The Growing Dystopia of the Future

Kenneth Coane '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

Throughout the Neuromancer trillogy, William Gibson paints a bleak picture of the outlook of humanity. In his description of the settings that exist in the series, often it seems that society in the past was attempting to innovate, or idealize life to make living somehow better for themselves and/or the environment. Most of these efforts seem to have backfired, grown old or have become disused. One of the most striking descriptions of this type of this distopian society was when Bobby, one of the main characters of Gibson's Count Zero, was being told the history of the jungle-like level of the project where Two-a-Day resided.

"But how this got started, this level, that goes way back. The people who designed these places, maybe eighty, a hundred years ago, they had the idea they'd make 'em grow food. Make 'em heat themselves, generate power, whatever. Now this one, you drill far enough down, is sitting on top of a lot of geothermal water. It's real hot down there, but not hot enough to run an engine, so it wasn't gonna give 'em any power. They made a stab at power, up on the roof, with about a hundred Darrieus rotors, what they call eggbeaters. Had themselves a wind farm, see? Today they get most of their watts off the Fission Authority, like anybody else. But that geothermal water, they pump that up to a heat exchanger. It's too salty to drink, so in the exchanger it just heats up your standard Jersey tap water, which a lot of people figure isn't worth drinking anyway . . ."

[. . . .]

"That's what this level was for, to grow 'ponic amaranth, lettuce, things like that. Then they pump it out into the catfish tanks, and algae eat the shrimp shit. Catfish eat the algae, and it all goes around again. Or anyway, that was the idea.. Chances are they didn't figure anybody'd go up on the roof and kick those Darrieus rotors over to make room for a mosque, and they didn't figure a lot of other changes either. So we wound up with this space. But you can still get you some damned good shrimp in the Projects. . . . Catfish, too." [84-5]

Discussion Questions

1. The Projects were designed as arcologies where life could easily be self-contained in the tower, and outside contact would essentially be unnecessary. What could have contributed to the downfall of this utopian vision of society?

2. The Darrieus rotors, otherwise known as eggbeaters would have been a source of clean energy, but fission nuclear energy has become widespread enough in Gibson's world to take away any need for alternative energy technologies. Does the fact that an outside source of energy powers the projects contribute to the diminishing idea of utopia?

3. The hydroponic forest that used to be used to grow food for the Projects seems to be in a state of disrepair as are many other places described in the trilogy. Why might this be?

4. Could the idea that spreading religion with the mosque being built on top of the arcology, and people taking over the hydroponic forest level, mean that people are looking more to religion because of society breaking down in Gibson's world?

5. Other settings in the trilogy seem to convey the same general themes of distopia, but could cyberspace, the matrix, and stimsim units be an escape for people? How are these innovations hindering or helping what is constantly happening in real life?


Gibson, William. Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.

Cyberspace OV Cyborg  Mona Lisa Overdrive

Last modified 30 December 2006