American Literature William Gibson
by
Mathias Nilges
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0203

Introduction

Canadian-American author William Gibson was born on March 17, 1948, in Conway, South Carolina. In 1968, Gibson moved to Toronto, Canada, to join the emerging counter-cultural scene in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood. In 1977, Gibson graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English literature. In the same year, Gibson published his first work of fiction, the short story “Fragments of a Hologram Rose.” In the early 1980s, Gibson published a series of short stories, including “The Gernsback Continuum” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982). These and other stories, which were integral to Gibson’s development of a cyberpunk aesthetic, were collected in the volume Burning Chrome (1986). Gibson is most well-known for his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984), which achieved global success and established him as one of the pioneers of the cyberpunk genre. Gibson followed Neuromancer with two sequels, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). Together, these novels form the first of Gibson’s three trilogies, the Sprawl Trilogy. In 1992, in collaboration with Bruce Sterling, Gibson published the novel The Difference Engine, a central work of the steampunk genre. Throughout the 1990s, Gibson published his second cyberpunk trilogy, the Bridge Trilogy, which is comprised of the novels Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999). The 1990s were a decade of notable artistic activity for Gibson. In addition to his novels, Gibson wrote screenplays and teleplays, published a wide range of nonfiction essays, and collaborated with artists and publishers. The early 2000s marked a turning point of sorts in Gibson’s work and saw a new stage in the engagement with the relation between genre and history in Gibson’s oeuvre that culminates in his most recent works, the 2014 novel The Peripheral and the 2016–2017 comic book run Archangel. His 2003 novel Pattern Recognition sparked a wave of critical and public discussions of Gibson’s work. Gibson’s turn to literary realism raised the question of his continued connection to cyberpunk: Had he abandoned the genre that he helped establish, or did Gibson’s novel show that cyberpunk no longer designates a near future but rather the globalized present? Gibson’s third trilogy, the Blue Ant Trilogy, consisting of Pattern Recognition, Spook Country (2007), and Zero History (2010), traces the logic of the globalized, branded, digital world in which we live, deploying some of the trademark strategies of cyberpunk to examine the present.

General Overviews

There exist a range of valuable points of entry into the work of William Gibson. Shorter articles like Easterbrook 2010 provide basic information on Gibson’s life and work. Collections of essays like Slusser and Shippey 1992 contain several essays on Gibson’s early work and importance for the development of cyberpunk that remain useful resources for beginning researchers. There exist four book-length studies of William Gibson, Olsen 1992, Henthorne 2011, Miller 2016, and Westfahl 2013, which offer detailed information on his life and work and include a range of resources such as critical bibliographies, pedagogical resources, and contextualizing chapters on all aspects of Gibson’s oeuvre. While these books are aimed primarily at researchers, they are arranged in an assessible manner that a general readership will find useful. Both researchers and general readers will also find the information contained in a documentary on Neale 2011, and the volume that collects some of the most notable interviews with Gibson, Smith 2014, an invaluable resource. One of the earliest and most widely cited interviews with Gibson, McCaffery and Gibson 1988, is of particular significance and offers helpful insights into the origins of Gibson’s work.

  • Easterbrook, Neil. “William [Ford] Gibson (1948–).” In Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction. Edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint, 86–91. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Basic, brief introduction to Gibson’s life and work; a good place to start for general readers and beginning scholars.

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  • Henthorne, Tom. William Gibson: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

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    Contains a wide range of resources, as well as detailed bibliographical information and commentary on Gibson’s work, beginning with his earliest short stories up to his 2010 novel Zero History; also covers cultural contexts and main themes and subjects in Gibson’s work.

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  • McCaffery, Larry, and William Gibson. “An Interview with William Gibson.” Mississippi Review 16.2–3 (1988): 217–236.

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    Early interview with Gibson that addresses important aspects of his relation to cyberpunk; also anticipates McCaffery’s 1993 collection of essays.

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  • Miller, Gerald Alva. Understanding William Gibson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv6wgdb5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the life and work of Gibson, situating him in the history of science fiction (SF) and in the context of contemporary American fiction; provides biographical information, historical context, and influences; surveys major works, including obscure short stories as well as Gibson’s screenplays, nonfiction essays, and major collaborations.

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  • Neale, Mark, dir. No Maps for These Territories. DVD. Amsterdam: Reel23, 2011.

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    Interview-style documentary on and with William Gibson that contains helpful and fascinating information on his life and work; suited for a general audience and scholars alike.

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  • Olsen, Lance. William Gibson. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1992.

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    First book-length study of the work of William Gibson that contains helpful information on Gibson’s life, his early short fiction, and detailed discussions of the Sprawl Trilogy.

