“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.

“Dogfight” by Michael Swanwick and William Gibson: A Burning Chrome Review

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson.

Dogfight” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson and sci-fi author Michael Swanwick that was originally published in 1985 in the sci-fi magazine Omni.

Plug in the trodes, flip the switch, and let’s get this review started!

The Story: What People Will Do For Their Own Gratification

Deke is a young drifter who, at a Greyhound bus stopover in Virginia, comes across a video game called Fokkers & Spads, which simulates war planes in dogfights on a detailed virtual reality plane.  He also comes across a rich engineering student named Nance, who becomes his new roommate and confidant.  Deke uses a few cheats and Nance’s help to become good at the game, eventually entering a tournament series and going up against “Tiny,” the top F&S player.  However, victory is bittersweet for Deke, as he’s made himself so grand as to remain friends with no one.

The Cast: Rich Meets Poor, Winner Meets Loser

Deke is the protagonist and somewhat sympathetic in his determination to win at Fokkers & Spads.  However, the more sympathetic character is Nance Bettendorf, an engineering student from a wealthy background who, like Deke, has a “brainlock” that makes physical contact agonizing.  They bond over this shared detriment at first, but as time goes on, Deke becomes more of a tragic character, becoming obsessed with his own victories and less friendly or supportive to Nance’s own career path.  It highlights the divide between them, as Deke comes from a world where he has to claw his way to the top, while Nance’s future has always been secure from the beginning.

The Game: Is Anyone Else Reminded of Nintendo and Sega Games?

Maybe it was just me (and I obviously can’t speak for the authors), but I had a strong impression that this in-story game, Fokkers & Spads, is based on the combat flight simulator games that were popular around the late Eighties, or perhaps it was just the 1982 game Microsoft Flight Simulator.  There’s this feel of older graphics that just stuck in my mind, which isn’t a slight against the authors–just me considering what era the story was written it.  There’s also the phenomenon of playing in an arcade against other gamers, which–for me, anyway–is a little anachronistic, but it does capture the excitement of arcade tournaments and the like.

Final Verdict: It Can Still Suck When You Finally Reach The Top

“Dogfight” is one of those tales that really hits home at the end, capturing the gritty feel of a cyberpunk narrative with a cast of acutely-suffering loners and rejects.  But it’s interesting because it’s not your usual hackers vs. corporate interests tale, but just one ruthless kid against a series of veteran gamers.

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

“The Winter Market” by William Gibson: A Burning Chrome Review

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson.

The Winter Market” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson that was published in 1986 in his Burning Chrome anthology.

Plug in, flip the switch, and let’s get this review started!

The Story: The Rise And Fall Of Lovely, Lonely Lisa

Casey comes across a disabled girl in an exoskeleton named Lise, who has a gift for strong perceptions that are ideal for the Sense/Net industry that Hollywood has become.  Being an editor of such works, our protagonist leads her into the world of celebrity and success, but it isn’t enough for Lise, who has been suffering for a long time and now has a way to make her end truly spectacular.  Casey mourns her departure, but his friend Rubin helps him realize that he has gotten a lot of the relationship and so maybe he can be happy after all.

The Cast: Lisa, Her Admirers, And Her One True Friend

The narrator and protagonist, Casey, is a film editor for a future generation, whose film is not just moving 2-D images, but recordings of sensations and even emotions.  Lise is his cyborg love interest, a girl who is forced to rely on a powered exoskeleton for motion, and whose experiences prove to be a boon to Hollywood.  Connecting them both is Rubin, a strange collector of gomi (i.e., junk) who adds a philosophical dimension to the story, along with a foil to Casey’s many insecurities.  And along the way come the studio execs, the Hollywood and international bigwigs who want only the best out of Lise and inadvertently fuel her downward spiral with all their freely-given luxury.

The Style: A Dark Retrofit Of Hollywood Glamor

This story has some interesting visual elements for a piece of pure prose.  On the one hand, you have the Sense/Net headquarters on Sunset Boulevard, a brilliant mirror-surfaced pyramid that burns hot-white in the daytime; turn the page and you have Lise in a polycarbon-black exoskeleton, suffering from drug abuse and giving off vibes like a bitter doll.  You get a sense of the glitter and the trash in this urban landscape of the future, especially when Lise’s perceptions of said trash get sprinkled with glitter by the major studios.

Final Verdict: How To Capture That Raw Human Emotion In 2-D

Besides being the narrator, Casey is self-demonstrating example for his own work: a snapshot of emotions and images, all carefully distilled for the viewing audience.  He gives us a sensual and stark portrait of the mysterious Lise while also projecting his own feelings into the narrative weave.

