Thoughts on William Gibson’s themes

Image result for cyberpunk art

This picture is how I feel right now.

My presentation this week will be about William Gibson’s short story “Burning Chrome”. It will consist of a general biography of the author, description of the story and some afterthoughts for discussion. My blog post is going to be a bit more personal than that, which I hope is ok. Basically I just want to express how I feel about some themes in the story and how they reflect reality as I see it.

I have always been fascinated with how technology affects our lives. How it integrates with and changes the way we live. I have a love\hate relationship with technology. I need it in my life but am constantly at odds with it. I think William Gibson may feel the same way in some respects.

          “I did avoid the Internet, but only until the advent of the Web turned it into such a magnificent opportunity to waste time that I could no longer resist.” (Gibson)

 “Burning Chrome” portrays a world completely woven together by technology . To me it seems like a completely plausible depiction of the future. I mean, people are already steeped in the vicarious nature of technology. The escapism and the vanity, oh the vanity. Day by day I wade through a sea of foreheads staring down at blue lit screens pumping distractions into their brains! And I just want to shout ” Look up! I am here! I am human like you. Don’t be afraid.”

If Apple one day came out with a surgically implantable chip that could be placed in the cognitive processing centers of the brain as a cell phone interface, would people buy it? Would people would risk it? I can picture it now, blink twice to answer, blink once to ignore, roll your eyes to log into social media, and your current facial expression will be converted into the appropriate emoticon.

I think Gibson had these same feelings towards the seductive allure of technology. Although when he wrote these stories there wasn’t much in the way of advanced computer technology, at least nothing like what we have today.

In another one of his stories called Neuromancer her refers to cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination” (Gibson). I wonder if the people of today’s day and age are participating in a consensual hallucination. Or if Gibson overtly feels that way.

There is an interesting theme of vanity in “Burning Chrome” that I really like.  A character named Rikki is willing to risk her own eyesight for the sake of appearance. To get a pair of surgically implanted eyes that are more appealing.

          “‘How’d I look with a pair of these?’ she’d ask, holding a full-page   headshot, Tally Isham’s blue Zeiss Ikons lined up with her own amber-brown. She’d had her corneas done twice, but she still wasn’t 20-20; so she wanted Ikons. Brand of the stars. Very expensive.

          ‘You still window-shopping for eyes?’ I asked as I sat down.”

(Pg 18)

Every time I read that line it reminds me of the movie “Minority Report”.

It’s interesting to think about the connection between vanity and technology. The ability to artificially create yourself online, Photoshop pictures and meticulously edit personal information. I can personally admit that when I had social media it felt like a security blanket of sorts. I think that is the case for most, although it is rarely admitted to.

 Another part of the story I found interesting was the concept of virtual warfare. Cyber-attacks are something that have come into full force as of late. Just yesterday on the news I heard president Trump speaking of cyber-attacks from Russia. Cyber-attacks, cyber punks, and technology consumption are themes that William Gibson wrote about as fiction, but now they seem like more like reality. 

In an interview Gibson was asked about how he felt about predicting aspects of the future, to which he answered in his signature way.

“If I was to add up the time that I have spent in interviews either qualifying or denying prescience then it would total more than anything else I have ever spoken about,” Gibson tells me. “There’s an ancient tendency to account for the alleged soothsayer’s hits and ignore his misses. I’ve missed multitudes of things about imaginary futures. The hits are just clickbait, and they have always been clickbait.” (vice.com)

 

Here is are some sources as well as links for more information on William Gibson and his themes.

http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/source/source.asp

Montesano, Anthony P. “Johnny Mnemonic: Cyberpunk William Gibson Gets The Hollywood Treatment.” Cinefantastique 26.3 (1995): 44. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/william-gibson-interview-399

Dorsey, Candas Jane. “An Interview With William Gibson.” New York Review Of Science Fiction 15.9 [177] (2003): 10-11. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Booker, M. K. “Technology, History, and the Postmodern Imagination: The Cyberpunk Fiction of William Gibson.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, vol. 50 no. 4, 1994, pp. 63-87. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/arq.1994.0022. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/445302/pdf

 

Suvin, Darko. “On Gibson And Cyberpunk SF.” Foundation: The Review Of Science Fiction 46.(1989): 40-51. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Schmeink, Lars. “Cyberpunk And Dystopia: William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984).” Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse: Classics-New Tendencies-Model Interpretations. 221-235. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier (WVT), 2015. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984. Print.