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  • Slusser, George, and Tim Shippey, eds. Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

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    One of the earliest collections of essays on cyberpunk; includes several essays dedicated to Gibson; includes Gary Westfahl’s widely cited essay on Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum” (pp. 89–108).

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  • Smith, Patrick A. Conversations with William Gibson. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

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    Brings together twenty-three previously published interviews; focuses on Gibson’s thoughts on technology, genre, writing, culture, branding and consumerism, and background on Gibson’s life.

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  • Westfahl, Gary. William Gibson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037801.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assembles a vast amount of biographical and bibliographical information, including a comprehensive list of early critical sources and information about largely unknown and obscure works by Gibson; thoroughly researched and contains a bibliography for beginning researchers; also contains an interview with Gibson that offers additional information on Gibson’s contribution to SF.

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Primary Texts

Included here is a selection of William Gibson’s most significant and most discussed works. This includes his Sprawl Trilogy (Gibson 1984, cited under Novels and Gibson 1986, cited under Short Fiction), his Bridge Trilogy, (Gibson 1993;), and his Blue Ant Trilogy (Gibson 2003). Listed, too, is his collaboratively written novel, The Difference Engine (Gibson and Sterling 1992), and his most recent novel, The Peripheral (Gibson 2014). Additionally, this section illustrates the breadth of Gibson’s work, which includes Burning Chrome (Gibson 1986, cited under Short Fiction), a collection of some of his short fiction; a collection of some of his nonfiction, Distrust That Particular Flavor (Gibson 2012, cited under Other Works); his screenplay Johnny Mnemonic (Gibson 1995, cited under Other Works) and his teleplays “Kill Switch” (Gibson 1995, cited under Other Works) and “First Person Shooter” (Gibson and Maddox 2017, cited under Other Works); his comic book series Archangel (Gibson, et al. 2016–2017); and the collaborative poetry and art project Agrippa (A Book of the Dead; Gibson, et al. 1992, cited under Other Works). Not included here are a wide range of uncollected short stories, introductions, and screenplays that were not put into production as movies. Having been a frequent contributor to publications like The New York Times and Wired, Gibson has also published a wide range of nonfiction essays.

Novels

Listed here are William Gibson’s novels, including most prominently the three trilogies that define his work. The Sprawl Trilogy, beginning with its first volume Neuromancer (Gibson 1984) was a worldwide bestseller and established Gibson as one of the defining voices of the rising cyberpunk genre. The Bridge Trilogy, launched with its first volume Virtual Light (Gibson 1993) cemented Gibson’s status as the world’s premier author of cyberpunk and an innovative author who reshaped the landscape of science fiction (SF). Gibson’s third trilogy, the Blue Ant Trilogy—in particular, its first volume, Pattern Recognition (Gibson 2003)—created significant popular and critical discussion: his turn to realism in his most recent trilogy marked a new change in direction for Gibson’s writing. The 1993 novel The Difference Engine (Gibson 1993) constitutes one of Gibson’s most notable artistic collaborations: in this case with fellow cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling. In 2014, Gibson published the standalone novel The Peripheral (Gibson 2014), which marked another stylistic turn in Gibson’s work: multidimensional time-travel SF.

  • Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984.

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    Neuromancer is the first volume of Gibson’s first of three trilogies: the Sprawl Trilogy. Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) are the second and third volume of the Sprawl Trilogy, respectively. All three novels are set in the Sprawl, a term that Gibson introduces in his early short fiction and that refers to the “Boston–Atlanta Metropolitan Axis,” in a near future dominated by corporate capitalism. The novels revolve around the development of artificial intelligence and examine the social and cultural changes related to the increasing connection of life and work to cyberspace.

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  • Gibson, William. Virtual Light. New York: Viking Press, 1993.

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    Virtual Light is the first volume of Gibson’s second trilogy, the Bridge Trilogy. Idoru (1996) and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999) are the second and third novels in the Bridge Trilogy. Set in California and in Tokyo in the early 2000s, the novels deal with nascent cyberspace technology; the trilogy’s title foregrounds the centrality of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge in the novels, which has been abandoned after an earthquake and transformed into a shantytown; much like the Sprawl that unifies his first trilogy and introduced in Gibson’s early short fiction, the Bridge is first introduced in a short story, “Skinner’s Room” (1991).

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  • Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. New York: Berkley, 2003.

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    The first volume of Gibson’s third trilogy, the Blue Ant Trilogy (also sometimes referred to as the Bigend Trilogy). Spook Country (2007) and Zero History (2010) are the second and third volumes of the Blue Ant Trilogy, respectively. Pattern Recognition and the Blue Nat Trilogy are notable for its seeming departure from cyberpunk in favor of realism that raised questions about the present function of cyberpunk; focuses on consumer culture, branding, advertising, and characters’ attempts to navigate and interpret the globalized present; named after the advertising agency Blue Ant that reoccurs in all three novels (or alternatively after the only recurring character, Blue Ant’s founder Hubertus Bigend).

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  • Gibson, William. The Peripheral. New York: Berkley, 2014.

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    Time-travel narrative that blends realism with a style that resembles but further develops Gibson’s trademark cyberpunk style; the novel shuttles back and forth between the present and several futures, elaborating on the complex engagement with time that characterizes Gibson’s novels in particular since the early 2000s; focuses on biotechnology, warfare, cyberculture, and environmental issues.

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  • Gibson, William, and Bruce Sterling. The Difference Engine. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

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    Central work of the steampunk genre; an alternative history set in Victorian Britain in which an inventor develops a mechanical computer, bringing about the future ahead of time and causing massive social change.

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Short Fiction

While William Gibson is most widely known for his novels, he is a prolific author of short fiction. Most of his short stories remain uncollected and have been published in a variety of venues. Still, his short fiction first established Gibson as a major voice in SF, as one of the founders of the budding cyberpunk genre, and as an author who attempts to re-shape traditional SF literature. The collection of short stories Burning Chrome (Gibson 1986) therefore contains texts that are significant for the emergence and development of the cyberpunk genre as well as stories that contain blueprints for the development of Gibson’s particular brand of SF.

  • Gibson, William. Burning Chrome. New York: Ace, 1986.

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    Collection of some of Gibson’s most noted short fiction; includes stories like “The Gernsback Continuum” (1982) that thematize Gibson’s relation to mainstream SF as well as stories like “Burning Chrome” (1982) in which Gibson introduces the Sprawl and lays the foundation for his development of cyberpunk style.

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Other Works

William Gibson is a prolific essayist, having published a wide variety of nonfiction essays and commentary on topics ranging from his own writing to cultural history. A selection of his nonfiction writing is collected in the book Distrust That Particular Flavor (Gibson 2012). Gibson also wrote screenplays and teleplays. While some screenplays were never put into production, Gibson’s screenplay for Johnny Mnemonic was turned into a movie. The screenplay is published together with the short story on which it is based as Johnny Mnemonic: The Screenplay and Story (Gibson 1995). Additionally, Gibson wrote two episodes of the TV show The X-Files: “Kill Switch” (Gibson and Maddox 2015) and “First Person Shooter” (Gibson and Maddox 2017). Earlier in his career, Gibson contributed a long poem to a collaborative project titled Agrippa: A Book of the Dead (Gibson, et al. 1992). In recent years, Gibson has published a comic book series, Archangel (Gibson, et al. 2016–2017).

  • Gibson, William. Distrust That Particular Flavor. New York: Putnam, 2012.

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    Collection of Gibson’s nonfiction writing; contains twenty-six essays previously published in a variety of venues, including reflections on SF and cyberpunk.

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  • Gibson, William. Johnny Mnemonic: The Screenplay and Story. New York: Ace, 1995.

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    Combines Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic with the screenplay composed by Gibson for the 1995 movie adaptation (directed by Robert Longo).

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  • Gibson, William, Dennis Ashbaugh, and Kevin Begos Jr. Agrippa (A Book of the Dead). New York: Kevin Begos Jr., 1992.

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    Three hundred-line semi-autobiographical poem by Gibson that is embedded in an artist’s book created by Ashbaugh and published by Kevin Begos Jr. Focusing largely on the topic of memory, the poem is stored on a floppy disk, which is, in turn, programmed to encrypt itself after its first use. The artist’s book itself is chemically treated to fade beginning with its first exposure to light.

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  • Gibson, William, and Tom Maddox. “Kill Switch.” DVD. In The X-Files. Directed by Rob Bowman, Season 5, Episode 11. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 2015.

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    Episode of The X-Files co-written by Gibson; revolves around a rogue artificial intelligence and leans on cyberpunk style.

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  • Gibson, William, and Tom Maddox. “First Person Shooter.” DVD. In The X-Files. Directed by Chris Carter, Season 7, Episode 13. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 2017.

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    Second co-written teleplay by Gibson and Tom Maddox; episode revolves around a new virtual reality game released by a video design company that is taken over by one of its female characters.

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  • Gibson, William, Michael St. John Smith, and Butch Guice. Archangel. 5 Issues. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2016–2017.

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    Comic book run consisting of five issues, created by Gibson and Michael St. John Smith with art by Butch Guice; inker: Tom Palmer; letterer: Shawn Lee; colorist: Diego Rodriguez; alternative history that tells the story of Junior Henderson, US vice president in 2016, who leaves the destroyed, radioactive Earth of the present and travels back in time to 1945.

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Criticism

Rather than categorizing the critical responses that William Gibson’s work has prompted by individual works, it is helpful to trace critical engagements with particular ideas, topics, generic or stylistic developments, and historical or material problems with which, as scholars show, Gibson’s work engages across texts, trilogies, and even literary forms. The major fields of existing criticism on Gibson’s work may be divided into five main areas: Space and Time in Globalization, Body, Technology, Subject, Time, Memory, History, Genre, Form, Medium, and Cyberpunk and Postmodernism.

Space and Time in Globalization

Critics have been fascinated by William Gibson’s treatment of the concepts of space and time in the age of globalization. Moylan 2010, Jameson 2003, and Konstantinou 2009 show the complex ways in which Gibson’s work reimagines both humanity’s consciousness of space and of time in the context of global capital. Hoepker 2011 and Concannon 1998 illustrate that Gibson’s work consistently reveals the changing imagination of territory, national borders, and the relation between the local and the global in relation to larger historical transitions. Essays like Link 2008 show that Gibson’s work is finely attuned not only to larger historical transitions, such as the rise to dominance of globalization, but also to the forms of violence and warfare to which they are connected. Paulk 2011 foregrounds the centrality of the connection between Western and Japanese culture in Gibson’s aesthetic and in his representation of globalized futures, and essays like Swanstrom 2006 emphasize the complexity of Gibson’s spatial imagination through an analysis of Gibson’s fictional landscapes.

  • Concannon, Kevin. “The Contemporary Space of the Border: Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands and William Gibson’s Neuromancer.” Textual Practice 12.3 (1998): 429–442.

    DOI: 10.1080/09502369808582317Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Anzaldua’s account of the construction of borders and of narratives of “in-between-ness” through Gibson’s novel; focuses on the political strategies of border construction and border consciousness in the context of cyberspace.

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  • Hoepker, Karin. No Maps for These Territories: Cities, Spaces, and Archaeologies of the Future in William Gibson. New York: Rodopi, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789401200523Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines cartography, architecture, and urban space in the work of Gibson; shows that spatial orders are bound up with the imagination of the future; illustrates that science fiction (SF) participates in spatial production as is particularly evident in Gibson’s cityscapes.

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  • Jameson, Fredric. “Fear and Loathing in Globalization.” New Left Review 23 (2003): 105–114.

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    First essay on Gibson’s Pattern Recognition; engages with the tension between cyberpunk and realism and reads Gibson’s novel as a contemporary “dialectic of style”: cyberpunk grapples with a globalized world and with the branded present.

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  • Konstantinou, Lee. “The Brand as Cognitive Map in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.” Boundary 2 36.2 (2009): 67–97.

    DOI: 10.1215/01903659-2009-005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Pattern Recognition does not just discuss globalized consumer culture but, in fact, stages an intervention into it; proposes that the novel participates in the economy of meaning that it also discusses and that the novel’s style asks the reader to develop an ethos that responds to the present moment in history.

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  • Link, Alex. “Global War, Global Capital, and the Work of Art in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.” Contemporary Literature 49.2 (2008): 209–231.

    DOI: 10.1353/cli.0.0023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes how Pattern Recognition examines the links between capitalist expansion and traumatic violence and between brand culture, global corporate culture, and warfare/terrorism; foregrounds the novel’s desire to insist on the role of art to maintain and ground forms of community that capitalism threatens to destroy.

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  • Moylan, Tom. “Global Economy, Local Texts: Utopian/Dystopian Tension in William Gibson’s Cyberpunk Trilogy.” In Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. Edited by Graham J. Murphy and Sherryl Vint, 81–94. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Republication of an early, foundational essay that establishes the attention to the relation between local and global and between utopia and dystopia through a discussion of Gibson’s use of genre that characterizes much subsequent criticism.

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  • Paulk, Charles. “Post-National Cool: William Gibson’s Japan.” Science Fiction Studies 38.3 (2011): 478–500.

    DOI: 10.5621/sciefictstud.38.3.0478Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the importance of Japan and Japanese culture and aesthetics for Gibson’s cyberpunk fiction and the politics thereof; focuses specifically on the Bridge Trilogy and on the relation between the Western imagination of temporality and futurity and Japanese culture.

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  • Swanstrom, Lisa. “Landscape and Locodescription in William Gibson’s Neuromancer.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 35 (2006): 16–27.

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    Examines the spatial imagination of Neuromancer through an analysis of the landscapes that the novel creates.

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Body, Technology, Subject

Few topics are as central to the work of Gibson and have yielded as much scholarly interest as the relation between the human body, technology, and notions of subjectivity and identity that emerge centrally in Gibson’s earliest work and remain central throughout his oeuvre. Vint 2007 is the authoritative book-length study of this topic. Siivonen 1996 and Farnell 1998 are early essays that forward the basic terms and the significance of the engagement with posthumanism and with the relation between human and technology. Bukatman 1993 and Lindberg 1996 lay the groundwork for examinations of subjectivity and identity in relation to the human–technology connections in Gibson’s work that is continued in more recent essays like Haney 2006 and Tobeck 2010. Essays like Spencer 1999 and Mcavan 2010 foreground the complex and often ambivalent relation of humanity to technology that characterizes Gibson’s work. McFarlane 2016 continues such examinations in the context of Gibson’s recent novels and highlights the possibilities for both domination and emancipation that novels like The Peripheral find in the increasing interconnection of technology and the human body.

  • Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993. 101–156.

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    Gibson’s early work assumes a central role in the book; offers a detailed engagement with the significance of Gibson’s work for postmodern SF and for the relation between technology and subjectivity in postmodernism.

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  • Farnell, Ross. “Posthuman Topologies: William Gibson’s ‘Architexture’ in Virtual Light and Idoru.” Science-Fiction Studies 25 (1998): 459–480.

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    Examines the first two volumes of the Bridge Trilogy, two of the lesser studied works in Gibson’s oeuvre; examines relation between body, landscape, and cyborg to argue that the posthuman in Gibson’s novels is conceived as an interruption within the human.

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  • Haney, William S. Cyberculture, Cyborgs, and Science Fiction: Consciousness and the Posthuman. New York: Rodopi, 2006. 92–112.

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    Discusses Neuromancer in some detail to examine the question of what it means to be human and the topic of posthumanism; particular focus on the problems of the experience of human consciousness that cyberpunk stages.

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  • Lindberg, Kathryne V. “Prosthetic Mnemonics and Prophylactic Politics: William Gibson among the Subjectivity Mechanisms.” Boundary 2 23.2 (1996): 47–83.

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    Examines cyberpunk’s rejection of the ethical concerns with subjectivity that are an aspect of contemporary identity politics; reads Gibson’s short fiction and his poem Agrippa as parodies of authorial self-examination.

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  • Mcavan, Em. “Paranoia in Spook Country: William Gibson and the Technological Sublime of the War on Terror.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 46.3–4 (2010): 405–413.

    DOI: 10.1080/17449855.2010.482431Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses on Gibson’s turn to realism after 9/11; discusses the focus on technology as an engagement with the war on terror in Spook Country; examines the technological sublime and the terror of technology in Gibson’s novels.

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  • McFarlane, Anna. “‘Anthropomorphic Drones’ and Colonized Bodies: William Gibson’s The Peripheral.” English Studies in Canada 42.1–2 (2016): 115–132.

    DOI: 10.1353/esc.2016.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Gibson’s fiction from the Bridge Trilogy to the Blue Ant Trilogy with a particular focus on The Peripheral to illustrate the changing logic of the body and the body’s modification in Gibson’s novels; traces the relation between the natural body, the medicalized body, and the affective relation to body in Gibson’s recent work.

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  • Siivonen, Timo. “Cyborgs and Generic Oxymorons: The Body and Technology in William Gibson’s Cyberspace Trilogy.” Science Fiction Studies 23.2 (1996): 227–244.

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    Reads Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy as an examination of the relationship between humanity and technology that develops new conceptualizations of the body; proposes that Gibson’s work offers a new understanding of the body as a network of discourses.

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  • Spencer, Nicholas. “Rethinking Ambivalence: Technopolitics and the Luddites in William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine.” Contemporary Literature 40.3 (1999): 403–429.

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    Explores the tension between technology and society in The Difference Engine by considering the specific challenge that luddism poses; discusses cyberpunk’s complex relation to technology as both possibility for social and political change and instrument of domination.

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  • Tobeck, Janine. “Discretionary Subjects: Decision and Participation in William Gibson’s Fiction.” Modern Fiction Studies 56.2 (2010): 378–400.

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    Examines Gibson’s short fiction and Pattern Recognition to analyze Gibson’s reimagination of identity alongside his construction of literary subjectivity.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007. 102–123.

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    Frequently discusses the work of Gibson, in particular in a chapter on cyberpunk; examines anxieties about embodiment and the posthuman while proposing a new model for posthuman subjectivity.

