“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.

“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.