Burning Chrome by William Gibson (1986) 191 p.

Burning Chrome is a collection of ten short stories by William Gibson. Of those, I would rank five (Johnny Mnemonic, The Gernsback Continuum, Hinterlands, New Rose Hotel and Burning Chrome) as “very good” or higher.

From me, that’s high praise. I don’t know why, but I just usually don’t enjoy short story collections very much. A while ago I stopped reading them in one hit, because that’s not how short stories are supposed to be read, and instead started reading a short story or two in between novels – but it didn’t make much difference. I just don’t think I enjoy short fiction as much as long fiction, and I’m not alone. I’m not going to try to find a link to back that up; it’s conventional wisdom in the publishing industry that short stories don’t sell, and every google hit for that phrase brings up an article trying fruitlessly to debunk it or arguing to self-evident point that commercial value doesn’t equal literary value.

Anyway, the point is that I usually shrug my shoulders when reviewing short story collections, but I liked Burning Chrome a lot. I think Gibson’s style suits itself to short fiction (and essays) as much as it does to long fiction. (Normally I’d say “better than,” but Gibson is one of the most important writers of the last 30 years and his long fiction is amazing as well). He’s a writer for whom style is as important as substance, a man who holds a mirror up to our culture, his fiction littered with the brand names and place names of an increasingly capitalist and globalist society. He’s like a Stephen King in reverse, predicting the zeitgeist of the future instead of capturing the zeitgeist of the past (and both writers have less mainstream recognition than they should, because they dared to write genre fiction). Burning Chrome is full of stories about flawed people living on the margins of society, alienated in enormous cities, forging connections with other losers, dystopic technology integrated into their grey and painful lives, governments virtually unmentioned but corporations everywhere.

Aside from a few melancholy clunkers (Fragments of a Hologram Rose, Dogfight) Burning Chrome sets a remarkably high standard, and proves why William Gibson is one of history’s greatest science fiction writers.

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