Study Guide

Burning Chrome

by William Gibson

Burning Chrome Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

Burning Chrome contains Gibson’s short work up to 1986. As do many single-author short-story collections, Burning Chrome presents a summary of Gibson’s early themes and devices. The primary characteristics of the subgenre that became known as cyberpunk are all present: setting, character types, basic conflicts, and pace. In the case of the Sprawl stories, the setting and even some characters of the later Neuromancer novels appear, such as Molly Millions from “Johnny Mnemonic” and The Finn, the fence in “Burning Chrome.”

As represented in this collection, much of Gibson’s work combines elements of three traditions: hard science fiction (technological development), soft science fiction (social change), and New Wave (cynicism and apprehension about the future). These broad elements serve to examine themes such as isolation, relationships, and identity.

Identity in Gibson’s work is fluid. Names and faces, and even data stores, can be changed. The degree of fluidity ranges from Johnny Mnemonic’s temporary assumption of another face and persona to the chameleon-like adaptations of “The Belonging Kind.” Not all fluid identities are conscious or desired. Both Parker in “Fragments of a Hologram Rose” and Fox in “New Rose Hotel” sift through fragments in hopes of seeing an unknown whole. Parker’s fragments are isolated memories of his past; Fox’s are his identification cards.

It is perhaps not surprising, given the near-future timeframe, that these stories have in some ways dated rapidly. They were overtaken in the early 1990’s not by technological change so much as by social changes, such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany. Stories with direct references to the Soviet Union, such as “Red Star, Winter Orbit,” suffer most.

Gibson is recognized as one of the creators of the cyberpunk subgenre. The cyberpunk story “Johnny Mnemonic” is the basis for the film Johnny Mnemonic (1995), starring Keanu Reeves as Johnny.