Joel Kelly's Blog

Joel Kelly's updates about his latest writing, his process, and his life as a Halifax-based author and marketer.

My debt to William Gibson, and his hologram rose

My favorite short story is William Gibson’s Fragments of a Hologram Rose. It was his first major published short story.

Every sentence in it is laced with a precise despair. It is a sci-fi story, and, like all good sci-fi, it’s more about the present*, and us, than it is about the future, and them.

The structure of my story, "No Greater Love Than This," is unusual. One storyline goes from past to present, told in a typical first-person, "I did this, I did that," form. The other storyline goes from the present to the past, told in a second-person, “You do this, you do that,” form.

And the two storylines alternate back and forth, using vignettes. It’s a little jarring, but I felt it necessary to tell the story. I needed to break things up, to make it a little unreal, so I could tell a real and painful story with detachment.

The structure of Fragments was my inspiration for this style, though I ended up going in a fairly different direction. But I’m still indebted to William Gibson and his story for helping me tell my story.

Here’s an excerpt to get you interested in Fragments. Purchase the short story collection Burning Chrome (which includes the first instance of the word “cyberspace” ever) to read the rest.

*Yes, I'm citing my own article to back up my point.


That summer Parker had trouble sleeping.

There were power droughts; sudden failures of the delta-inducer brought painfully abrupt returns to consciousness.

To avoid these, he used patch cords, miniature alligator clips, and black tape to wire the inducer to a battery-operated ASP deck. Power loss in the inducer would trigger the deck's playback circuit. He bought an ASP cassette that began with the subject asleep on a quiet beach. It had been recorded by a young blonde yogi with 20-20 vision and an abnormally acute color sense.

The boy had been flown to Barbados for the sold purpose of taking a nap and his morning's exercise on a brilliant stretch of private beach. The microfiche laminate in the cassette's transparent case explained that the yogi could will himself through alpha to delta without an inducer.

Parker, who hadn't been able to sleep without an inducer for two years, wondered if this was possible.

He had been able to sit through the whole thing only once, though by now he knew every sensation of the first five subjective minutes. He thought the most interesting part of the sequence was a slight editing slip at the start of the elaborate breathing routine: a swift glance down the white beach that picked out the figure of a guard patrolling a chain link fence, a black machine pistol slung over his arm.

While Parker slept, power drained from the city's grids.

The transition from delta to delta-ASP was a dark implosion into other flesh. Familiarity cushioned the shock. He felt the cool sand under his shoulders. The cuffs of his tattered jeans flapped against his bare ankles in the morning breeze. Soon the boy would wake fully and begin his Ardha-Matsyendra-something; with other hands Parker groped in darkness for the ASP deck.

Three in the morning.

Making yourself a cup of coffee in the dark, using a flashlight when you pour the boiling water.

Morning's recorded dream, fading: through other eyes, dark plume of a Cuban freighter - fading with the horizon it navigates across the mind's gray screen.

Three in the morning.

Let yesterday arrange itself around you in flat schematic images. What you said - what she said - watching her pack - dialing the cab. However you shuffle them they form the same printed circuit: you, standing in the rain, screaming at the cabby.

The rain was sour and acid, nearly the color of piss. The cabby called you an asshole; you still had to pay twice the fare. She had three pieces of luggage. In his respirator and goggles, the man looked like an ant. He pedaled away in the rain. She didn't look back.

The last you saw of her was a giant ant, giving you the finger.


Buy my story here.

Buy "Burning Chrome" here.