Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693

Of course, radical body alterations cost a lot of money. Of the ten stories in Burning Chrome, many feature characters that could be considered to be trying to get ahead in an information-driven, class-divided society. In "Johnny Mnemonic" the mental courier Johnny finds himself out of a job when his broker (or fence, depending on your point of view) stores Yakuza stolen data in his head. In order to avoid being killed, Johnny forms an alliance with Molly Millions, a free-agent bodyguard, and Jones, a technologically enhanced dolphin addicted to junk. They hide from the Yakuza in Lo Tek territory: "The Lo Tek's leech their webs and huddling places to the city's fabric with thick gobs of epoxy and sleep above the abyss in mesh hammocks. Their country is so attenuated that in places it consists of little more than holds for hands and feet, sawed into geodesic struts." By drawing the Yakuza assassin into Lo Tek territory, Molly puts him at a disadvantage. Without any technology besides the weapon in his prosthetic fingertip to rely on, the single assassin is easily beaten.

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The trio then goes into business together. As a courier, Johnny stores information on an "idiot/savant basis." Jones' navy implants are able to scan the traces of the programs (the Squids), however, and the three become blackmail entrepreneurs, extracting and selling all the data ever stored in Johnny's head. The story ends with Johnny adopting both high and low tech; at the end of the story he claims both that "my new teeth have almost grown in" (the Lo Teks all have "tooth bud transplants from Dobermans") and a few paragraphs later, "I'm getting to be the most technical boy in town." In this way, Gibson addresses the fear in society that we have become too dependent on technology. Some may rely too much on technology and information, but there are always those who can mediate between high and low technology (and high and low class) and come out on top. Class in "Johnny Mnemonic" is not purely about money but also about technology—those who have it versus those who do not. Johnny reminds the reader that "We're an information economy. They teach you that in 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. . . ." This speaks directly to common fears today of a lack of security and privacy. Internet transactions are monitored; consumer information is bought and sold by credit card companies and other institutions. The Lo Tek heaven and Johnny and Molly's triumph over the corporate Yakuza assassin reassures the reader that even these traces can be used to one's advantage as well.

"New Rose Hotel" is a story of love and betrayal but is framed around a tale of intellectual corporate warfare. Here, the upper class owns information that has not even been created yet because it owns all of the top research scientists. The unnamed narrator and his business partner Fox initiate a deal: get top research scientist Hiroshi Yomiuri to leave one corporation, Maas Biolabs, for another, Hosaka. "The money was in corporate defectors," the narrator says, and he and Fox are after the money. But Hiroshi is already so well paid and well treated by Maas that Hosaka cannot get him to defect by offering money. The partners discover a down-on-her-luck beauty named Sandii and use her as bait for Hiroshi. What seemed like a simple plan quickly sours. While the narrator falls in love with Sandii, she is secretly working for Maas. What is frightening about the new genetic engineering corporations like Maas is that they are so powerful that they make their own laws. Hosaka gathers its best research scientists in Marrakech once Hiroshi, with Sandii, has defected. Maas, through Sandii, then sabotages the project. She "reprogrammed the DNA synthesizer" to create a meningial virus that kills all of Hosaka's researchers. Hiroshi is sacrificed to the greater good of Maas, a company that is, as the narrator retrospectively states, "Small, fast, ruthless. All Edge."

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Characters