The Time Traveler’s Almanac: The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson

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The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson

Section: Experiments

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 Rating


Don’t judge a story by its opening paragraph 

About the author:

William Gibson is an American-Canadian novelist most closely associated with the science fiction subgenre cyberpunk. He has won many awards for his fiction, including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in addition to numerous nominations and other recognition in the field. Many of his works have been made into feature films, such as Johnny Mnemonic. “The Gernsback Continuum” was first published in Universe 11 in 1981.

Engaging, captivating, compelling, absorbing – go grab a thesaurus and that’s how I felt about the opening paragraph. That introduction, written in Gibson’s simple and fantastic prose, and with an ending sentence saying, “… my vision is narrowing to a single wavelength of probability. I’ve worked hard for that. Television helped a lot”, had me expecting anything but boring. Alas, I was duped. Unless, of course, your into the 1930’s and 1950’s architecture.

Our narrator is a photographer who takes advertisement pictures for certain companies and products. While in London for a shoot, he gets a call from a friend to get lunch. At lunch, his friend introduces him to Dialta Downes, a women who is interested in creating an illustrated history of American in the 1930’s. Dialta is particularly interested in the “American Streamlined Moderne” which was basically the start of a futuristic architecture and style that never took off and died out. Our narrator accepts the job figuring, that while it may be hard to photograph buildings, this is also easy money. Problems started to arise when he suddenly this “Tomorrow That Never Was” comes to life, and he starts to see an alternate America.

I think it’s a great plot – photographer seeing into an alt. future – and Gibson really has great prose that felt smooth and effortless to read – but the direction he went in with this plot and the way he told the story…

After that great introduction paragraph, the next couple of pages are essentially Gibson explaining the architecture of the 1930’s. It was nice of him to explain, but with the exception of the boomerang shaped plane, I’d never heard of anything nor could I picture it in my head.

Then we get to him seeing something from the almost America. And he gets a picture of it on a camera! So he takes it to his UFO/Loch Ness/conspiracy monster friend, who acts like it’s no big deal. Happens all the time. What does the UFO friend say? Semiotic ghost (whatever that is), but don’t worry about it.

Then later on at one point, he actually sees people from the other America, but it doesn’t seem like they can hear or even see him. Yet, he uses one of these futuristic payphone to communicate with his UFO buddy. (So does that mean some things are like hallucinations – seeing the people – and some are actually there but look different – like the payphone? Otherwise, why would he be able to interact with the phone and not the people?) This is when Monster Hunter tell him he has a solution: watch TV. Why? Because really bad media is a cure for semiotic ghosts.


Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)

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If your comments contains a spoiler, please type “SPOILER:” at the start of your comment to alert fellow readers and comments. Thanks!


With the intro talking about seeing wavelengths, I though we were going to get into some cool science fiction. Like somehow the camera made his eyes see different wavelength or other dimensions? Because that thing: we can only see in 3D (well, actually 2D-ish – but that’s beside the point). What I’m getting at is we could have a whole other world right around us, but because it’s in 5D, 6D, etc., we would not be able to see it! Or that the receptors in our eyes that send transmissions to brain only can process certain wavelengths of light, but if they could see other wavelengths?! Tons of possibilities, but the wavelength things never came up again outside of the first paragraph. And the foreshadowing with the TV helping could have been hilarious(!), using how TV rots the brains so you can use it dull down your eyes… This could have been a cool sic-fi story with funny punchline, but, sadly, it was kind of a dull story :/

I wouldn’t say there was anything bad about the story – I just never got drawn into the story. I thought there was a lot of potential with the plot, but Gibson decided to tell the story differently…  a story almost completely different that what I think could have been told. There was also some message he trying to get across, but what that is, is out of my wavelength.

Did anyone else notice that diet/food pill thing? Very random, but kept popping up… Was there some point to that?

Be sure to check out my fellow time-travelers’ reviews!

Alesha Escobar
H.M. Jones
Timothy C. Ward

2.5/5 Rating

-DJ


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Follow along on Twitter with #TimeTravelThursday

To see a full list of The Time Traveler’s Almanac reviews and reading schedule, visit The Time Traveler’s Almanac Page

Feel free to join in any join time! Just leave a comment down below 🙂

See you next Thursday for The Threads of Time by C.J. Cherryh

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15 thoughts on “The Time Traveler’s Almanac: The Gernsback Continuum by William Gibson

  1. Tammy says:

    This actually sounds good to me, since I love architecture, although I’ve had problems reading William Gibson before so I don’t know. The way you described it made it feel “old fashioned” so that could be a reason it didn’t work.

    Like

    • This was my first Gibson. I did love his prose but if it’s the writing style that bothers you, I can understand that. Maybe it was the subject matter of this story, but his method of telling the story was curious to me.

      And I think it was because of my lack of familiarity to the 1930’s that the story didn’t work. H.M. Jones really likes that times period and she gave this story 4/5.

      Like

  2. It does have an old fashioned reference and point of view, but it fit well with the nostalgia creeping into reality aspect. I really liked this one for those reasons. It felt uncanny and consuming to me. However, I do think it won’t be anyone’s cup of tea.

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  3. Sharry says:

    I’ve never read any William Gibson even though Neuromancer has been on my shelf for too long a time. I’ve tried to get into Neuromancer many times but have yet to actually finish the book. Your review has reminded me to give it another go…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, Sharry! Thanks for the comment! 🙂 This was actually my first William Gibson, and even thought I wasn’t a big fan of it, I was definitely read more by him. Almost post if just the subject of the story that didn’t work.

      Neuromancer is the first novel I’d ever heard of by Gibson, so, if I do read him again, it will most likely be that.

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  4. I’ve only read Neuromancer when it comes to William Gibson. I don’t know if it’s his style or the subject matter, but I had a difficult time, so it’s hard to say whether this would have worked for me. Probably not, based on some of the observations in your review, I tend to have a hard time with things I can’t picture in my head, no matter how lengthy the explanations.

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  5. aleshaescobar says:

    Reblogged this on Alesha L. Escobar and commented:
    Reblogged from DJ’s site, “My Life My Books My Escape”

    Like

  6. aleshaescobar says:

    Wow, looks like this one is joining the not-our-favorite pile. Thanks for the recap and insight 🙂

    Like

  7. Wow, you’re very perceptive on this one. Maybe I’m just too busy, but I barely caught on to any of those details. At this point in our group read I’m trying to take what I can from stories to expand my time travel experience, but if it is as jumbled as this, I’ll just move on to the next. I tried his auto biography and found it also wondered into what was the point zone. I have necromancer, but am doubtful to read it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually thinking about the other other day: how different I, an non-writer, may look at the story compared to you, Alesha and H.M., who are all writers. While I am essentially here for straight enjoyment, you are also here for the pleasure of reading, but are also probably looking for new ideas for your stories or different story telling techniques.

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