Pulp! Influences: William Gibson

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

This is one of my favourite opening sentences and comes from, possibly, my favourite sci-fi novel, William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

With its release in 1984 Gibson near single-handedly created the cyber-punk genre and many writers and filmmakers have cribbed from it since. (It’s actually quite surprising the Wachowskis never got into any trouble over The Matrix [1999] because its unacknowledged debt to Neuromancer is large – I won’t get further into that rant here. Speaking of which, Chuck Palahniuk’s 2007 novel, Rant, is another that borrowed heavily from Gibson.)

Its hallucinatory mix of noir beats and techno-jargon language seem fresh even in 2016 – though I’ll admit that opening sentence I love so much is already dated and will be incomprehensible to future generations of readers who’ve never seen analogue television – and Gibson’s prescience is startling in places.

Among other things he predicts the rise of the internet (and apparently was the first to coin the term ‘cyberspace’). In Neuromancer it’s referred to as ‘The Matrix’ and is viewed visually through virtual reality technology.

The story follows hacker, Case, who is coerced into a dangerous job by Molly Millions – a future-day ninja with mirrored lenses for eyes and retractable blades in her finger-tips – and the shadowy figures she works for.

Gibson’s success, like Philip K. Dick’s, lies not in the hard sci-fi but in his characters – even with their body augmentations (Gibson jumped straight past Apple’s wearable tech to surgically implanted eyeball cams and the like), vat-grown organs and internal computer drives (‘mircosofts’) they are human, with human desires and weaknesses.

Although no very direct lines can be drawn from my story collection, Beaten to a Pulp!, back to Gibson’s work, his writing has had a great influence in general over mine.

Below is an excerpt of Like Unlike from Beaten to a Pulp!, of all the tales in the collection this one seems the most suitable for this post as it discusses the boundaries between reality and social media, and if anything Gibson’s canon is about the impact of rapidly advancing technology on the ordinary human life.

Neuromancer is the first book in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, and though the others don’t quite grab you the way his debut does they are certainly worth a read. That said, his short stories Johnny Mnemonic (1981 – definitely check out the so-bad-it’s-good film version with Keanu Reeves and Henry Rollins), Burning Chrome (1982), and New Rose Hotel (1984), all set in the Sprawl, are excellent.

You can read Beaten to a Pulp! here.

(Photo: Frederic Poirot – Fred Armitage at Flickr / CC)

Like Unlike

There are three bodies on the floor. He’s on his knees, begging. Begging me not to kill him, not to take his life. I tell him he shouldn’t have fucked with me. I pour the petrol over the desk, the corpses on the floor, the leather chair, curtains, carpet, documents, cabinets. I soak the place, leaving a little dry circle where he kneels crying. Don’t do this. I lay a small trail behind me, out through the door. Don’t do this. And I flick the zippo, kneeling myself, and the place goes up.

He screams for a long time. I can’t see him through the wall of flames. Too late. He shouldn’t have fucked with me. I light a cigarette on the burning door frame.

– David Robert Jones has accepted your request.

356 and counting, I smile. Walking into the sunshine I feel a tension start to melt away, or maybe evaporate in the heat. A little knot somewhere in my gut untwists, it tugs painfully for a second as I remember the screaming, but then it’s gone. A beautiful day, much better than yesterday, the rain has finally stopped and the world has that fresh smell. The sweet smell of wet grass, clean, a hint of decay blowing over from the forest which borders the farm. My farm. 6,400 acres now, it stretches so far I can’t see the southern limit from the farmhouse any more. My uncle has a farm somewhere, I remember going there as a child. Something in the humble stone farmhouse, the red tiled roof, brings that back to me. Does his look like this? Probably smaller. Did he have goats and sheep and chickens and rows and rows of bright yellow corn? I can’t remember. He might have had cows, but probably not as many as me (281).

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