Friday, March 14, 2008


On the Sword and Laser forum for the current cyberpunk novel Neuromancer by William Gibson, a question was brought up about the reason for using product brand names in the novel. Many found this to detract from the story, and here was my response:

There is the possibility that Gibson was saying something about branding and our culture by purposely mentioning them. Needless to say, it's a pretty bleak (if not interesting) portrayal of the world. People spending more time out of reality than in it, and when they're in reality, they are busy killing each other or taking enough drugs to forget about it (sounds pretty close to the truth to me). People are unhappy with themselves to the point of grafting machinery into their bodies in order to overcome their inadequacies. To me, in a future like this...I mean, like that...branding holds a lot of weight.

This is not distracting to me, I think it strengthens the setting. More distracting (and not Gibson's fault) are the lopsided technologies. Like using a magnetic strip to open doors, and having a hard-lined phone. Again, Gibson has done the best he could at foreseeing technology trends, but in this day and age a lot of it feels awkward.

To wrap up, the decision of using true to life names (beyond just brand names, such as celebrity names, city names, etc) comes down to whether or not you want the plot to be timeless. By creating artifacts in a story, you have the chance of making it more relevant, but run the risk of the story becoming inconsequential. To this point, science fiction typically is not timeless since technology often progresses beyond what authors can dream up. This can make brand names more helpful than hurtful as it creates a mental connection to plot and atmosphere of the story.

1 comment:

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