Computer/Fiction: Beyond the Literature of Exhaustion

Document Type

Book Chapter


Media Studies (Pomona)

Publication Date





At a key moment in William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), Case the cyber-cowboy looks out of his hotel room window at the Istanbul morning. "It was still raining. A few letter writers had taken refuge in doorways, their old voiceprinters wrapped in sheets of clear plastic, evidence that the written word still enjoyed a certain prestige here. It was a sluggish country" (88). In these few lines are juxtaposed Case's near-future world of data-jacking and simstim, and the regressive world of this "sluggish country" in which certain individuals are still valued, not for their flexible penetration of cyberspace, but for the wonders they can work with the written word. Case's easy dismissal of those "letter-writers" with their "old voiceprinters" is laden with both irony and anxiousness for the contemporary reader of Gibson's now, shockingly, sixteen-year-old novel. Irony, of course, in that Case's flippant thoughts about text are themselves cast in print, in a novel that single-handedly spawned one of the most creative, most prolific genres of recent fiction, cyberpunk. Anxiousness, in that we carry some niggling concern that Gibson's novel is an accurate portrait of our future. He was right about an awful lot -- which is not to say that Gibson correctly predicted the future, but that this novel captured the imaginations of researchers in information technologies, who have bent the future toward the novel's seeming predictions. The increasingly dominant technology of the computer seems, to many defenders of the book, to have left the purveyors of print cowering in doorways, taking cover from the electronic rain.

Rights Information

© 2001 7 Letras Press