Book review: Burning Chrome and Other Stories

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William Gibson is best known as the author of Neuromancer his first novel, which caused him to be hailed in  The Sunday Times as “the information age’s resident populist prophet”.
The book reviewed here is a collection of ten short stories, including his first published story Fragments of a Hologram Rose from 1977

Gibson’s style has been described as “a combination of low-life and high-tech”. This collection shows how perceptive he can be in observing both. Gibson doesn’t just use technology as a back-drop or to provide props; he considers the effects that developments in technology might have upon individuals and societies. In Johnny Mnemonic for example a character explains:

“We’re an information economy. They teach you that at school. What they don’t tell you is that it’s impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information. Fragments that can be retrieved, amplified.”

Gibson describes also the detail of low-life settings. In this collection there are very good descriptions of different types of bars in The Belonging Kind. He paints portraits of different characters, Deke in Dogfight, Lese in The Winter Market, with different colours and shades.

Ultimately, however, he extrapolates from a mass (or media) consciousness of the present. Gibson has interesting things to say but he is not a prophet. The future will not be the same as his stories. The Soviet Union has not dominated space research (as in Red Star, Winter Orbit), in fact it no longer exists. Many future developments will derive not from mass actions or popular consciousness, but from the work of “outsiders”. Instead of looking just at what is now considered “central”, perhaps he should view what is emerging at the edge….
Recommended but with reservations.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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