championing the brave new world
of computer graphic imagery enhanced film art
in the twilit literary art
of William Gibson
by Gary W. Wright
While from a distance the tech noir literary art of William Ford Gibson seemed unsually novel and separate from that which came before, on closer inspection his fiction proved to be as implicitly allegorical as always. In fact, Gibson often implied an interest in allegorically addressing and roasting New Hollywood film artists in his fiction. This implicit interest in New Hollywood took on greater significance after the fatal helicopter crash that killed child extras Renee Chen and Myca Le and actor/director/writer Vic Morrow around 2:20 am in the early morning hours of July 23, 1982 on the George Folsey jr. produced John Landis set of the Frank Marshall executive produced and Kathleen Kennedy associate produced allegorical Landis, Spielberg, Joe Dante and George Miller film, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983).
Indeed, Gibson implicitly became one of the most significant literary artists of the subsequent dread allegorical Zone Wars, along with Screamin’ Stephen King and Salman Rushdie. However, unlike King and Rushdie, Gibson implicitly used his fiction and screenplays to promote the use of the ‘consensual hallucination’ of computer generated imagery (CGI) in film art so that it would replace dangerous on set special effects and prevent more fatal disasters. Indeed, Gibson’s twilit and allegorical short stories and novels were written in such a way that the only way to realize them on film was with CGI enhancement. Thus, it was fitting that an interest in digital enhancement and an implicit interest in film art were seen in Gibson’s first allegorical and CGI enhanced tech noir short story, ‘Fragments Of A Hologram Rose’ (1977).
‘Roughly a quarter of all ASP users are unable to comfortably assimilate the subjective body picture of the opposite sex.’
For the story revolved around a digital technology called apparent sensory perception (ASP) that recorded and played back individual sensory perceptions. Curiously, this new technology was implicitly linked to literary art, for the story’s male protagonist, Parker, spent most of the story alone with his glum thoughts in his apartment unwilling to use the ASP cassette tape left by his ex-girlfriend, Angela, because he was not comfortable in a female sensory experience. Thus, Gibson implicitly worried that he would not succeed as a literary artist as he would not be able to accurately convey the inner world of female characters in his fiction. In fact, given that the name of Angela evoked Los Angeles, Gibson implicitly worried that he would not be able to create screenplays as well as narrative art, novels, novellas and short stories.
Indeed, Parker had a dull job as a continuity writer for an ASP station, openly linking him to writing and affirming that the story implicitly symbolized Gibson’s fear that he would never be able to break free from formulaic genre fiction and teleplays and write truly original and vital literary art and screenplays with fully fleshed female characters that might inspire the creation of CGI enhanced film art. This implication was affirmed by the name of Parker, for it had six letters and two three letter syllables like Gibson, implicitly affirming that Gibson shared the fears of Parker. Or was Gibson implying that he was a high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) man who was worried that he would never be able to
At any rate, luckily for Gibson, his fears were groundless, for ‘Fragments Of A Hologram Rose’ was a fine allegorical story that boded well for his future. Curiously, many of the hallmarks of the tech noir fiction of Gibson-such as chrome, coffee, drugs, neon and new digital technology that transformed the world and its culture-were present. The story was also prescient, with the ability of ASP to duplicate sensory experience anticipating the ability of CGI to duplicate reality. Indeed, the bleak but technologically advanced world of Gibson was so well established, it was no surprise that Gibson would implicitly and sarcastically blast George Lucas and the Flash Gordon-style sly fi design seen throughout the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy and in the allegorical Mike Hodges film, FLASH GORDON (1980), a campy allegorical roast of that trilogy, in his second published, allegorical and CGI enhanced tech noir short story, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ (1981).
‘During the high point of the Downes age,
they put Ming the Merciless in charge
of designing California gas stations.’
For the story revolved around an anonymous American photographer who was hired by British ‘pop-art’ historian Dialta Downes of the London publisher Barris-Watford to travel the U.S. photographing ‘…the odds and ends of “futuristic” Thirties and Forties architecture you pass daily in American cities without noticing; the movie marquees ribbed to radiate some mysterious energy, the dime stores faced with fluted aluminum, the chrome-tube chairs gathering dust in the lobbies of transient hotels’ (Burning Chrome, pp. 25-6), allowing Gibson to implicitly mock this bright, shiny and hopeful ‘futuristic’ architecture and scientifiction that inspired Lucas and Hodges. Nothing summed up this implicitly dual purpose more than the gas stations that the photographer came across in California, whose look Gibson sarcastically noted was due to the fact that
‘…favoring the architecture of his native
Mongo, (Ming the Merciless) cruised up and down
the coast erecting raygun emplacements in white
stucco. Lots of them featured superfluous central
towers ringed with those strange radiator flanges
that were a signature motif of the style, and made
them look as though they might generate potent
bursts of raw technological enthusiasm, if you could
only find the switch that turned them on
(Burning Chrome, p. 28).
As this potent burst evoked the planet annihilating death ray that poured out of the Death Star when its switches were turned on in the allegorical, CGI enhanced and implicitly Spielberg roasting Lucas film, STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977), affirmed did Gibson his implicit Lucas roasting allegorical intent in ‘The Gernsbach Continuum’. And his implicit Hodges roasting intent, as the implicitly John Huston linked Ming the Merciless was played by Max Von Sydow in FLASH GORDON.
