William Gibson

Borges: Influence and References

William Gibson

An American author of science fiction, Gibson is most famous for his "Neuromancer" books, a trilogy of grim novels and a constellation of short stories which touched off the "cyberpunk" movement in science fiction. Extremely well written and highly original, Gibson's work has certainly transcended its genre, firmly establishing him as one of the most influential writers of our day. He has won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Philip K. Dick award.
Although Gibson makes no overt references to Borges in his fiction, there are a few examples pointing to a clear influence. The first occurs in "The Gernsback Continuum,"one of Gibson's first short stories. The story revolves around a man who begins seeing classic, old-school science fiction elements in his every day life -- cars with fins, gleaming cities, that sort of thing. After a while, these semiotic illusions seemingly escape the bounds of his imagination and take over the (his?) world, ala Borges' fictional Tlön.
A more direct allusion comes in his third novel, Mona Lisa Overdrive, which finishes the trilogy began with Neuromancer and continued in Count Zero. In this book, one of the protagonists, Bobby Newmark, enters the novel in a highly unusual state -- his body is in a medical coma of sorts, and a black box is attached to his head. The box is later revealed to be something called an "Aleph," and it essentially exists as a limited form of AI, a whole virtual universe wired directly into Bobby's nervous system. While his body lies in an inert state, his consciousness roams freely throughout the Aleph, a virtual recreation of the whole universe. Although not mentioned specifically, it is clear that Gibson's characters dubbed the virtual universe "the Aleph" due to Borges's story of the same name. In this story, one of the protagonists attempts to encapsulate the whole universe into a poem, a poem which has its inspiration in the Aleph, a magical point in his basement that contains the whole of the universe. The Aleph is accessible by lying in the dark below the stairs and placing one's head just so . . . and soon a spinning globe opens up the viewers head into the totality of the Universe.

Additional Resources

Cognitive Dissidents -- A nice resource on Gibson and his work.ge.

Amazon.com Search – Search Amazon.com for books and related material on William Gibson.


--Allen B. Ruch
w/ Christos Tsatsoulis
27 October 2003


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