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If science fiction is a reflection of the time in which it was written, William Gibson’s short fiction captures the zeitgeist of the late 70s and early 80s, when the likely future was looking less and less like the clean utopia of Star Trek, and more like something else entirely. In his classic “Johnny Mnemonic”, Gibson extrapolates energy crises, urban decay, corporate wars, radical body alteration, Asian economic domination, punk rock, and the dark, gleaming possibilities of worlds behind the glow of computer screens towards a half-sinister neon-lit horizon. Imagine (if you can, ha) a reality where one’s data trail leaves no safety from enemies whose presence pervades the air, and the only retreat may be into the darkest shadows.
While the specific ideas of the future represented in this collection aren’t quite as on-target as they were when I first read it in the 90s (when it was already getting dated), the combination of Gibson’s cool, lean, mildly sardonic style and the smoldering intensity of his imagination still feels visionary. He gives us a few tastes of possibilities, and lets those tastes linger on the palate, dark and beautiful. “New Rose Hotel”, which concerns agents in a future biotech trade war, has an almost wistful, poetic quality, aided by Brian Nishi’s Asian-accented audio narration. To me, the only recent writer who is somewhat in the same territory is Paolo Bacigalupi (I recommend his short fiction collection).
Not every piece is cyberpunk. “The Gernsback Continuum” imagines a photographer whose travels around Los Angeles give him hallucinations of a Raygun Gothic future that never was, and is a little frightening in its cleanness. The Bruce Sterling collaboration “Red Star, Winter Orbit” deals with an entirely different sidestepped future (in retrospect), in which an aging cosmonaut on a space station above an Earth dominated by the Soviet Union realizes that the dream of space has abandoned his country -- but not necessarily humanity. In “The Belonging Kind”, a loner in a bar notices a girl making the nightclub rounds who fits in just a little too easily, which leads to a Twilight-zoney pondering of what a life free of social awkwardness might cost. It’s interesting to see other ways Gibson might have gone, if Neuromancer hadn’t been a hit.
But the real gems here, worth the price of admission to me, are “Dogfight” and “Burning Chrome”, prototypes for Gibson’s Sprawl novels. The former turns as tightly as WWI flying aces in combat, sending three characters -- a ratty young drifter who sells boosted merchandise, a privileged college student whose parents have taken drastic measures to keep their daughter from losing her shot at staying in the economic elite, and a used-up combat veteran, whose permanently-rewired brain leaves him but a single talent -- into a tragic duel of skill. This, more than any other piece, feels uncomfortably close to our current world, and the personality in Oliver Wyman’s reading only enhances the prose. And “Burning”’s hallucinatory vision of a dangerous hacker incursion into a forbidden fortress in cyberspace, while bearing almost no connection to anything in cyber-reality, is still stunning in its vividness.
Bottom line: even if he got things wrong about the future (who got it *right*, though?), William Gibson remains one of the finer visionaries of its allure and angst, and crackled in short form.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
A 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.
13 of 16 people found this review helpful
It's a real shame, because the narrator gives the story a very spirited reading, but the tone of The Winter Market is all wrong. The narrator seems to think he is reading a jazzy comic pop tale, rather than a hauntingly beautiful riff on post-humanism.
Other than that this is a terrific collection of SF classic shorts.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Heard a lot of great things about this collection of short stories, and even about film spin offs from some, so thought it must be good.
I think it is fair to say, William Gibson's writing has matured over the years, as some of the earlier works on here are really not that brilliant. That said, I can't deny that some of stories on here are great, and they show the genius that he is and the great worlds he can create. The mix of narrators is also a good move, but again, some are better than others.
Overall, good, but approach with care.
3 of 4 people found this review helpful