:cyberpunk: /william gibson/

"The future has arrived; it's just not evenly distributed". - William Gibson

William Gibson portrait

the style

the style is cyberpunk. it is the benchmark by which many other authors are measured; whether that's ever fair in the world of fiction. the gritty future, where technology didn't level any playing fields or solve anyone's ills. a future where street punks die or make their fortunes, often on the same night.

gibson's classic neuromancer is the bright beginning for many young cyberpunks. pick up a battered copy from your local library and see for yourself why it is praised so widely... not to mention translated and published in just about every language you can think of. it won all of the most prestigious awards in science fiction and remains a source of inspiration for a great many people.

the author

gibson is famous for his works; but also famous for writing the earlier works on a manual typewriter. gibson himself - in a rare interview - has related "the hard drive story", where he bought a brand new Apple Macintosh, took it home, set it up then rang up the shop to complain about the terrible noise it was making. "oh, that's your hard drive!" he was told.

until that point gibson had been so completely ignorant about the realities of computers that he could imagine them as silent, brooding machines. he imagined worlds dominated by bizarre tech and rogue AI.


Neuromancer - book cover


The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

'It's not like I'm using,' Case heard someone say, as he shoudered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. 'It's like my body's developed this massive drug deficiency.' It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.

The New York Times called neuromancer "a literary big bang" and it has been hailed as the great breakthrough for cyberpunk. Apart from any of that, it's a bloody good read. it's been translated into basically every language you can think of, and millions of copies have been sold.

The story follows Case, a hacker in today's terms, a 'console cowboy' in Gibson's world. Case lives in the matrix, which is not a place where Keanu Reaves runs around in PVC; rather the matrix is the world's computers hooked together and available in a total-immersion interface.

Case lives to jack into the matrix, but he's been masterfully maimed in such a way that he can no longer do so. Left with nothing but his hustle, his sanity is coming apart at the seams as he uses drugs and danger to appease his desperate craving for the matrix. Then he gets a chance to be cured... but it's not going to be easy, certainly not cheap.

Neuromancer has some great characters: Molly, the assassin with implanted blades and permanent mirrorshades; the Finn, a bizarre merchant of high-tech toys and info; plus the rich and beyond-eccentric Tessier-Ashpool clan and the dub-worshipping Zionites.

If you're just getting into cyberpunk, this is the first book you should get your hands on.

Pictured is the Voyager release - ISBN 0-00-648041-1. Battered and weatherbeaten, as all well-read copies should be.

Count Zero - book cover

count zero

And something leaned in, vastness unutterable, from beyond the most distant edge of anything he'd ever known or imagined, and touched him.

[listen to dope for your mind for some mood music. ]

Bobby Newmark is dead. Jacked into the matrix with his life being drained by deadly anti-hacker software; conscious only enough to watch his paralysed hand shudder just inches from his console's OFF button. Then something unexplainable happens, something he's never even heard of; and all of a sudden he's alive again.

Saved by unknown forces, Bobby is thrown into a strange web of corporate defection and online voodoo, Bobby will earn his handle, become Count Zero. But first there's work to be done.

Second in the 'sprawl series' (not an official title), CZ floats through a liquid haze of technology, smelling of burning microchips and cigarette smoke. You can almost hear the grime crunching under the characters' boots.

Pictured is the Voyager release - ISBN 0-00-648042-X.

Mona Lisa Overdrive - book cover

mona lisa overdrive

Porphyre followed her to the base of the stairs. He'd stayed near her, during the meal, as though he sensed her new unease. No, she thought, not new; the old, the always, the now and ever was. All the things the drug had fenced away.

MLO features a great batch of characters and settings. It moves from the little-changed England to the bizarre wasteland of Dog Solitude. A strangely familiar female ronin named Sally appears, a woman with fixed silver covers for her eyes.

Links and suggestions from Neuromancer and CZ are caught and woven into the story.

Pictured is the Voyager release - ISBN 0-00-648044-6.

Burning Chrome - book cover

burning chrome

"Think of it," Dialta Downes had said, "as a kind of alternate America: a 1980 that never happened. An architecture of broken dreams." - The Gernsback Continuum

Blue. Tally Isham blue. The clear trademark blue they're famous for, Zeiss Ikon ringing each iris in tiny capitals, the letters suspended there like flecks of gold.

A tasty anthology of classic Gibson fare. BC includes Johnny Mnemonic, which introduces Johnny and Molly (it also "inspired" the sacrilegious Hollywood offering of the same name); Fragments of a Hologram Rose, which was rumoured to be destined for a movie; plus the title piece, Burning Chrome.

It's nothing short of required reading - while not every story is a masterpiece, several are pretty close and a couple definitely are. This was the first Gibson that I ever read, and the flavour had me addicted instantly. It opened up an entire genre, paved the way for new creative experiences and filled my mind with flashing neurons, glowing pixels and empty shotgun shells.

Pictured is the Voyager release - ISBN 0-00-648043-8

Virtual Light - book cover

virtual light

Departing from the Sprawl series, VL introduces new characters and the strange setting of "the bridge". The plot follows the exploits of a mountain bike courier, Chevette. She's stolen some sunglasses off a jerk at a party; and somehow that's got her into a lot more trouble than a pair of ray-bans should warrant. Meanwhile security guard Rydell has got himself fired from his job, then drawn into a new position which might not be worth the money. In the middle of all this is Yamazaki, a strange young Japanese anthropogist; who is studying an obscure topic within American culture.

