Burning Chrome


Burning Chrome‘ is a short story, written by William Gibson and first published in ‘Omni’ in 1982. Gibson first read the story at a science fiction convention in Denver in the autumn of 1981, to an audience of four people, among them Bruce Sterling (who Gibson later said ‘completely got it’). It was collected with the rest of Gibson’s early short fiction in a 1986 volume of the same name.

‘Burning Chrome’ tells the story of two hackers who breaking into computer systems for profit. The two main characters are Bobby Quine who specializes in software and Automatic Jack whose field is hardware. A third character in the story is Rikki, a girl with whom Bobby becomes infatuated and for whom he wants to become wealthy. Automatic Jack acquires a piece of Russian hacking software that is very sophisticated and hard to trace. The rest of the story unfolds with Bobby deciding to break into the system of a notorious and vicious criminal called Chrome, who handles money transfers for organized crime, and Automatic Jack reluctantly agreeing to help.

The story was the first of Gibson’s to be set in the ‘Sprawl’ (a near-future world dominated by corporations and ubiquitous technology, after a limited World War III)), and functioned as a conceptual prototype for Gibson’s ‘Sprawl’ trilogy of novels. Bobby Quine is mentioned in ‘Neuromancer’ as one of the mentors of the protagonist. The Finn, a recurring character in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy of novels, makes his first appearance in this story as a minor figure. The events of the story are referenced in ‘Count Zero,’ the second entry of the Sprawl trilogy. The word ‘cyberspace,’ coined by Gibson, was first used in this story, in reference to the ‘mass consensual hallucination’ in computer networks. One line from the story — ‘…the street finds its own uses for things’ — has become a widely-quoted aphorism for describing the sometimes unexpected uses to which users can put technologies (for example, hip-hop DJs’ reinvention of the turntable, which transformed turntables from a medium of playback into one of production).


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