who, encumbered by an exoskeleton and suffering from a terminal illness, uploads herself to a computer That s pretty accurate, although it doesn t quite capture the nuances that Gibson infuses into the story As the main character questions whether the recorded version of Lise s personality is actually her all the while dreading the moment she calls him , we re treated to a flashback explanation of how they met and how her detached attitude toward life has made him dissatisfied with his own It s interesting that so many of Gibson s protagonists are young, dissatisfied males who are down on their luck and fall in with a mysterious woman who owes him no particular allegiance Johnny Mneumonic, Case from Neuromancer , Parker, Bobby, the narrator of The Winter Market, and Deke all fall into this category They are certainly not the same characters not even close but it s an intriguing recurring motif Red Star, Winter Orbit is one of those stories of a future that never was Space has been largely abandoned, except for a communist, Russian space station and bubble like domes inhabited by Americans But Russia wants to retire its space station, which is bad news for Colonel Korolev, the first man on Mars Thanks to an accident years ago, Korolev is unable to return to Earth and must live out his remaining days aboard the Russian space station So when it gets decommissioned, naturally, he isn t very happy Together with several sympathetic members of the crew, they hatch a plan to leak word to the rest of the world what Russia intends to do to its hero It s a touching story with a nice twist at the end.
In contrast, Dogfight is also a touching story but does not have the endearing twist Deke is the main character, but I hesitate to call him a protagonist He starts low and falls farther as he seeks pre eminence in his new obsession, combat with holographic, mentally directed biplanes The Belonging Kind is a really weird, almost purely psychological tale about a man who meets a shapeshifter in a bar and becomes obsessed with her I don t want to spoil the ending, although it s a little predictable, just because Gibson and co author John Shirley do such a good job bringing it about.
However, the real star of Burning Chrome has to be Hinterlands It s a somewhat dark, depressing vision of how we might join the interstellar community In Hinterlands, Russian Colonel Olga Tovyevski accidentally discovers an anomaly near an L 5 point Her space capsule disappears through it, returning years later with a catatonic Russian on board, trashed communications equipment a seashell of extraterrestrial origin.
Boom, as they say, goes the dynamite.
You can imagine what would happen if that occurred today, except you don t have to, because Gibson describes it for us The world s governments leap into action, and exobiology suddenly found itself standing on unnervingly solid ground They soon discover an awful catch to this wormhole phenomenon which the Americans dub the Highway every pilot returns dead from suicide or mad, and the mad ones usually commit suicide shortly thereafter So why bother to pay the price of a ticket Our narrator, Toby, explains If the first ones to come back had only returned with seashells, I doubt that Heaven the space station would be out here Heaven was built after a dead Frenchman returned with a twelve centimeter ring of magnetically coded steel locked in his cold hand, black parody of the lucky kid who wins the free ride on the merry go round We may never find out where or how he got it, but that ring was the Rosetta stone for cancer So now it s cargo cult time for the human race We can pick things up out there that we might not stumble across in research in a thousand years Charmian says we re like those poor suckers on their islands, who spend all their time building landing strips to make the big silver birds come back Charmian says that contact with superior civilizations is something you don t wish on your worst enemy.
To me, this paragraph shows why William Gibson is a master of the science fiction field It s a somewhat chilling interpretation of the role humans might have if we ever enter into contact with a larger, established interstellar community we ll be the primitive species We won t necessarily communicate effectively or benignly, but we will acquire advanced technology and then ask for , and it might very well destroy us In Star Trek, despite the fact that they are the new kids on the block, humans go on to become the founders of the United Federation of Planets along with the older, stoic Vulcans and the volatile Andorians Science fiction often portrays humans as special warning TVTropes , which is not surprising considering the species of both the writers and their audience So it s refreshing when authors take a step back, think critically, and present a different perspective, even one as bleak as this we re just rats, pushing a button to make food come out.
Toby and his lover Charmian, by the way, were rejected as pilots and now serve as surrogates on Heaven They greet the returned pilots the live ones, that is and try to help bring them back to something approaching a normal mental state As Toby explains, they are seldom successful Whatever happens to pilots who go through the Highway, it breaks them Yet Hinterlands concludes with Toby s laments that he and Charmian were found unsuitable for being pilots and his description of their continual longing to go on this almost certainly fatal adventure It s an amazing story, both in concept and in execution, and it alone is worth finding a copy of Burning Chrome.
