Monday, November 15, 2010

Reader's Diary #664- William Gibson: Johnny Mnemonic

Mnemonic: Noun. A device used to aid recall.

Remember the old Keanu Reeves flick "Johnny Mnemonic"? Me neither. What is that, situational irony?

When the Canada Reads crew announced their top ten list last week, I went looking for online short stories by the authors that I've not yet read (Zoe Whittal, Angie Abdou, Terry Fallis, and William Gibson). It was then I discovered that William Gibson was the author behind "Johnny Mnemonic," a short story often hailed as one of the earliest examples of cyberpunk literature. According to, cyberpunk is "low life, high tech." Cyber meets punk.

I've read a lot more sci-fi than I intended to this year. I don't really consider myself a fan. I enjoy it, but don't usually seek it out.

Johnny Mnemonic has data implanted in his head but he's just a data trafficker and as such, has no access to it. To go through cybersurgery such as this, you'd expect the information to be highly sensitive but for some reason Johnny seems caught off guard that his life is suddenly in danger. Fortunately a girl named Molly, complete with razorblade fingernails, comes out of nowhere to save him. They decide, quite brazenly, to try and access the information themselves. Another surrogate gone awry.

As with the other sci-fi I've read this year, I appreciate Gibson's imagination. The better stories are just oozing details, minute and grand. And Gibson's seems to be one of the more unapologetic of the lot. Readers such as myself are left scrambling as to what's a significant detail and what isn't. It's fun in that way, but I'm not sure I fully appreciate the balance. Non-sci-fi writers put care into their settings, of course, but in "Johnny Mnemonic" setting seems to be the top priority followed by plot and in a very distant third is character development. Many short stories tend to have less of that as it is, but there's no one terribly interesting in "Johnny Mnemonic." Expanding it into a movie might have been a good idea. But along came Keanu.
(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I did not realize this was a William Gibson short story. He was just here for Wordfest, but I missed his session.

Going to read...

Anonymous said...

This is a nice way to discover Canada Reads authors! I might follow you.
This week I review a creepy bird story:…-by-rb-russell/


Teddy Rose said...

Great idea to explore short stories of Canada Reads nominees!

I reviewed another good one by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: