Gibson vs. Stephenson, contd.

Here I respond to an entry prompted by a comment I made on metacosm.

I never take differing opinions and/or thoughtful criticism as personal attacks. I welcome them! (Not personal attacks!)

I haven’t finished Snow Crash, meaning I have yet to read a single Stephenson book in its entirety. It is certainly not a good base for an opinion of a writer. Based on the 179 pages I’ve read so far, he is clearly talented, but I think Gibson’s vision is more interesting, probable (given when the Sprawl books were written), and believable. The believability factor is important to me, but I know that is not the case for everyone.

Neuromancer was the first cyberpunk book I read. I believe there was a brief discussion of Voodoo towards the end of it, while Case was in orbit with the Rastafarians. It certainly wasn’t central to the book, but it was there. I think.

Being the disorganized type, I then read Burning Chrome, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and Count Zero. I probably should have read them in order, but I’m generally a reader of opportunity – if it’s at the library, I’ll check it out, regardless of series ordering. I’ve also read Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties, and Pattern Recognition. There were also several good short stories in Mirrorshades. I didn’t like The Difference Engine all that much. Virtual Light has eluded me thus far.

What I liked about Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy was the gritty reality of the world it took place in. To me it seemed like a very possible potential future, particularly when the state of the world in the early 80’s is considered. The world of Snow Crash comes off as too much of a lampoon (delivered with a wink and a nudge) for me to see it the same way. The Mafia running a (global?) pizza chain? Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong? Judge Bob’s Judicial System?

Certainly, there are similarities between the worlds depicted in Neuromancer and Snow Crash – widespread use of designer drugs, corporate supremacy over governments, and pervasive computing & virtual reality being three of the things that pop into my mind, but Gibson incorporated these ideas into Neuromancer a good 8 years before Snow Crash.

I’m enjoying Snow Crash enough that I will pursue Stephenson’s more recent work, but I can’t place him on the same level as Gibson based on it. With subsequent reading, my opinion may change. I know there are many novels that influenced Neuromancer (some of which UBiK kindly included in his post), but aside from several of Philip K. Dick’s, I haven’t read them. As a musician, I know art is an evolutionary thing. Those who claim to be totally original are full of crap. Always.

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Daniel J. Wilson

I am a designer, drummer, and photographer in Brooklyn, NY.

7 thoughts on “Gibson vs. Stephenson, contd.”

  1. Heh! I am really enjoying this discussion via blog entries! I’ll just make a quick comment here.
    It is certainly true that Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy is more somber than Stephenson’s work. I think this comes from the world as it was when the respective books were written. Neuromancer was written in the 80’s where it was conceivably more difficult to be optimist about the future (because the Cold War was not over, the global economy was not doing as well, …) than in the 90’s when Snow Crash was written. Neuromancer was part of the first cyberpunk wave while Snow Crash could be considered as the Neuromancer of the second cyberpunk wave.
    If you like highly believable visions of the future then I would definitely recommend Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider (this last one having been inspired by famous sociologist Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock).

  2. The more I think about it, the Cold War was a huge influence on Neuromancer. I think the influence waned in the following two novels, but it definitely shows in Neuromancer. Gibson’s allusions to information warfare (against the Soviets) are another thing that make the book seem prescient. The Soviets may be no more (though I recall some stories about Russian hackers intruding into U.S. .mil systems recently), but the Chinese supposedly have a sort of cyber-army of hackers that have attacked the U.S. and Taiwan.

    I’ve got the two books you’ve mentioned written down and will keep my eyes peeled for them next time I’m at the library. They’ve all been closed for a week due to city budget shortfalls.

  3. I liked “Neuromancer” and “Johnny Mnemonic” . I thoroughly enjoyed “Neuromancer” for the comedy it was. Why else name the main character Hiro (hero) Protagonist? I have also read “Cryptonomicon”, and I am at the end of the third book in the first volume of the Baroque Cycle, “Quicksilver”, which has been an enjoyable departure from “near future” science fiction.

    I find both Gibson and Stephenson to be highly competent writers each possessing a great vision and genius. It’s not really a dilemma to me; I choose both.

  4. I don’t look at it as either/or – just different levels of writing skill. I appreciate the humor in Snow Crash (the Hiro Protagonist name being the best example), but it doesn’t create a world that really draws me in. Perhaps his other books will.

  5. For me one huge difference is that Stephenson takes himself much less seriously. The first chapter of Snow Crash (Mafia pizza delivery) should make that pretty clear. Gibson is much more gritty, less caricaturized.

    I must say I like Gibson’s writing style much better. (as opposed to his ideas/content.) His descriptions are incredibly vivid, and the world he conjures up has overwhelming detail. But I counter by noting that Stephenson tends to be a bit more thought-provoking. (Diamond Age, Crypto, In the beginning was the command line)

    In closing, my favorite quotation from Snow Crash:
    “I got a million myrmidons on there man. You gonna kill them all?”
    “Swords don’t run out of ammo.”

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  7. Hmm, I think maybe you’ve missed the point that Snow Crash sends up the whole (cyberpunk) genre in a number of ways, and is a book which is looking sideways, thumbing it’s nose at books like Neuromancer and laughing. It doesn’t mean it’s the better book, but partly it serves as a stylistic rather than thematic bookend to the genre.

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