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

“New Rose Hotel” by William Gibson: A Burning Chrome Review

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson.

New Rose Hotel” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson that was originally published in 1984 in Omni.

Plug in, flip the switch, and let’s get this review started!

The Story: How To Meet People, Swindle Them, And Get Swindled Yourself

The narrator and his partner, Fox, have been hired by the Hosaka corporation to steal the most brilliant scientist working for its rival, Maas Biolabs.  To make this plan work, they bring in a girl named Sandii to be the bait that reels Hiroshi, the scientist, in to Hosaka territory.  But while the plan goes well at first, Sandii proves to be a spanner in the works that brings down the wrath of Hosaka on the two spies.  The narrator is left to fend for himself, hiding out inside the titular New Rose Hotel in Japan, trapped by Hosaka and his desperate need to see Sandii once more.

The Cast: Just Your Typical Corporate Spies, Ma’am

The narrator and Fox are both fairly similar as characters, the only notable exception being Fox’s taste for expensive suits and his interest in finding new scientists whose research is on “the Edge.”  Sandii is the third wheel of their partnership, an enigmatic woman whose backstory changes every time she talks about it and who is playing both sides for the sake of her true employer.

The Style: Jumping Like A Frog In A Dynamite Pond (Phrase Courtesy of Hunter S. Thompson)

For the entire story, our narrator is sitting inside a Japanese tenement called the New Rose Hotel, simultaneously recounting how recent events unfolded while talking to Sandii, his betrayer and former lover.  It adds an interesting dimension to the tale, using a little second-person narration when talking to Sandii (whose image is left up to the reader).  The straight narration also keeps the story flowing from one development to the next, rather than using individual scenes to set up mood, dialogue, action, and exposition.  It’s all coming out of the narrator’s mind, laced with the desperation of the present and a way to look back and see just where things went wrong.

Final Verdict: A Quick Shot of Coolness

Although I wasn’t as hooked onto this story as, say, “Johnny Mnemonic,” I did find it to be very hip and happening nonetheless.

I also discovered that “New Rose Hotel” was, like “Mnemonic,” adapted into a 1998 film by Abel Ferrara, which starred Willem Dafoe as the protagonist, Christopher Walken as Fox, and Asia Argento as Sandii.  Although I’d love to see how Walken played that role, from what I hear the film wasn’t entirely faithful to the story, which is a shame.  Gibson’s work has a lot of visual elements embedded in the narration and it would be a treat for both filmmakers and audiences to get the real thing on the silver screen for once.

But with all that said and done, “New Rose Hotel” is a quick and enjoyable read, as well as a treat for anyone who enjoys a good spy thriller.

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

“Red Star, Winter Orbit” by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson: A Burning Chrome Review

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson.

Red Star, Winter Orbit” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson and Hugo Award-winning author Bruce Sterling that was originally published in 1983 in Omni.

Plug in, flip the switch, and let’s get this review started!

The Story: It’s Very Cold Up Here, Comrade…

It is the 1990s.  The Soviets have won the space race and beaten the US to being the dominant superpower.  But now the conquest of space has been completed, old cosmonauts like Colonel Korolev and military space stations like Kosmograd are no longer needed.  But the good colonel still has one fight left in him, and his crew won’t let him take on their political superiors alone.

The Cast: Heroes Of Humanity, But Not To The Communists

Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Korolev was once the first man on Mars and a decorated hero of the Soviet Union.  Now he sits in command of a military space station that is no longer needed.  He gets into fights with the KGB officer, Yefremov, and only wants recognition for all the sacrifices he and his men have made for the Soviets.

What makes Korolev such a heartbreaking character is that he’s seen his better days already and can’t do much more than the rest of his younger crew.  His rank and prestige aren’t enough to stop Yefremov from carrying out the orders from Earth to decommission the space station by putting it into a decaying orbit.  Yet though the fight Korolev and his comrades take up might be hopeless, hope does manage to spring up from the Americans right at the very end.

Because who says a little American ingenuity can’t solve anything?

Final Verdict: Space Is As Much A Gulag As It Is A Frontier

Gibson and Sterling lend their talent to make a very committed story of space exploration and all the hardships it entails.  They demonstrate life within the Soviet Union that, while bleak, isn’t from the perspective of smug Americans who know how the Cold War really turned out.  It’s as cold as the vacuum of space, but contains a distant light like a shining star.

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