When you think of William Gibson, you instantly think of cyberpunk, so it was a bit surprising to me that half the stories in William Gibson's Burning Chrome weren't cyberpunk at all. I suppose it shouldn't have been so surprising; Gibson's clearly too talented to be a one-note writer. So you get very good stories like "The Belonging Kind", which is a fantasy/horror/SF blend of the sort that I associate with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; "Red Star, Winter Orbit", a melancholic post-space-age space station story; or "The Gernsback Continuum", a meandering bit of nostalgia for pre-WWII notions of the future.

But cyberpunk is where Gibson made his name, and even in this collection, his cyberpunk stories stand out as excellent. "Johnny Mnemonic" (sans Keanu), "Burning Chrome", and "New Rose Hotel" (among others) are just superb. Remarkable, too, is how little they've dated; stories about a noir-tinged glorified Internet written in the early '80s seem ripe for laughable datedness, but Gibson avoids the worst of it by being vague about technical details. There's still a vaguely '80s feel to the work -- especially the recurring heavy Japanophilia -- but it only adds a certain period charm to the stories.

I was actually a bit skeptical about this collection, going in, because I'd found The Difference Engine (co-written with Bruce Sterling) to be incomprehensible, and Virtual Light to be merely okay; but these short stories are damn fine, and worth reading even apart from their historical importance.


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