“Burning Chrome” by William Gibson: A Burning Chrome Review

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson.

Burning Chrome” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson that was published in 1986 in an anthology also called Burning Chrome.

Once more–plug in the trodes, flip the switch, and let’s get this review started!

The Story: Before Neuromancer, There Was Only Chrome

Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack are two top-grade hackers in the Sprawl who decide to make the biggest security-cracking job of their careers: to burn through the network defenses of Chrome, a money handler for the Yakuza and other organized crime groups, and strike it rich with impunity.  They enlist the help of a girl named Rikki, who almost proves to be more trouble than she’s worth to the success of their mission.  And then there’s the unholy walls of security to penetrate before they can even begin to think of victory.

The Cast: An Archetype From Which Cyberpunk Hackers Are Born

Bobby Quine–our narrator-protagonist (narragonist?)–is basically an early version of the character Henry Case that appears in Neuromancer, which is appropriate considering Case cites Bobby as one of his mentors.  Then there’s Automatic Jack, a most daring hacker and womanizer to play off Bobby’s more serious and sensitive nature.  And then there’s Rikki, who wants to make it in Hollywood if she can ever afford to get some cosmetic surgery done in the clinics of Chiba City.  She serves the same role to the two hackers as Sandii does for the two corporate mercenaries in “New Rose Hotel.”

The Setting: Where Cyberpunk More Or Less Began

This story is notable for introducing so many concepts that became linked not only to Gibson’s later works, but to the cyberpunk genre in general.  It’s here that the term “cyberspace” is first coined, along with the slang “ice” (short for Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics).  It’s here that we first see the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis–a.k.a., “The Sprawl“–a megacity of many geodesic domes, extreme social stratification, and plentiful opportunities for hackers and other cyberspace enthusiasts.

Final Verdict: A Good Leap Into The Future And A Good Way To End The Book

“Burning Chrome” is a hip story on its own, giving up a prototypical view of the world he created for his better-known “Sprawl Trilogy.”  But it’s also a good story for the anthology, being a good book end to the equally cool tale “Johnny Mnemonic” and a nice way to end such a wild anthology.

Bibliography: Gibson, William.  “Burning Chrome.”  Burning Chrome.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1986.


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