Rich Erlich, English 210

StGd Burning Chrome




Study Guide and Topic Suggestions for Burning Chrome




1.  Bibliographic entry:

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


     Abbreviated below: BC



2.  Vocabulary--Short List (Fuller List Available Upon Request)


Chiba: city on Tokyo Bay

ICE: Intrusion Measures Electronic

LED: Light Emitting Diode, used for faces of digital watches and such

Ninsei: at least in Gibson's work, an "underworld" area between Chiba and           Tokyo proper

RAM: Random Access Memory--computer memory one works with

ROM: Read Only Memory

Shinjuku: part of Tokyo-Yokohama metro. area

Sprawl, the: "BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis"

Yakuza: currently, the Japanese mob (much augmented in 21st century)


amphetamine: generic "speed," dangerous uppers

bushido: warrior code of the samurai of feudal Japan

clone: as a verb, the process of growing an organism from a single body          cell (as opposed to sex cell); as a verb, an organism so grown

cyborg: cybernetic organism, a human or other animal furnished with a          large number of mechanical and electronic parts

dex: Dexedrine, trademark for dextroamphetamine, a powerful upper

endorphin: peptide secreted by the brain, with analgesic effects                similar to those of morphine

gaijin: foreigner, barbarian, someone not Japanese

microchip: a very small integrated circuit

microsoft: (1) very small software; (2) name of a famous computer company            of the 20th century (the "MS" in "MS-DOS").

ninja: very highly trained killer

pheromone: ". . . chemical substances secreted externally by certain            animals . . . which convey information to and produce specific responses in other individuals of the same species"; the information is often of the "I-Am-Here-and-I-Am-Horny" sort, producing a strong tropism toward the secreting individual

simstim: simulated stimulations received from the sensorium of another               person--properly edited, an art-form

street samurai: modern warriors for hire--NOT mere thugs

zaibatsu: huge, multinational corporation(s)


         hardware: computers and their related physical parts

         software: computer programs and the media they're on

         wetware: organic computer operators, usually human beings


The rest are defined in the text or can be figured out from context, looked up, ignored--or gotten from me.





     (1)  Would you give BC to a younger sibling or cousin to read?  (All of the stories?  Some of the stories?  No way!)

         (a) Do the stories provide good role models for boys?  For girls?

         (b) Do the stories force readers to think of alternative futures?

         (c) Do the stories aid with "cultural literacy"?

         (e) Are the stories subversive or otherwise politically dangerous?


     (2) For the most part, Gibson's Narrators use a kind of past perfect tense in telling their stories: our way of talking about events that happened in the past (and are now "perfected"--completed, finished).  That assumes a Narrator speaking in the future to an audience living in the future.  Discuss how Gibson (the author) deals with that assumed future audience in the 21st century and his likely audience in the 20th c.  How does Gibson handle the high demands for exposition--giving readers what they need to know to understand the story--in his future world?


     (3) Given what technics are doing in the world of "Johnnie Mnemonic," is it a good or bad thing that Johnnie ends the story "getting to be the most technical boy in town"?


     (4) From a feminist perspective, is Molly Millions "progress," in a positive sense of "progress toward liberation of women"?


     (5) How positive a word in "progress" in the world of Burning Chrome?


     (6) As a means of fighting "the last war" the United States Navy made the dolphin we come to know as Jones into a cyborg ("Johnnie Mnemonic," BC 10).  The U.S. military did an ethically similar number on Tiny Montgomery, mostly with the drug "hype" ("Dogfight," BC 152, 155, 165).  From the hints we get--did the end of winning the war justify such means? 


     (7) In general, what sort of moral norms seem to be at work in the world of the Burning Chrome stories?  What is of value? 

         (a) What is the value of love and friendship vs. success, money, and, say, a famous medal like the Blue Max ("Dogfight")?

         (b) How important is it to have a job one finds significant and to be professional while doing one's job?


     (8) If the world of Burning Chrome is what your future will be like, do you look forward to your future?  Should you work to prevent this future?  (Note how long Gibson can go without using the phrase "the United States"; note Marrakech with its "small boys turning lathes with their feet, [and] legless beggars with wooden bowls under animated holograms advertising French software" ["New Rose Hotel," BC 108])


     (9) In Modern(ist) works, it is horrible confinement to be trapped inside a machine; being "inside" the computer in cyberspace is very different.  What is the significance of that difference?  (T. P. Dunn and R. D. Erlich suggest that cyberspace is the Ultimate Revenge of the Computer Nerds, the ultimate [intellectual] macho power fantasy.)


     (10) Argue for or against the contention that one or more of the stories in Burning Chrome is/are basically very traditional: SciFi versions of The Hustler, The Big Heist, She Done Me Wrong, Ninja Fight at the Lo Tek Corall.