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Time, Memory, History

From its beginning but in particular since the early 2000s, Gibson’s work has been characterized by a deep interest in changing conceptions of time and memory in relation to larger historical changes. In particular the publication of Pattern Recognition (2003) resulted in a new wave of critical interest in Gibson’s work, much of which revolved around the topics of time, memory, and history. This interest has shaped critical discourse in particular on the Blue Ant (or Bigend) Trilogy. Berlant 2008 reads Pattern Recognition as a novel that forwards a new account of historical consciousness, and essays like Carroll 2015, Briggs 2013, and Hollinger 2006 interrogate Gibson’s choice to foreground examinations of the historical present in his work since the 2000s, which also brings with it new ways of conceiving of futurity and speculation. Malewitz 2011 and Swanstrom 2016 turn to one of Gibson’s least frequently analyzed works, Agrippa, to trace the treatment of memory and history in Gibson’s early work. Essays like Strombeck 2010 return to a more widely studied text like Neuromancer to examine the relation between Gibson’s style and setting and the historical imagination of his early novels.

  • Berlant, Lauren. “Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event.” American Literary History 20.4 (2008): 845–860.

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    Reads Pattern Recognition and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist to illustrate the ways in which these novels imagine history affectively: as affective events; argues that they offer an alternative way of relating to history.

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  • Briggs, Robert. “The Future of Prediction: Speculating on William Gibson’s Meta-Science-Fiction.” Textual Practice 27.4 (2013): 671–693.

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    Examines Gibson’s trilogies with an eye on the logic of speculation and prediction that is expressed not just in their content but also their form and generic choices; focuses in particular on the turn to realism in the Blue Ant Trilogy.

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  • Carroll, Hamilton. “Fictitious Capital: Historicizing the Present in William Gibson’s ‘Bigend’ Trilogy.” In Narrating 9/11: Fantasies of State, Security, and Terrorism. Edited by John N. Duvall, Robert P. Marzec, and Donald E. Pease, 40–69. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.

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    Focuses on the treatment of time and its connection to the logic of global capital of Gibson’s Blue Ant Trilogy; pays particular attention to the novels’ engagement with daily life after 9/11, and examines the novels’ logic of historicity in relation to the present.

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  • Hollinger, Veronica. “Stories about the Future: From Patterns of Expectation to Pattern Recognition.” Science Fiction Studies 33.3 (2006): 452–472.

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    Reads Pattern Recognition and two other novels to trace the ways in which SF develops new ways of thinking about the sociopolitical conditions of the present; focuses on Gibson’s turn to realism to engage with the present and to develop a new relation to the future in the context of technoculture.

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  • Malewitz, Raymond. “William Gibson’s Paternity Test.” Configurations 19.1 (2011): 25–48.

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    Important article on Agrippa that reads Gibson’s poem in relation to the temporal logic of the “DNA Age,” focusing on the ways in which the electronic poem’s form expresses Gibson’s understanding of the relation between past, present, and future and, in turn, between his life and that of his father and grandfather.

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  • Strombeck, Andrew. “The Network and the Archive: The Specter of Imperial Management in William Gibson’s Neuromancer.” Science Fiction Studies 37.2 (2010): 275–295.

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    Reads Neuromancer to explore its engagement with a moment of historical transition and with the tension between two historical moments of managerial power: the network society and nostalgia for (masculine) imperial domination.

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  • Swanstrom, Lisa. “External Memory Drives: Deletion and Digitality in Agrippa (A Book of The Dead).” Science Fiction Studies 43.1 (2016): 14–32.

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    Examines Gibson’s relation to media and mediality, arguing that Gibson’s most important digital work is not part of his oeuvre of cyberpunk fiction but is, in fact, his electronic, semi-autobiographical poem Agrippa; explores the relation between the poem’s digital medium and its objectivity between digitization, identity, and memory.

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Genre, Form, Medium

William Gibson’s earliest works establish his desire to distance himself from the forms and generic conventions of mainstream SF and to develop a new literary style and aesthetic. As a result, concerns with genre, form, and medium loom large in Gibson’s work and have provided fertile soil for scholarly analyses. Bredehoft 1995, Ross 1991, Schwenger 1993, and Westfahl 1992 contain some of the formative critical engagements with the centrality of generic and formal innovation in Gibson’s early work, focusing on his short fiction, his novels, and his poetry. Vint 2010 contains a brief and invaluable introduction to Gibson’s significance for the historical development of SF in general and of cyberpunk in particular. Schweighauser 2007 foregrounds the centrality of the utopian imagination in the generic and formal development of Gibson’s work. The essay’s emphasis on the value of Fredric Jameson’s scholarship on SF and the utopian imagination joins Schweighauser and Wegner 2007. The latter essay illustrates the connection of formal and generic development to the critical and historicizing force of Gibson’s work. It is through generic and formal modulation that Gibson places his work in direct relation to its historical context and, as Tomberg 2013 shows, the formal and generic logic of Gibson’s oeuvre is directly bound up with the logic of speculation and critique that his fiction simultaneously thematizes and enacts. Calvert 2013 offers a valuable beginning essay that examines the remediation of Gibson’s cyberpunk style, and Hageman 2015 treads important new ground by drawing attention to the ecological imagination that is a significant aspect of the generic development of Gibson’s work.

  • Bredehoft, Thomas A. “The Gibson Continuum: Cyberspace and Gibson’s Mervyn Kihn Stories” Science Fiction Studies 22.2 (1995): 252–263.

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    Discusses Gibson’s short fiction—in particular, “The Gernsback Continuum”—argues that Gibson’s short fiction offers important programmatic and logical insights into Gibson’s later work.

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  • Calvert, Bronwen. “William Gibson’s ‘Cyberpunk’ X-Files.” Science Fiction Film and Television 6.1 (2013): 39–53.

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    Essay on Gibson’s teleplays that examines the ways in which the episodes perform and modulate the genre conventions of cyberpunk.

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  • Hageman, Andrew. “Dialectics of Our Eco-Technical Future Across William Gibson’s Science Fiction.” Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres 27 (2015): 43–66.

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    Rare eco-critical approach to the work of Gibson; traces the role of nature and the ecological imagination in Gibson’s treatment of technology, capitalism, and the future.

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  • Ross, Andrew. “Getting Out of the Gernsback Continuum.” Critical Inquiry 17.2 (1991): 411–433.

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    Important essay on Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum” that argues the importance of the short story for Gibson’s understanding of genre and futurity.

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  • Schwenger, Paul. “Agrippa: Or, the Apocalyptic Book,” South Atlantic Quarterly 92.4 (1993): 617–626.

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    One of the few essays dedicated entirely to an analysis of Agrippa. Of particular interest to Schwenger is the disappearance of the book that is part of its performance and meaning. Schwenger asks how we should read a book that vanishes and argues that it is precisely the act of disappearance that makes meaning appear.

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  • Schweighauser, Philipp. “Who’s Afraid of Dystopia? William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Fredric Jameson’s Writing on Utopia and Science Fiction.” In Exploring the Utopian Impulse: Essays on Utopian Thought and Practice. Edited by Michael J. Griffin and Tom Moylan, 225–421. Oxford, UK: Peter Lang, 2007.

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    Discusses the role of dystopia in Neuromancer, in particular in relation to postmodernism; develops a detailed analysis of the relation between Gibson’s work and Fredric Jameson’s theoretical analyses of SF and utopia.

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  • Tomberg, Jaak. “On the ‘Double Vision’ of Realism and SF Estrangement in William Gibson’s Bigend Trilogy.” Science Fiction Studies 40.2 (2013): 263–285.

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    Analyzes the convergence of mimetic realism and SF estrangement in Gibson’s Blue Ant Trilogy; explores the tension and the instances of congruence between realism and science fiction.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. “The World Gibson Made.” In Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. Edited by Graham J. Murphy and Sherryl Vint, 228–233. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Afterword to one of the most important collections on cyberpunk; while the introduction to the volume explores the general history and presence of cyberpunk, this afterword offers a valuable discussion of Gibson’s particular importance for cyberpunk.

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  • Wegner, Phillip E. “Recognizing the Patterns.” New Literary History 38.1 (2007): 183–200.

    DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2007.0025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Gibson’s Pattern Recognition offers an account of the status of the artwork in general and of literature in particular in the historical context of globalization; focuses on Gibson’s use of genre and of the tension between utopia and dystopia in the novel’s attempt to engage with the material particularities of the present.

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  • Westfahl, Gary. “‘The Gernsback Continuum’: William Gibson in the Context of Science Fiction.” In Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative. Edited by George Slusser and Tom Shippey, 88–108. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

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    Reads Gibson’s short story “The Gersnback Continuum” as a way to explore Gibson’s place in the history of SF.

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Cyberpunk and Postmodernism

Having been hailed the godfather of cyberpunk, William Gibson is often credited with pioneering and popularizing the cyberpunk genre. Critics have dedicated much attention to this notable development in the history of SF and to Gibson’s particular “brand” of cyberpunk. Suvin 1989 is the classic essay on Gibson and cyberpunk and remains an invaluable resource for scholars to this day. McCaffrey 1991 contains several essays and excerpts that also provide important starting points for researchers of cyberpunk and Gibson’s significance for the development of the genre. Essays like Brande 1994 further develop the study of cyberpunk and Gibson’s fiction to examine the relation of the genre to the particular historical and material context. Since Gibson is often (although not always helpfully) described as a postmodern author or brought into connection with postmodern fiction, it is no surprise that the relation between Gibson, cyberpunk, and postmodernism has long been a central aspect of scholarship on Gibson. At the same time that critical interest in cyberpunk emerges, critics like Hollinger 1990, Sponsler 1992, and Booker 1994 began to inquire into the connection between cyberpunk and postmodernism. This line of criticism was continued throughout the 2000s in essays like Myers 2001 and Heuser 2003. More recently, critics have insisted on the problematic connections that critics have drawn between cyberpunk in general and Gibson in particular and postmodernism. Easterbrook 2010 shows the limitations of such examinations and argues for the need of alternative approaches. It must also be noted that, beginning in the 1990s, critics have noted the dearth of female protagonists and the male-dominated plots of much cyberpunk fiction. Essays like Cadora 1995 illustrate the male-dominated nature of the cyberpunk genre, especially in its early stages, and conduct important feminist and gender-critical analyses of some of Gibson’s early works.

