“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.

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

Copyright © 1986 by William Gibson. Designed by Nicola Ferguson.

Johnny Mnemonic” is a short story by Nebula Award-winning author William Gibson that was originally published in 1981 in the science fiction magazine Omni.

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

The Story: Running Through The Streets Of Nighttown

Johnny is a special kind of courier, whose head is used to store corporate data (usually stolen) in an “idiot-savant” mode.  His job is to run the data from Point A to Point B without getting caught, but he finds himself in trouble with the Yakuza, or Japanese-style Mafia, and ends up befriending a strange young woman by the name of Molly Millions.  They partner up on this mad quest to get the latest data out of Johnny’s head and get rid of the deadly cloned ninja assassin sent by the Yakuza to silence Johnny.

The Cast: A Little Technical With Just The Right Amount Of Crude

Johnny is the narrator, protagonist, and main character of this little tale, which makes sense when you consider that the data locked in his head is the big prize in his race against the Yakuza.  Molly Millions–who had a similar but larger role in Gibson’s novel Neuromancer–makes a great appearance here, popping up out of nowhere and proving more sympathetic to Johnny’s cause than she does elsewhere.  She also gets a fantastic scene near the end of the story to demonstrate just how deadly a fighter she can be, even when going up against cloned ninja assassins with razor-wire hidden in their thumbs.

There’s also a dolphin-turned-supergenius who helps Johnny and Molly figure out the code to unlocking the data in Johnny’s head.  It’s a surreal addition to the plot, but it makes sense in context: the dolphin is a veteran of a military experiment to give dolphins cybernetic upgrades in naval operations.  Oh, and the dolphin is also addicted to narcotics and needs his fix every so often, just in case you thought this character couldn’t get even more bizarre.

The Tone: Jumping Headfirst Into The Madhouse

Gibson goes for more color and oddities in this story than he does in his novel Neuromancer, which has a somewhat similar plot and cast.  This is the kind of story where squatters live up in the rafters over a hi-tech-driven city, where dolphins need cybernetics and smack, and where a smiling salaryman might turn out to be an utterly ruthless Yakuza hit man.  It’s fast, furious, and fun to watch unfold.

Final Verdict: A Quick Fix Of Pure Punk

Essentially, “Johnny Mnemonic” is a precursor to the plot and cast of Gibson’s bestselling novel, Neuromancer.  It jumps like a frog in a dynamite pond (a line I stole from The Rum Diary, by Hunter S. Thompson) and isn’t afraid to explore the fictional setting of Nighttown and its mad residents.  It’s a great way to start off this anthology, and while I haven’t finished the collection yet, I’ve no doubt that “Mnemonic” is going to be one of my all-time favorite stories.

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