Real Locations, Remixed

Paul Meier, English 160 (The Cyborg Self) Brown University (Fall 2006)

The elaborate and fantastic nature of Gibson's fictional world make us forget that his stories are set in our same planet Earth. Alternate names such as The Sprawl, Smoke, coupled with extraterrestrial travel can delude the passive reader into placing more distance between their world and the one in the novels. Occasionally, Gibson places the action in more famous locales such as Paris or Washington DC, amplifying his image of the future by grounding it in familiar landscape:

Condensation dripped steadily from the old Georgetown dome, built forty years after the ailing Federals decamped for the lower reaches of McLean. Washington was a Southern city, always had been, and you felt the tone of the Sprawl shift here if you rode the trains down the stations from Boston. The trees in the District were lush and green, and their leaves shaled the arc lights as Turner and Angela Mitchell made their way along the broken sidewalks to Dupont Circle and the station. There were drums in the circle, and someone had lit a trash fire in the giant's marble goblet at the center. Silent figures sat beside spread blankets as they passed, the blankets arrayed with surreal assortments of merchandise: disks beside battered prosthetic limbs trailing crude nerve-jacks, a dusty glass fishbowl filled with oblong steel dog tags, rubber-banded stacks of faded postcards, cheap Indo trodes still sealed in wholesaler's plastic, mismatched ceramic salt-and-pepper sets, a gold club with a peeling leather grip, Swiss army knives with missing blades, a dented tin wastebasket lithographed with the face of a president whose name Turner could almost remember (Carter? Grosvenor?), fuzzy holograms of the Monument. [201]

1. Dupont Circle is currently one of the trendiest and most vibrant neighborhoods in Washington DC. To what extent would you argue this to remain true in Count Zero?

2. What about Gibson's choice of merchandise allows us to reach that conclusion? What would the modern counterparts be (are these even all futuristic)?

2. What elements of the passage do you think most strongly contrast one another and why?

3. In other passages, Gibson demonstrates technology emulating nature's beauty. Would you prefer to live in simulated and staged beauty, or actual unrehearsed squalor? On which side are you currently closer on with today's technologies?


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

Cyberspace OV Cyborg  Mona Lisa Overdrive

Last modified 29 September 2006