  • Booker, M. Keith. “Technology, History, and the Postmodern Imagination: The Cyberpunk Fiction of William Gibson.” Arizona Quarterly 50.4 (1994): 63–87.

    DOI: 10.1353/arq.1994.0022Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the logic of time and space in Gibson’s cyberpunk fiction to locate Gibson’s work in the history of SF and in relation to postmodern fiction; particular emphasis on the notion of cyberspace as a representation of Fredric Jameson’s notion of “postmodern space”; examines how cyberpunk’s formal structure expresses the chronotopic imagination of cyberspace.

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  • Brande, David. “The Business of Cyberpunk: Symbolic Economy and Ideology in William Gibson.” Configurations 2.3 (1994): 509–536.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.1994.0040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the Sprawl Trilogy’s representation of human–machine interfaces in relation to the trilogy’s portrayal of the flows of capital; argues that the novels illustrate that the ideological mechanisms of posthumanism are attached to the idea of global capital.

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  • Cadora, Karen. “Feminist Cyberpunk.” Science Fiction Studies 22.3 (1995): 357–372.

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    Surveys early cyberpunk fiction’s predominantly masculine focus and foregrounds the significance of female cyberpunk authors in this male-dominated genre; examines the gender politics and logic of Gibson’s Neuromancer in some detail.

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  • Easterbrook, Neil. “Recognizing Patterns: Gibson’s Hermeneutics from the Bridge Trilogy to Pattern Recognition.” In Beyond Cyberpunk: New Critical Perspectives. Edited by Graham J. Murphy and Sherryl Vint, 46–64. New York: Routledge, 2010.

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    Points out the limitations of attempting to explain Gibson’s work by focusing excessively on individual works like Neuromancer and by establishing overly simplistic relations to postmodernism and cyberculture; this essay instead places key aspects of Gibson’s oeuvre in historical relation to SF.

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  • Heuser, Sabine. Virtual Geographies: Cyberpunk at the Intersection of the Postmodern and Science Fiction. New York: Rodopi, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004334373Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed study of the relation between cyberpunk and postmodernism; focuses centrally on Gibson’s role in the history of cyberpunk and discusses Gibson’s use of genre. In particular, see pp. 99–126.

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  • Hollinger, Veronica. “Cybernetic Deconstructions: Cyberpunk and Postmodernism.” Mosaic 23.2 (1990): 29–44.

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    Proposes that cyberpunk departs from SF insofar as SF explores the opposition between nature and artifice while cyberpunk emphasizes the interconnection of humanity and machine; explores the tensions and points of contact between cyberpunk and postmodernism.

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  • McCaffrey, Larry, ed. Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.

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    Early collection of essays that focuses often on Gibson’s importance for the emergence of cyberpunk with particular attention to cyberpunk’s relation to postmodern fiction.

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  • Myers, Tony. “The Postmodern Imaginary in William Gibson’s Neuromancer.” Modern Fiction Studies 47.4 (2001): 887–909.

    DOI: 10.1353/mfs.2001.0100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focuses mainly on Neuromancer and its relation to postmodern fiction with a particular focus on the problem of totality (and our imaginative, narrative, and cognitive engagement with totality).

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  • Sponsler, Claire. “Cyberpunk and the Dilemmas of Postmodern Narrative: The Example of William Gibson” Contemporary Literature 33.4 (1992): 625–644.

    DOI: 10.2307/1208645Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Gibson’s cyberpunk fiction as an expression of the narrative difficulties that are bound up with the lack of security and meaning that the article understands as characteristic of postmodern life; particular focus on the tension between realist and romantic paradigms in the attempt to portray future action in a postmodern world.

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  • Suvin, Darko. “On Gibson and Cyberpunk SF.” Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction 46 (1989): 40–51.

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    One of the earliest essays on Gibson and cyberpunk by one of the great critics of the SF genre. Suvin assesses the rise of Gibson as a SF author, his contribution to cyberpunk, and his contribution to and standing in the field of SF more widely conceived. Of special interest to Suvin is the new “structure of feeling” that Gibson’s young protagonists add to the SF landscape as well as the utopian aspect of Gibson’s work.

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