Saturday, June 11, 2011

Things I Just Got Around To Reading: Burning Chrome

Not just 'Burning Chrome', actually, but William Gibson in general. Not just William Gibson in general, actually, but pretty much cyberpunk as a genre; aside from 'Headcrash' and the stellar cyberpunk pastiche Doctor Who novel 'Transit', I've just missed the genre completely. I was born just a little too young to hit it square on as it happened, and since I knew it would be there whenever I got around to it, I never felt any great hurry to get back to it. But then a very close friend was encouraging me to read it, and I popped it in my luggage for a trip, and then when I got back from the trip after reading "Johnny Mnemonic" I popped it in my book bag to take to work, and now I've finally read it. And what do I think?

Well, there's a lot to admire. Gibson is an unquestionably talented writer; his short stories have amazing prose that is almost like Beat poetry (this is not, of course, a coincidence) and he's a master of storytelling economy. He manages to fill in entire worlds in the gaps between sentences, where lesser writers might have had to insert monologues to explain them. (Actually, in general short stories are a far more challenging art than novels; Stephen King, for example, is a good novelist but a masterful short story writer. It is much harder to say something well in 8,000 words than it is to say it in 800 pages.)

But I will admit that I admired Gibson's stories more than enjoyed them. There was a sense of coldness to them, as though they were saying to me, "Look but don't touch." I spent a lot of the collection trying to figure out where that sensation came from, and I finally came to the conclusion that a lot of it came from his treatment of women.

I'm not going to say that William Gibson is a misogynist. I think that's a very strong word that gets thrown around a lot and tends to shut down discussion a lot more than it starts it. But I do feel like it seemed like Gibson was having some issues with women that came out in his work of the period. Virtually all of his female characters in the collection are manipulative, loveless, ambitious and duplicitous. I realize that some of this came out of the deliberate attempt to pastiche the film noir genre in a different medium and setting, which in turn replicated those writers' very real misogyny (anyone who wants to try to argue that Mickey Spillane wasn't misogynist, good luck to ya...) But when it's a repeated theme, that the lead characters are betrayed by the women in their lives (or in the case of "Dogfight", betray them in a sequence that's uncomfortably close to rape...) it's hard to feel good about what you're reading. It's hard to enjoy it. So I admire but don't enjoy.

But I do admire a whole lot.


Anonymous said...

Worth thinking about, I suppose.

Read Pattern Recognition?

More recent Gibson, which doesn't have that whole nasty bit inherited from the pulps in play. Still has a lot of the same qualities on the positive side of the ledger.

Might be more enjoyable.

Tyson said...

If it was only the female characters portrayed as "manipulative, loveless, ambitious and duplicitous" then you'd have a defensible position. But I think Gibson tends to portray all characters this way, regardless of gender.