William Gibson fans, put Burning Chrome on your to read list if it s not already there And for those of who you haven t read William Gibson, this would be a fine place to start though I still recommend Neuromancer as well This anthology is a snapshot of Gibson at his best, from the familiar milieu of his Sprawl world and beyond, to even weirder and imaginative places Gibson is a source of great ideas, and he always manages to wrap them in even greater stories.
Wired WestBurning Chromeis a fascinating collection of stories that chart the origin of the Sprawl Trilogy You can watch William Gibson building the world of the Sprawlof cities and smoke , cyberspace and the characters who would later be explored in the three novels.
Equally importantly, you can observe him developing a unique style of writing suited to this world.
It s data and sensory rich, almost exhausting in its detail, which is revealed without information dumps or definitions It assumes that we re keeping up with the story and we get it, without having to have things explained to us at length.
Gibson s world is a combination of the physical world, computers, data, the matrix, cyberspace, and people who use technology to travel between these substrata.
Gibson is equally adept at finding the future in the present, and the present in the future.
The narrators of the stories are often down on their luck technophiles and hackers who illicitly access the corporate segments of cyberspace Gibson calls themconsole cowboys , hustlersandindustrial espionage artistswho rustle data They frequent saloons likeThe Gentleman Losernamed after a line in Steely Dan sMidnight Cruiserand visit brothels like the House of Blue Lights This isn t the Wild West, but the Wired West, although it incorporates Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macao and Russia.
Not surprisingly, the style of some of the stories resembles that found in western novels, others resemble pulp or crime fiction.
In Recognition of a Woman s Sleeping PatternsThere are several narrators, all male The women are talented, artistic, beautiful, adventurous, energetic, and mysterious, with exotic or kitsch names like Molly Millions, Dialta Downes, Angela, Antoinette, Leni, Charmian, Colonel Olga, Hillary, Valentina, Nina, Tatjana, Sandii, Lise who records an album of her dreams calledKings of Sleep , Nance, and Rikki Wildside Naomi Watts in King Kong Where is Your Bounty of Fortune and Fame The final storyBurning Chromecontains the original use of the wordcyberspaceInterestingly, it had already become the proprietary name of some computer hardware,the Cyberspace Seven , which the narrator, Automatic Jack, repairs and customises so that he can access and burn Chrome s data towers with a Russianglitch systemor cybernetic virus analog Meanwhile, Jack withdraws a significant undisclosed amount of cash from Chrome s Zurich account which stores its income from global property and prostitution assetsI watched zeros pile up behind a meaningless figure on the monitor I was rich I thought about Chrome, too That we d killed her, murdered her, as surely as if we d slit her throatDespite the female face Jack subconsciously attaches to it, Gibson s corrupt new global economy was just as dependent on data as it was on cash As were console cowboys like Jack who knew how to hack into both in pursuit of fortune and fameTell me where are you drivingMidnight cruiserWhere is your bountyOf fortune and fame SOUNDTRACK view spoiler Steely Dan Midnight Cruiser Hamm Kings of Sleep Hamm Black Ice hide spoiler I seen the error of my ways William Gibson isn t an easy author to get into and my mistake was jumping directly into Neuromancer without any prior knowledge of his writing So from now on when somebody asks me if they should get into Gibson I will advise them to start from this anthology It shows the themes he likes to tackle, his writing style and the worlds he likes to create and is an excellent way to ease new readers into his works.
Now, onward to rest of his works
If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review.
Future Technologies Burning Chrome by William GibsonHippies have known about these dangerous technologies for a long time, and the state cracks down hard on them, and not entirely without good reason either The world cannot run for long anyway on raves and drugs and loud music, any fool can see that There is also a false economy in these supposedly efficient economies, because if you run a sustainable event and people attend your event in a car, you can wave goodbye to any benefits you might have yielded from the technology itself The ubiquity of the car, and all the other rampant wasteful consumerism which often surrounds an event, cripples your efforts right from the off This thinking is very much in a fledgling stage and has a long way to develop before it could be said to be anything than purely experimental, but experiment we must.
if poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, science fiction writers are its court jestersBruce Sterling introducing William Gibson s, Burning ChromeA set of 10 short stories early Gibson cyberpunk and sic fi that anticipate both his SPRAWL and BLUE ANT series All the Gibson tropes are there just waiting to bud and bloom Gibson s cyberpunk, dark and messy near future his obsession with technology, music, clothing his uncanny ability to describe and name the bleeding edge where culture and technology blend his noirish tribalism his satire his slick style his curvy asians The book is an uneven group of stories that approximate a pimply and adolescent Gibson sitting confidently on a couch ready to hack your future and steal your dated sci fi pulp.