William Gibson Analysis

Discussion Topics

William Gibson prefers to write about the people who live on the margins of society. Why would he write about such people rather than the rich and famous?

Is Gibson optimistic or pessimistic about the present and the future?

Romance is generally lacking from Gibson’s books. Does Gibson believe that romantic love is impossible in our high-tech world?

In conventional science fiction, a highly competent person overcomes formidable, but not insurmountable, obstacles to solve problems affecting large numbers of people. In what ways do Gibson’s books depart from this template?

What is Gibson’s attitude toward computers and other high-tech devices?


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.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cavallaro, Dani. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. New Brunswick, N.J.: Athlone Press, 2000. An advanced academic discussion of Gibson’s work and that of other cyberpunk writers. Particular attention is paid to many core issues of cyberspace theory, including virtuality, technology, mythology, body morphing, and spatiality.

McCaffery, Larry. Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990. Collection of interviews with many science-fiction writers includes an interesting discussion of Gibson’s life and work, some of which is in his own words.

Olsen, Lance. William Gibson. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1993. An introduction to Gibson’s life, with in-depth discussions of Burning Chrome, Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. A good starting place.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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,...

(The entire section is 450 words.)