Gibson, William. Burning Chrome. New York: Arbor House, 1986. Print.

http://www.theverge.com/2016/4/2/11345640/josan-gonzalez-the-future-is-now-sci-fi-art  

 

First Officers Log Star Date 41636.9

 

Log entry 1:

We are about to beam down to a planet by the name of Angel One in response to an old distress call. We have reason to believe there may be federation citizens marooned here after their freighter was incapacitated by an asteroid collision 7 years ago. Angel One has not received communication from the federation in 62 years, so we are approaching them with caution.

Log entry 2:

What we know about Angel One is that they are a matriarchal society where the female is as aggressively dominant as the male was on earth hundreds of years ago. Here the females are the hunters, the soldiers, and the rulers of society. The population of males serve as consorts that are fetishized as objects of beauty and comfort. This could be due to the fact that the males are physically smaller and more gentle by nature.

Log entry 3:

The ruler and counsel leader on Angel One goes by the name of Mistress Beata. After some tense negotiations she has agreed to allow us to search for the survivors, so long as we remove them once their whereabouts are discovered. She has deemed them to be fugitives for going against the natural order of life on Angel One.

Log entry 4:

The ships scanner has found the survivors. They are led by a man named Ramsey who has refused our request to bring his people back into federation space. They believe Angel One is now their home and that they deserve the same rights and opportunities that the females have. Mistress Beata does not share their view, nor will she tolerate any further noncompliance. She has sentenced them to death.

Log entry 5:

I have gotten to know Mistress Beata over these past few days. She is curious about me. Curious because I am a man of free will and that I do not live to serve women. I’m hoping I can use her interest in me as some sort of leverage to save Ramsey and the others.

Log entry 6:

Ramsey and his followers have been captured and are awaiting execution.

Log audio:

BEATA : As you can see, we are not without compassion. Your deaths will be swift and painless.
RIKER: Mistress Beata, before we see living examples of your compassion, may I speak?
BEATA: Is this a plea for leniency?
RIKER: Nothing of the sort. As the governing body of Angel One, you’re entitled to execute your laws or your citizens as you see fit.
BEATA: Make your point, so we can proceed with this unpleasant business.
RIKER: When you spoke of the prisoners, you used the term revolutionary. Indeed, death has been known to stop revolutions. But I suspect it’s not a revolution that Angel One is hoping to stop, it’s evolution. Ramsey and the survivors did not initiate the waves of dissent that are rippling through your planet. Their presence here merely reinforced the change in attitudes between men and women that have already been well under way. They became symbols around which others who shared their views could gather. You may eliminate the symbols, but that does not mean death to the issues which those symbols represent. No power in the universe can hope to stop the force of evolution. Be warned. The execution of Ramsey and his followers may elevate them to the status of martyrs. Martyrs cannot be silenced.

Final log entry:

After a brief recess Mistress Beata has agree to spare Ramsey and his men so long as they submit to being exiled to a distant region of Angel One. Mistress Beata looked at me with a lustful smile before I left and said ” You are very clever Commander Riker, for a man”.

-Riker out

 

Indifference is futile

 

The Conquest of Gola – Leslie F. Stone

It will not be surprising to hear, but this story put me in mind of a episode of Star Trek. This STNG episode also involved a female dominated planet in which the men only served as “consorts”. I will do some fan fiction in reference to that episode on a separate blog post for anyone who might be interested!

The Detaxal are men of a foreign planet that want to assimilate their ways into the female dominated planet Gola. The author does not pull any punches in this story and flat out describes the Detaxal men as an ugly, barbaric, and narcissistic race. Even the word Detaxal has a sound of disgust to it!

“The greater part of their race fares forth to conquer, to lay waste, to struggle and fight as the animals do over a morsel of worthless territory”

The men that already exist on Gola are subservient and childlike while the woman are ethereal and efficient. Their only flaw being their hubris and indifference towards the threat of man, referring to it as “childish prattle”.

The author choosing to have the women overcome their male invaders with the power of their minds was an interesting way to end it. It made me wonder if the author chose to do this as a rebuttal to the difficulty women SF writers face in a male dominated genre. Perhaps it was an expression of the frustration she may have felt at the time; her obviously being a very capable SF writer.

” And out men- well, they are still the same ineffectual weaklings, my daughters.”

 

Roses are red, violets are Shambleau.

“Shambleau” by  C.L. Moore

This story really sucked me in (no pun intended, well maybe a little). The atmosphere had me hooked right away. My mind was immediately making connections with the 1990 movie Total Recall.

Northwest Smith struck me as a sort of “Hans Solo” type of character. Someone who lives a fast and free lifestyle with little regard for the law, but beneath it all he is a good man with clearly defined moral boundaries.

