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Review: William Gibson's Burning Chrome

Johnny Mnemonic
This is a nice short story, properly cyberpunk – life as gritty and mean, huge criminal conglomerates, life lived on the edge, no heroes only villains of varying degree of villainy. The aesthetic and feel sways wildly from near-future to far-future, never quite settling on one, but making the switch work without being too clunky, and the story is well-paced and moves at a decent lick, with a brief and simple plot (perhaps too much so), but without making itself seem extraordinary in the world. Great work.
The Gernsback Continuum
Oh, this is a nice one (though I do wonder about the title…); 1930s visions of 1980s America made semi-concrete, one man slipping into the slipstream of old wishful thinking and futurism; almost New Weird in its style. Short, to the point and punchy, it’s a nice story; perhaps a little more could be made of the slipstreaming – it’s nice, but never really developed, especially not in it’s effect – but the description is lush, vivid, and beautiful. A great piece.
Fragments of a Hologram Rose
This is… an interesting story; it seems to be a character study, with a certain set of facts, and a pseudo-futurism (a future, but not one that Gibson believes in, I think). However, the character is weak; whilst the images are strong, and well-painted, the parts of the story – the fragments, in fact – are just that, fragmentary, and the whole does not come together well. Whilst the seed for a couple of short stories, this doesn’t work well as one.
The Belonging Kind (by John Shirley and William Gibson)
Oh, this is a wonderful story. Completely weird, in that very strange way… here, character is vital; we get a good sense of the nobody who is our central character, and also the characters whom he briefly interacts with, bit-parts in the piece, as well as the characterless beings whom he is interacting with. Whether this is science fiction, fantasy or some other thing is open to question, but it is a well-written piece with a wonderful concept at its heart.
This is, again, a character-based story; and also a story looking at implications – the implications of a certain set of posed alien-contact based events, with a serious twist (basically one-way fragmentary “communication”, bits of high civilisations being brought back) and the human costs of it. This is actually a good piece for its characters, all of whom are well-drawn and excellently fleshed out; though dated (KGB!) this has got universal themes within it, and works incredibly well.
Red Star, Winter Orbit (by Bruce Stirling and William Gibson)
This is a wonderful story. Politics (again, very dated – Soviet Union as the space-power, Mars by the 2020s; but also prescient – the US giving up on space as unprofitable) mixed with a dose of science fiction mixed with a sort of character study to form some wonderful whole; it’s a nice piece, with the politics taking centre-stage and the urge to live on the boundaries explored in style. Pretty good stuff.
New Rose Hotel
Corporate mafias, blackmail, counter-espionage, death and technology… with a touch of love. This story has one of the creepiest openings of anything I’ve ever read, and it continues in like style, somewhat disjointed, hopping around its internal timestream; that made it a little hard to follow, but generally was done well. The characters weren’t terribly well-formed or well-constructed, just being agents of Plot, but the plot is reasonably compelling.
The Winter Market
Near-future work, centred on artists in a very strange medium; it’s a sort of character study, whilst also being a study of an idea – the idea of human-machine transference, and whether the resultant entity (programme, thing, whatever you want to call it) remains human. Decent stuff, appropriately gritty, some very cyberpunk moments; and most of the characters are strong. However, the narrator character isn’t; he’s far too two-dimensional, without really having anything going on, and only one real profound moment at the very end; too emotionless (although all the characters do seem to have had their emotions deadened in this story).
Dogfight (by Michael Swanwick and William Gibson)
This is a powerful story about obsessions – the obsessions of multiple people, how they interlink, and how they bring about the downfall of all of them. It’s well-written and well-paced, even if to a certain extent it’s obvious what’ll happen next in each bit of the story; and at least the main character’s reasonably well-drawn, albeit without real motivation or reason for his obsession. The real selling point is the ending, which is perfect, and absolutely stunningly well written.
Burning Chrome
I can see why they left this story to the end; it’s the ultimate cyberpunk story, in some ways – and it’s the ultimate cyberspace story, in that other-space that you navigate the way you navigate real-space understanding of the term. It’s got some of the most vivid description of cyberspace I’ve ever read, and some of the most understandable too; and it’s also innovative in its use thereof. It’s another gritty story, keeping the -punk in there with the cyber- for all it’s worth, pushing that strongly. The characters, for once, shine through, and it hasn’t really dated at all; a great piece.
Overall, this is a really good set of stories; whilst Gibson’s generally pretty weak on character when writing alone, some of his personal stories and his collaborations shore that weakness up; and whilst the stories are a touch dated (the Cold War ended within a decade of the publication of all but the earliest story in this collection, and technology has moved on so much in the last 30 years that he’s been really left behind by it) they tend to speak of universal concerns and, in some ways, of things we’re still working towards. This is cyberpunk at its rawest by one of the masters of the genre, and it is a well-earned title indeed; Gibson writes a mean short story.


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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