VL is less technology-focussed, but it's a great read as the characters and their strange world come to life. It's the first in a new series and as such it does pretty well. Personally I quite like the idea of using a bike courier as a character (and years later, it seems that James Cameron does too :)), and Gibson gives an interesting snapshot of that culture.

Pictured is the Penguin release - ISBN 0-14-015772-7. Ugly bloody cover...

Idoru - book cover


colin laney sees patterns in data which nobody else can see... a near-psychic ability to identify "nodal points", resulting from clinical trials of of the bizarre drug 5-SB during his childhood. laney is hired to look for patterns surrounding rock star Rez, of Lo/Rez. he is quickly drawn into a bizarre bid by Rez to marry Rei Toei, an idoru. a purely digital media star, she does not exist beyond computer systems and sophisticated holographic projectors.

meanwhile a representative of an obsessive Lo/Rez fan club is sent to japan to investigate the situation; ultimately becoming a crucial part of events as they unfold.

Pictured is the Penguin release - ISBN 0-14-024107-8. Nice cover this time :)

All Tomorrows Parties - book cover

all tomorrow's parties

Looking past the display, she could see a lot of old hardware side by side on shelves, most of it in that grubby beige plastic. Why had people, for the first twenty years of computing, cased everything in that? ... She pointed at the beige hardware. "How come this old shit is always that same color?"

His forehead creased. "There are two theories. One is that it was to help people in the workplace be more comfortable with radically new technologies that would eventually result in the mutation or extinction of the workplace. ... [The other theory was] that the people who were designing the stuff were unconsciously terrifed of their own product, and in order not to scare themselves, kept it looking as unexciting as possible."

gibson doesn't let anyone down with this installment, picking up the stories of rydell and everyone's favourite bike courier. yamazaki is dealing with the ailling colin laney, who has hired rydell to be his "man on the ground" in San Francisco.

laney thinks there is a massive nodal point approaching the world, and "everything is going to change". he doesn't know what it is; but he can feel it coming.

Pictured: Viking trade paperback. ISBN 0-670-87558-9.

Pattern Recognition - book cover

pattern recognition

"It doesn't feel so much like a leap of faith as something I know in my heart." Strange to hear herself say this, but it's the truth.

"The heart is a muscle," Bigend corrects. "You 'know' in your limbic brain. The seat of instinct. The mammalian brain. Deeper, wider, beyond logic. That is where advertising works, not in the upstart cortex. What we think of as 'mind' is only a sort of jumped-up gland, piggybacking on the reptilian brainstem and the older, mammalian mind, but our culture tricks us into recognizing it as all of consciousness. The mammalian spreads continent-wide beneath it, mute and muscular, attending its ancient agenda. And makes us buy things.

Cayce Pollard lives in a mental space where advertising can trigger deep, instinctive responses far beyond the usual range of emotion inspired. She has violent reactions to icons; gut feelings which decide whether a logo will work. She is extremely sensitive to the brand-filled modern world; to the point where she has the logos ground off the studs on her jeans. Sudden overexposure to certain brands can be crippling for Cayce; who ultimately relies on a strange mantra and escapes to safety.

Her uncomfortable relationship with advertising places her in a unique position to judge the impossible - to feel what others cannot and know with a single glance whether a logo will be accepted by consumers. She can see developing "street cool" patterns emerging even sooner than the people who are living it.

She is also part of a worldwide community obsessed with fragments of video footage; apparently being released as some kind of artistic statement. She finds herself investigating the phenomenon and before she knows it, she's flying around the world in search of the elusive artist.

Pattern Recognition is far less "cyber" than previous works, but it's fabulous writing. The technology is more immediate and infinitely more real; since many of Gibson's earlier predictions have also come true. It's as though Gibson dealt with the technology long ago; before the rest of us. Now his mind is turned to the results - the way humans respond to their own creations.

Pictured: Penguin/Viking trade paperback. ISBN 0-670-87561-9. Small scan doesn't show how gorgeous this cover is.


the difference engine

william gibson & bruce sterling

Arguably the most famous of the "steampunk" genre, TDE is the curious tale of scientist Edward Mallory (or based around him, at least). The book is set in a high-tech version of the past - steam vehicles travel at phenominal speeds, mechanical computers crunch huge amounts of data. In this world Charles Babbage perfected his Analytical Engine, bringing the Industrial Revolution forward by a hundred years. In many ways the story is about society trying to cope with this hyper-evolution of technology; in many others it's a ripping yarn, so to speak. [I really don't want to try summarising the story right now.]

The only real drawback is the writing - two very strong and revered styles are evident, mixed together almost seamlessly. Unfortunately this makes itself apparent at times - not often, but sometimes you'll notice the story moving in a direction it might not otherwise have taken. It's a little like noticing a bad editing cut in a movie. But don't let this put you off - the work is still worthy of praise. Also, their collaboration on "Red Star, Winter Orbit" (in Gibson's anthology "Burning Chrome") was excellent.