Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
William Gibson first established his reputation as the central figure in the cyberpunk movement with a sequence of short stories, some written in collaboration with other presumed members of the movement, including John Shirley, Bruce Sterling, and Michael Swanwick. Gibson has also written several screenplays; the first to be commercially produced was Johnny Mnemonic (1995). He has also published journalistic articles on cyberpunk and has written about the genre’s key themes. He cowrote two episodes of the television series The X-Files with Tom Maddox (1998 and 2000).
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
William Gibson became one of very few modern authors to be considered more visionary prophet than literary artist. His novel Neuromancer, which won the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards, became the handbook of an odd kind of social movement, representing the perverse dreams and ambitions of a large number of alienated adolescents. The novel’s success achieved mythical proportions, its relevance seeming so great that it became the most extensively studied science-fiction text in the history of the genre. The role of cultural guru was one for which Gibson was somewhat ill fitted, but inevitably relished. He took good care in his subsequent fiction to represent and extrapolate contemporary social trends that caught his attention and warranted intelligent comment.
Neuromancer helped to rejuvenate generic science fiction, which had been weakened by a loss of faith in the mythical future of the space age. The space age had provided science fiction with a frontier for exploration. By the mid-1980’s, the belief that there was attainable extraterrestrial “real estate” in the future had faded to absurd optimism or utter desperation. Then, Gibson revealed that outer space was not, after all, the final frontier, and that there was a new frontier waiting, on the desktop rather than the doorstep. When asked what and where cyberspace was, he became accustomed to answering, “It’s where your money is.”
The rejuvenation of science fiction was brief—reality caught up with imagination so quickly that Bruce Sterling famously declared that cyberpunk was dead even before the term had been coined. However, the rejuvenation brought about by Neuromancer was spectacular, and it left an indelible imprint on contemporary images of the future.
Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
How is life defined in William Gibson’s novels, and how does it connect to intelligence? In turn, how do these notions relate to the more abstract concept of humanity?
How does Neuromancer work as a romance, especially regarding Case and the women with whom he becomes involved? Is it a believable romance?
Examine the noir strategies in a particular Gibson novel: How does he deploy familiar motifs, and how does he change them to fit the particular need of the cyberpunk genre?
Compare and contrast the Bridge stories to the Sprawl stories. Examine the levels of technology, the way language is used, and the key fictional events that mold each universe.
In what ways did Gibson get the future wrong? What social concerns and cultural trends were off the mark from how the real world developed?
Bibliography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Bukataman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject of Post-Modern Science Fiction. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993. An early analysis of postmodern science fiction, in which Gibson’s work assumes a central role.
Burrows, Roger. “Cyberpunk as Social Theory: William Gibson and the Sociological Imagination.” In Imagining Cities, edited by Sallie Westwood and John Williams. New York: Routledge, 1997. Approaches Gibson’s work from an unusual, but highly relevant, angle, concentrating on his representations of future city life.
Cavallero, Dani. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. London: Athlone, 2000. A retrospective study of the cyberpunk phenomenon, with Gibson as its center.
Conte, Joseph. “The Virtual Reader: Cybernetics and Technocracy in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine.” In The Holodeck in the Garden: Science and Technology in Contemporary American Fiction, edited by Peter Freese and Charles B. Harris. Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive Press, 2004. A useful analysis of the least studied of Gibson’s works.
Foster, Thomas. The Souls of Cyberpunk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. An account of the movement’s legacy,...
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