My reviews of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology continue with “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City,” a story by cyberpunk author William Gibson that was originally published in New Worlds in 1996.
Be warned, dear readers: this is not a story with a linear plot. In fact, this story has no plot, no characters, and no conflict. But it is a story nonetheless. It is a story told through description, a literary snapshot of the kind of people who build and dwell within a homeless shelter made entirely of cardboard boxes and accumulated junk in the middle of a Tokyo subway station. It is a story that reveals a tragic life in a very indirect fashion. Pretentious, you might say, but it does its job well enough.
On the surface level, it can be a bit dull reading through endless descriptions of objects and impoverished living spaces. But if you keep an open mind, it’s more evocative, like reading a prose poem. You get to know a person by what he or she keeps and where those little things are kept.
It’s also fitting that it’s set in Tokyo, which comes up often in Gibson’s stories. The presentation of this life through images and the despair of homelessness makes a bit more sense if you consider the Japanese ideal of mono no aware (an awareness of the impermanent nature of things). The cardboard boxes are temporary containers, but their emptiness is useful for people whose lives are also empty. Through thirteen mini-narratives, Gibson captures their despair and the weight of their lives through what they still physically retain.
As I said before, this is not an easy story, but it’s rich and powerful all the same. It’s an experience of words rather than an experience delivered with words.
Bibliography: Gibson, William. “Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City.” Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.