This implicit interest in roasting Hodges and Lucas was reaffirmed by a vision of a bright and shining city of the future with soaring spires that shocked the anonymous photographer protagonist at the end of his travels around the United States and that evoked Cloud City in the allegorical, Lucas executive produced, CGI enhanced and implicitly Spielberg roasting Irv Kershner film, STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). Intriguingly, however, while the photographer wanted to dismiss this gleaming futuropolis with its soaring spires so huge that ‘…you could hide the Empire State Building in the smallest of those towers’ (Burning Chrome, 33), its lofty crystal roads that linked the towers and its darting air traffic, the futuristic visions of the hopeful Thirties and Forties refused to release him from their grip. Thus, Gibson implicitly chided Hodges and Lucas for causing the world to be caught up in the hopeful retro grip of FLASH GORDON and the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy, given that the hopes and dreams of the rebel Sixties and Skyrocking Seventies were being swept away by the rising cost of living and unemployment of the edgy Eighties like the hopeful futuristic dreams of the Twenties and Thirties were swept away by the horrifying nightmare of the Second World War and ‘…the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps (that) had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming’ (Burning Chrome, 28). Indeed, the story ended with the photographer on the run from his Flash Gordon sly fi visions in San Francisco, the hometown of Lucas, implicitly affirming that Lucas was being roasted in ‘The Gernsback Continuum’.
Even more ominously, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ also ended with the photographer wondering if his heady and presciently CGI enhanced visions of the future meant that he had lost his marbles and ‘…checked out for a protracted season in the Twilight Zone’ (Burning Chrome, 35). Thus, Gibson ominously and presciently anticipated that audiences and film art would soon be broken from the cloying and irritating grip of the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy by the helicopter falling on Chen, Le and Morrow in the dead of night, screaming, in another eerie memory of the twilit future that haunted fantastic fiction and film before the TZ disaster. This creative, idiosyncratic and prescient style, commitment to succeeding as a literary artist and implicit interest in film art in general and roasting Lucas in particular returned that year in the allegorical and CGI enhanced tech noir short story, ‘Hinterlands’ (1981).
‘Some people just aren’t taken,
and nobody knows why.’
Intriguingly, the short story revolved around the desperate and often doomed attempt of a beleaguered American ‘surrogate’ named Toby Halpert on a space station located between Earth and Mars to welcome back and use drugs to soothe deranged and suicidal astronauts and cosmonauts returning to the Solar System after mindblowing trips across the galaxy via a hyperspace portal called the Highway located near the space station. The sympathetic and soothing surrogates were created by the United Nations after most of the first overwhelmed Highway returnees committed suicide upon return to the solar system, including Russian cosmonaut Lieutenant-Colonel Olga Tovyevski, the first surprised Highway traveller to unsuspectingly set off the hyperspace portal while on a routine solo mission to a Soviet space station in orbit around Mars. Significantly, as humanity’s obsession with carefully recreating the conditions that led Lt.-Col. Tovyevski to set off the hyperspace portal so as to send more astronauts and cosmonauts blasting down the Highway evoked the unimaginative obsession that the Hollywood film studios had at the time with creating a STAR WARS clone that would replicate the success of STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, the implication was that Gibson was roasting that desperate and unimaginative Hollywood obsession in ‘Hinterlands’ and perhaps even roasting the agents, handlers, managers and groupies that flocked to film artists like Lucas and supplied them with booze, drugs and sex to help them cope with the insanity of life when they hit the big time.
Indeed, the names of Lt.-Col. Olga Tovyevski affirmed the implication, as her names evoked Leia Organna-played by Carrie Fisher-and the toys promoted by the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy. The fact that an East German named Kurtz was the first to enter Lt.-Col. Tovyevski’s Alyut 6 space ship when it returned from hyperspace reaffirmed the implicit allegorical intent of ‘Hinterlands’, for his surname reminded us that Gary Kurtz produced STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE and STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Another returnee named ‘Little Jorge’ also affirmed the implicit interest in Lucas. Of course, the elusive hyperspace portal also evoked the hyperspace portal that could be opened by the second and larger Tycho Magnetic Anomaly monolith (TMA-2) discovered in orbit around Jupiter at the end of the allegorical Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), implying that Gibson was also addressing that Lucas inspiring film in ‘Hinterlands’. The Stanley Kubrick cadenced name of Toby Halpert and the ‘Hal-’ at the beginning of his surname that evoked the Heuristic Algorithm 9000 (HAL-9000) computer in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY affirmed the implicit interest in Kubrick in ‘Hinterlands’.
The implication that the story was addressing film art and film artists was reaffirmed by the many open allusions to film art in general and to that of Walt Disney in particular in the story. The fact that most of the returnees-like the Leni Riefenstahl evoking Leni Hofmannstahl-killed themselves or went mad soon after they returned also implied that Gibson believed that the attempt to recreate the success of the STAR WARS Classic Trilogy was not just a crazy and uncreative waste of time but dangerous. Fittingly, Gibson implicitly wrapped up his Lucas Trilogy in tech noir style and returned to the dark and decayed future of ‘Fragments Of A Hologram Rose’ in his third allegorical and CGI enhanced tech noir short story of the Last Good Year before the TZ disaster, ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ (1981).
‘I decided to stay up here.
When I looked out across the Killing Floor,
before he came, I saw how hollow I was.