Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Cyberpunk had to start somewhere

 I revisited William Gibson’s anthology Burning Chrome for the first time in at least twenty years. 

It’s quite a different read for me than it was back then :D

From what I can tell, it’s some of his earliest writing before he got into novels and once he started long form, he never went back to short stories. That worked out well for him. They were mostly written before Neuromancer, which was a bomb that hit both Science Fiction and Pop Culture and whose reverberations  are still being felt today. (Cyberpunk 2077, anyone?)

Gibson is interesting. He coined the term cyberspace but he didn’t invent the idea. The Muller-Fokker Effect by Jon Sladek explored the idea of minds in computers with a lot more satire and bitterness and hatred in 1970, for instance. (I don’t know if I’m brave enough to revisit that book!) I think what he did that had such impact was add the punk to cyberpunk. And don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking him. Gibson made it work by being a really good writer.

There were two stories that really stood out for me:  Dogfight and Burning Chrome. Which were also the last two stories in the book although not the last two written.

At least at this stage of his writing, most of Gibson’s protagonists may be flawed loners on the fringes of society but they are still talented people. You have to be good to break the internet. There is a certain element of glamor to them. Deke of Dogfight, on the other hand, is a Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman figure. Which makes his self-destruction even more poignant.

On the other hand, Burning Chrome is the story where Gibson introduced many of the imagery and ideas that would become cyberpunk. The heroes are tarnished cowboys who pull off their impossible heist, even if it turns out to not make them fulfilled or happy. They are larger than life, flawed archetypes. In Burning Chrome, you can see the shape of what was to come.

And now I want to reread Neuromancer :D

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