Book Review: Burning Chrome by William Gibson

William Gibson is one of those authors who people either love or hate. The Canadian-American science fiction writer is known best for coining the term “cyberspace” in the title story of this collection. Yes, his books can be difficult to read sometimes, so his work is possibly an acquired taste.

I’ve read Gibson’s Neuromancer and the rest of the Sprawl trilogy multiple times, and I was excited to dive into Burning Chrome, which collects all of the short fiction he’s ever written. It’s a great collection of stories.

All the stories in Burning Chrome are based in the Sprawl universe that Gibson later expanded upon in his novels. It’s a grimy high-tech future with lowlife characters like addicts and thieves scraping by in a late-capitalist world. Gibson is perhaps the most well-known of all the “cyberpunk” authors, a genre that I love.

There are 10 stories in Burning Chrome, three of which are collaborations with other authors. I enjoyed all of them, though my favorite was the last story, “Burning Chrome.” Gibson’s prose can get annoying because it’s so dense, and there are so many obscure pop-culture references. And, yeah, there are rarely any redeeming characters – most of his narrators are anti-heroes.

Smugglers, mutants, & astronauts

Gibson also has a tic that I find very annoying where he describes objects as originating from a specific country. For instance, his stories are full of references to “German leather” and “Italian shoes.” Often, the adjectives feel entirely arbitrary. I guess he does this to give off the impression of a society that’s completely globalized.

(Photo by Tanner Boriack on Unsplash)

Burning Chrome has a great smattering of themes and character studies, and it’s an excellent introduction to Gibson’s work. The stories feature cybernetic smugglers, a mutant and shape-shifting woman who derives life entirely from alcohol, and astronauts who travel so far into space that it shatters their minds.

The title story (“Burning Chrome”) is probably the best of the bunch, and it’s the story that coined the term “cyberspace.” The story follows two “console cowboys,” or cyberspace hackers, who pull off a dangerous online heist. It’s a very well-developed story and character study, too, as the two hackers both fall in love with the same woman who ends up ghosting them in the end.

Noir plus high-tech

Like I said, Gibson’s work isn’t for everyone, but I’ve come to really enjoy it. I get lost in his stories sometimes because the plots can become vague and almost incomprehensible, and there are some stories where he offers nearly no exposition or context to help a reader out. But when he churns out a good story or novel, they really feel like masterpieces.

If you like noir and science fiction, you may like Burning Chrome. That’s basically what cyberpunk is – gritty noir combined with near-future tech. If you enjoy Burning Chrome, jump to Neuromancer (Gibson’s first novel). Then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a cyberpunk fan.

(Cover photo by Adam Neumann on Unsplash)

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Burning Chrome by William Gibson

  1. Dave Williams May 17, 2021 / 3:54 pm

    I also really enjoyed this collection of stories. He nails the noir atmosphere so well. The dense sentences made me slow down in reading, but it was certainly worthwhile.

    • Nick Pipitone May 17, 2021 / 3:58 pm

      Agreed! He is really dense, but I like him a lot, simply for the fact that he takes a lot of these stories in really unexpected directions.

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