” Smiths living was a perilous affair outside the law and ruled by ray gun only”

When he saved the girl from the angry mob I could tell something was not right. I found myself asking questions like ” Why did they want to kill her?” and ” Why is he not extremely bothered by this?”. But perhaps it has to do with the age old feeling that men get towards a damsel in distress.

I enjoyed the dream that Smith had which foreshadowed the events to come. A sickeningly well written description of the allure of Medusa.

” That warm softness was caressing the very roots of his soul with a terrible intimacy”

There was another line from this story that freaked me out a bit. This is because I read this line directly after watching the STNG two part episode “The Best of Both Worlds”. The experience that took place in that episode was interestingly similar.

” For a while I was part of it, literally, sharing its thoughts and memories and emotions and hungers, and well, it’s over now and I don’t remember very clearly, but the only part left free was that part of me that was all but insane from the obscenity of the thing.”

I think one of the main points that C.L. Moore was trying covey is that we all have an evil within us that can be either nurtured or condemned. The old philosophy of inner good vs inner evil. I have always believed that good and evil are cyclical and never ending. And that it takes conscious effort to balance your good and bad side.

“And yet it was a pleasure so sweet, I think there must be some nucleus of utter evil in me – in everyone- that needs only the proper stimulus to get complete control.”

SIDE NOTE:

I think I may have dated a Shambleau once. I always wondered why she would never wear her hair down. Now it all makes sense!

-AL

Comedy is tragedy plus time?

An very interesting growth took place as I was reading the stories this week. The stories seemed to evolve from an almost cynical teasing of the concepts of time travel (The Seventh Voyage), to using them as  backdrops to tell a more grounded story ( Forever Yours, Anna ). I personally prefer the latter.

Fixating too heavily on the concept of time travel is exhausting. It is something I am definitely guilty of. But all of that aside, I am much more interested in stories that are character driven. This is the reason that Kate Wilhelm’s story ” Forever Yours, Anna” is my top pick this week. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of Gordon’s failed relationship an how routine everything had become for him. Having a major relationship crash and burn is something I can personally relate to!

I also enjoyed the slapstick nature of  ” The Seventh Voyage” by Stanislaw Lem. The whole story was fun and lighthearted in nature. Him having an overcooked steak orbiting his rocket made me laugh pretty hard. Both of these stories were effective in their own ways and both have a happy ending which is something that I always welcome.

The Hairless Ape

Speech Sounds – Octavia Butler

“Speech Sounds” is an excellently written story that put me in mind of Mad Max . The most obvious parallel being that gas and vehicles are a highly valued commodity. In a land with no police force or government, people are reduced to “hairless apes”.

The fact that our main protagonist “Rye” lost her ability to read and write really struck an emotional chord with me. It reminds me of people I have known with neurodegenerative disease or that have suffered from a stroke. People who have had to come to grips with limitations and battle personal demons. This story made me reflect on all the simple day to day tasks that I take for granted .

I am also wondering what society would be like if something like this were to happen. How would we all cope if we no longer had language as we know it? Would people be reduced to nothing more than crude “hairless apes”?

This story left a very powerful emotional impact on me. It honestly left me in tears at the end. And like the other stories in this series that I have treasured, it ends with a glimmer of hope. I absolutely love stories about people regaining a sense of hope through personal loss because it is something I can relate to.

“I’m Valerie Rye”, she said, savoring the words. ” It’s alright for you to talk to me.”

Ray-Guns and Roses

“Thunder and Roses” – Theodore Sturgeon

I knew right away I was going to like Theodore Sturgeon’s writing. I have always had an interest in stories involving a pre/post war atmosphere. This is probably because I watched “The Terminator” when I was 6 years old, and from that moment on was forever changed.

Although this story  involves references to murder, suicide, and slowly slipping into madness, I still  found it to have a very optimistic ending. Especially when comparing it to “The Liberation of Earth” by William Tenn and “That Only a Mother” by Judith Merril. Those stories seemed to revel in the ability to instill the feeling of macabre in me!  Don’t get me wrong I love deformed babies and melting human faces but still! A story that sets out only to shock and appall you is a bit like a chocolate sundae covered in powdered sugar, it’s one tone and is lacking contrast.

I find stories that use wavering tone and contain underlying themes of morality are the most enjoyable. Stories that make you think about the nature of man both good and evil. And when they end in a glimmer of hope, however small it may be, it is like the cherry on top that brings it all together.

– “You’ll have your chance” he said to the far future.” And by heaven you better make good”