Thursday, January 27, 2011

Friday Fiction: William Gibson: From Cyber Punk to Steam Punk and Back Again

--by Hanje Richards

William Ford Gibson (born March 17, 1948) is an American-Canadian writer who has been called the "noir prophet" of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction. Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his short story "Burning Chrome" and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984). In envisaging cyberspace, Gibson created an iconography for the Information Age before the ubiquity of the Internet in the 1990s. He is also credited with predicting the rise of reality television and with establishing the conceptual foundations for the rapid growth of virtual environments such as video games and the Web.

The Difference Engine - In a Victorian England run by steam-powered computing engines and governed by an intellectual elite led by Prime Minister Byron, an ambitious young paleontologist comes into possession of a dangerous set of program cards and begins running for his life. This first collaboration between cyberpunk legends Gibson and Bruce Sterling represents an ingenious tour-de-force, as cyberpunk and the Victorian adventure novel meet with a vengeance. (Steam Punk) (CQL)
Sprawl Trilogy

.....1) Neuromancer - Here is the novel that started it all, launching the cyberpunk generation, and the first novel to win the holy trinity of science fiction: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. With it, William Gibson introduced the world to cyberspace – and science fiction has never been the same.

Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway – jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then, he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way – and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance – and a cure – for a price.... (CQL)

.....2) Count Zero - A corporate mercenary wakes in a reconstructed body, a beautiful woman by his side. Then, Hosaka Corporation reactivates him for a mission more dangerous than the one he's recovering from: to get a defecting chief of R&D – and the biochip he's perfected – out intact. But, this proves to be of supreme interest to certain other parties – some of whom aren't remotely human. (ILL)
.....3) Mona Lisa Overdrive - Enter Gibson's unique world – lyric and mechanical, erotic and violent, sobering and exciting – where multinational corporations and high tech outlaws vie for power, traveling into the computer-generated universe known as cyberspace. Into this world comes Mona, a young girl with a murky past and an uncertain future whose life is on a collision course with internationally famous Sense/Net star Angie Mitchell. Since childhood, Angie has been able to tap into cyberspace without a computer. Now, from inside cyberspace, a kidnapping plot is masterminded by a phantom entity who has plans for Mona, Angie, and all humanity, plans that cannot be controlled… or even known. And, behind the intrigue, lurks the shadowy Yakuza, the powerful Japanese underworld, whose leaders ruthlessly manipulate people and events to suit their own purposes… or so they think. (CQL)

Bridge Trilogy

.....1) Virtual Light - 2005: Welcome to NoCal and SoCal, the uneasy sister-states of what used to be California. Here, the Millennium has come and gone, leaving in its wake only stunned survivors. In Los Angeles, Berry Rydell is a former armed-response rent-a-cop now working for a bounty hunter. Chevette Washington is a bicycle-messenger-turned-pickpocket who impulsively snatches a pair of innocent-looking sunglasses. But, these are no ordinary shades. What you can see through these high-tech specs can make you rich – or get you killed. Now, Berry and Chevette are on the run, zeroing in on the digitalized heart of DatAmerica, where pure information is the greatest high. And a mind can be a terrible thing to crash... (ILL)

.....2) Idoru - Colin Laney has a gift very much in demand. He can see well-hidden secrets through "nodal points" in the digital wake of commerce. In the not-so-distant future, fame and fortune and their analogs, scandal and ruin, are the true binding agents in a fractured, ungovernable world. Fired from his television tabloid job for an indiscretion, Laney is hired by the manager of the super-popular band Lo/Rez to go to post-earthquake Tokyo and divine the meaning behind singer Lo's intention to marry an idoru – a sort of semi-sentient hologram. In alternating chapters, Chia, deeply involved in the Seattle chapter of the Lo/Rez fan club, picks up word of Lo's intentions over a computer network and is sent to investigate. On the way, she acts as the unwitting mule for a smuggler and winds up holding some very dangerous information. (CQL)

.....3) All Tomorrow’s Parties - Rydell is on his way back to near-future San Francisco. A stint as a security man in an all-night Los Angeles convenience store has convinced him his career is going nowhere, but his friend Laney, phoning from Tokyo, says there's more interesting work for him in Northern California. And there is, although it will eventually involve his former girlfriend; a Taoist assassin; the secrets Laney has been hacking out of the depths of DatAmerica; the CEO of the PR firm that secretly runs the world; and the apocalyptic technological transformation of, well, everything. (CQL)

Bigend Trilogy

.....1) Pattern Recognition - Cayce Pollard is a well-paid professional marketer. She and her friends – filmmakers, dealers in electronic esoterica, designers, and hackers – live on the cutting edge of a highly technological, "post-geographic" world, where the manipulation of cultural trends can bring great power. When she is employed to discover the source of "the Footage," a mysterious film that has been appearing in bits and pieces on the Web and gathering a worldwide underground following, her survival is at stake. In her search for the auteur, she outwits corporate spies, terrorists, and mobsters in London, Tokyo, Moscow, and New York; struggles with ethical issues; and even delves into the mystery of her father's disappearance on September 11, 2001. (CQL)

.....2) Spook Country - Gibson abandons the futuristic dystopias that have sustained most of his career, picturing instead a dystopic present – specifically, a post-9/11 America, which, in thrall to ubiquitous media and vague threats of annihilation, has "developed Stockholm syndrome toward its own government." The convoluted and politically insistent plot involves a missing shipping container, a former rock star, a Cuban-Chinese crime-facilitating family, and an Ativan addict coerced into domestic espionage. Fanciful touches include the creation of virtual art in public spaces using satellite mapping and Wi-Fi; texting in Volapuk, a Cyrillic-Latin amalgam; encrypting data within songs on an iPod; and the CIA’s recruitment of sea pirates in the war on terrorism. (ILL)

.....3) Zero History - Gibson leads readers on a wild adventure that encompasses fashion, the military-industrial complex, viral marketing, behavioral anthropology, addiction, and even base jumping, weaving all of these distinctive threads into a satisfyingly cohesive whole. A couple of reviewers cited some implausible plot twists and exaggerated characters, but most praised Gibson's increased focus on his characters, his razor-sharp prose, and his incisive observations on modern culture. (ILL)