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Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson

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“Johnny Mnemonic” is a 1981 science fiction short story by William Gibson. It is about a man with some sensitive information implanted in his head, who is running from a Yakuza hit man.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

The story follows Johnny, a man who stores secret electronic information inside his head – for a price. When one of his clients is killed he has no way of retrieving the information, so he relies on Molly – one super bad chick with mirrored implant eyes. She doesn’t let him down either as she takes him first to see a cyborg dolphin, and then high up into the dome to meet low tech people with canine implants – all in an effort to escape the Yakuza’s brutally efficient hit man.

The Drome is a single narrow space with a bar down one side and tables along the other, thick with pimps and handlers and an arcane array of dealers. The Magnetic Dog Sisters were on the door that night, and I didn’t relish trying to get out past them if things didn’t work out. They were two meters tall and thin as greyhounds. One was black and the other white, but aside from that they were as nearly identical as cosmetic surgery could make them. They’d been lovers for years and were bad news in a tussle. I was never quite sure which one had originally been male.

Ralfi was sitting at his usual table. Owing me a lot of money. I had hundreds of megabytes stashed in my head on an idiot/savant basis, information I had no conscious access to. Ralfi had left it there. He hadn’t, however, come back for it. Only Ralfi could retrieve the data, with a code phrase of his own invention. I’m not cheap to begin with, but my overtime on storage is astronomical. And Ralfi had been very scarce.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • This fast paced and gritty piece is an early William Gibson story – predating his famous novel Neuromancer by three years. If you like classic cyberpunk then you’ll love this one.
  • Molly. Yep, the famous chick from Neuromancer shows up in “Johnny Mnemonic” – and she’s just as awesome as she is in the novel!
  • William Gibson’s style is amazing! The words and descriptions he uses may seem bizarre – but they leave little doubt about what the setting looks and feels like.

• The bad:

  • This isn’t a story for kids – there is lots of strong language, violence and adult situations, so be careful.
  • You may not be able to get Keanu Reeves’ image out of your mind – being that he was the title character in the 1995 movie version of “Johnny Mnemonic”. But don’t let that stop you from reading it – just focus on Molly!

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 10
• Word Count: 6,526
“Johnny Mnemonic” garnered the following awards:

  • It was nominated for the 1982 Nebula Award for Best Short Story.
  • “Johnny Mnemonic” also placed 20th in the 1982 Locus Poll for best novelette.

Where you can find “Johnny Mnemonic”:

  • This short story first appeared in the May 1981 issue of Omni.
  • “Johnny Mnemonic” is included in William Gibson’s brilliant collection of 10 futuristic short stories Burning Chrome .
  • You can read a free online version at WinterMute #10’s website.

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace?” Yep. You can learn more about this amazing science fiction author on Wikipedia.
  • Yes, its true – this short story was made into a movie in 1995 starting Keanu Reeves. It wasn’t too popular however. You can learn more about the movie at IMDB.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like A Dry, Quiet War, about a hero from the war at the end of time who returns to his home planet only to find more trouble, by Tony Daniel.

2 thoughts to “Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson”

  1. At least the sense in which Gibson uses the term “cyberspace” in Neuromancer is not the sense it’s normally used today; follow my link above (there is a section near end – “Cyberspace & Matrix”).

    Also – I think reactions to Gibson’s stories tend to be extreme – some people love it, other just cannot stand his stuff.

  2. Tinkoo,

    It is true that people either love or hate Gibson’s work, and his structure is hard to follow at times. Personally I think “Johnny Mnemonic” is more palatable than Neuromancer. Both were definitely unique for their time.

    Thanks for the link to your discussion about the term “cyberspace.” While it is true that the terms “cybernetics” and “space” were in wide use when Gibson first used the new word in his 1982 story “Burning Chrome”, I don’t believe the actual term “cyberspace” had ever been used before. Check out what, and Wikipedia have to say.

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