Grunge Futurism

Julian Loose

  • Virtual Light by William Gibson
    Viking, 336 pp, £14.99, September 1993, ISBN 0 670 84081 5
  • Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction by Scott Bukatman
    Duke, 416 pp, £15.95, August 1993, ISBN 0 8223 1340 5

The future isn’t what it used to be. In one of William Gibson’s first published stories, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, a photographer is assigned to capture examples of ‘futuristic’ American design from the Thirties, the kind of dream architecture that graced the covers of pulp science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories. Familiarising himself with streamlined dime stores and Coca-Cola plants built like submarines, the photographer starts to glimpse an alternative world born of the aerodynamic optimism of that earlier age, sees blond-haired people driving shark-fin roadsters down 80-lane freeways towards a towering metropolis. But these are ‘semiotic ghosts’ from a heroic, expansionist future that has passed America by: a gee-whiz, fascist-tinged fantasy that ‘knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose’.

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