Tag Archives: Sprawl Trilogy

BURNING CHROME and other stories – William Gibson (1986)

burning-chromeOn the final page of the final story – the title story – Gibson envisions a possible future for prostitution.

The customers are torn between needing someone and wanting to be alone at the same time, which has probably always been the name of that particular game, even before we had the neuroelectronics to enable them to have it both ways.

It struck me how much reading books satisfies the same urge: wanting to be alone and needing someone at the same time.

Burning Chrome‘s 10 stories are populated by Gibson’s usual kind of characters, and deal with Gibson’s usual themes – although I probably shouldn’t make a sweeping statement like that, as I’ve only read two Gibson novels so far: Neuromancer & Virtual Light. Those two reading experiences weren’t fully successful, but reading this collection was, 100%.

The stories were published between 1977 and 1986, and are rather short: about 15 pages each, and not one of them above 30 pages. They fly by like a breeze, snappy, in prose that’s top notch. Here’s Gibson – in the voice of a photographer – on some building:

I shot one in San Jose an hour before the bulldozers arrived and drove right through the structural truth of plaster and lathing and cheap concrete.

That sentence alone should convince you.

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NEUROMANCER – William Gibson (1984)

NeuromancerThis book was hard work. I’m not sure if that hard work really paid off. I liked some parts, and there were some amazing sentences here and there, but overall this was too much stream of consciousness writing, and I didn’t really connect with Gibson’s consciousness. It doesn’t have the density of a book like Gravity’s Rainbow, but still, Neuromancer is a very dense book by any other standard, and it left me tired. It does get a bit easier, with a lot more exposition, towards the final 3rd of the book.

Density and unclear writing aren’t marks of valor per se. It might seem highbrow or sophisticated to read a dense book, and that’s undoubtedly part of the novel’s appeal – it adds to the reader’s own sense of prestige – , but one could easily argue that because of the style the characters are not clearly drawn and lifeless. The writing adds to the sense of chaos, but at the same time hides possible plot holes and almost violently forces the reader to suspend disbelief. I wonder whether the story itself would suffice to create the same effect.

So, one could debate Gibson being either a sloppy writer or otherwise a mad genius that only the willing and able can truly appreciate. The more I think about, the more I realize that I should maybe reread Neuromancer, with different expectations and a different mindset, and a more persistent effort to try to understand more of it. As it is, after my first reading, I didn’t feel that there was enough there content wise to justify Gibson’s formal approach. At times, I just wanted to quit, and I read on mainly because it has such a legacy.

As for the cyberpunk part of Neuromancer‘s influence, I really liked Stephenson’s take on the matter in Snow Crash a lot better. It had the same vibe, but because of clearer writing, the outrageousness of the world it painted impacted a lot more. Snow Crash read like a much more exciting book, with a more exciting story about more exciting characters in a more exciting world.

Some reviewers pointed out that Neuromancer may have well been written under the influence of drugs. Yes, it’s outlandish and otherworldly, but it felt disjointed and random too. While I can imagine other readers to enjoy it, and understand its historical relevance, for now I don’t feel it lives up to the hype. A blurry, messy book.

originally written on the 25th of February, 2015