The Gernsback Continuum

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"The Gernsback Continuum"
Author William Gibson
Country Canada
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction, cyberpunk
Published in Universe 11, Burning Chrome
Publication type Anthology
Media type Print (hardback and paperback)
Publication date 1981
Preceded by "Johnny Mnemonic"
Followed by "Hinterlands"

"The Gernsback Continuum" is a short story by William Gibson about a photographer who has been given the assignment of photographing old futuristic architecture. This architecture, although largely forgotten at the time of the story, embodied for the generation that built it their concept of the future. The eponymous "Gernsback" alludes to Hugo Gernsback, a pulp magazine science fiction publisher during the early 20th century. By using this title Gibson contrasts the future envisaged during Gernsback's style of science fiction and the present, "cyberpunk" era that Gibson was establishing. The story was published in Gibson's Burning Chrome anthology and in the anthology Mirrorshades, edited by Bruce Sterling.

Plot summary

During his assignment to photograph 1930s era futuristic architecture, Parker begins to realize a "continuum", an alternative reality containing the possible future of the world represented by the architecture he is photographing – a future that could have been, but was not, thereby contrasting modernism to postmodern reality. Parker's glimpses of this fantastical utopian future, characterised by massive multi-lane highways, giant zeppelins and Aryan inhabitants become increasingly frequent and disturbing until, on the advice of a friend, he immerses himself deliberately in the grittiest "realities" of our world (such as pornography and news stories about crime and war) that are at odds with the idealised world of Gernsback and others. Slowly the images fade to insubstantiality, and the story ends with Parker able to ignore the sight of a nearly transparent flying wing. Parker realizes that he would rather live in a world characterized by pornography, crime, and random events than that of the Gernsback continuum.


"The Gernsback Continuum" was adapted during 1993 as Tomorrow Calling, a short TV film by Tim Leandro for Film4 Productions.[1] Originally shown on Channel 4, the film was also presented at the British Film Festival, 4–10 October 1996.

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