William Gibson is heralded as the creator of the genre of cyberpunk through his novel, Neuromancer from 1984. Being the “Father” of cyberpunk, then, it is no surprise that Gibson wrote the most cyberpunk short story of all time, back in 1991, called Cyber Claus. The story was printed originally in the Washington Post and has been collected since in a number of rare academic collections. The story remains in obscurity though, and so we have provided it in it’s full text below. Merry Christmas from Neon Dystopia!
In the night of 12/24/07, though sensors woven through the very fabric of the house had thus far registered a complete absence of sentient bio-activity, I found myself abruptly summoned from a rare, genuine and expensively induced examples of that most priceless of states, sleep.
Even as I hurriedly dressed, I knew that dozens of telepresent armed-response drones would already be sweeping in from the District, skimming mere inches above the chill surface of the Potomac. Vicious tri-lobed aeroforms that they were, they resembled nothing more than the Martian war machines of George Pal’s 1953 epic, “The War of the Worlds”.
And while, from somewhere far above, now, came that sound, that persistent clatter, as though gunships disgorged whole platoons of iron-shod mercenaries, I could only wonder: who? Was it my estranged wife, Lady Betty-Jayne Motel-6 Hyatt, Chief Eco-Trustee of the Free Duchy of Wyoming? Or was it Cleatus “Mainframe” Sinyard himself, President of the United States and Perpetual Chairman of the Concerned Smart People’s Northern Hemisphere CoProsperity Sphere?
“You’re mumbling again, big guy,” said Memory, shivering into hallucinatorily clear focus on the rumpled sheets, her thighs warm and golden against the Royal Stewart flannel. She adjusted the nosecones of her chrome bustier. “Also, you’re on the verge of a major fashion crime.”
I froze, the starched white tails of an Elmore of Shinjuku evening shirt half-tucked into the waistband of a favorite pair of lovingly-mended calfskin jodhpurs. She was right. Pearl buttons scattered like a flock of miniscule flying saucers as I tore myself out of the offending Elmore. I swiftly chose a classic Gap t-shirt and a Ralph Lauren overshirt in shotgun-distressed ochre corduroy. The Gap t’s double-knit liquid crystal began to cycle sluggishly in response to body-heat, displaying crudely animated loops of once-famous televangelists of the previous century, their pallid flanks streaked with the sweat of illicit sexual exertion. Now that literally everything was digital, History and Image were no more than Silly Putty in the hands of anyone with a BFA and a backer in Singapore. But that was just the nature of Postmodernity, and, frankly, it suited me right down to the ground.
“Visitors upstairs, chief,” she reminded me pointlessly, causing me to regret not getting her that last chip-upgrade. “Like on the roof.”
“How many?” And this was Samsung-Sears’s idea of an “expert” system?
“Seventeen, assuming we’re talking bipeds.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That Nintendo-Dow micropore sensor-skin you had ‘em stretch over the Realistislate? After those Columbian bush ninjas from the Slunk Cartel tried to get in through the toilet-ventilators? Well, that stuff’s registering, like, hooves. Tiny ones. Unless this is some kind of major Jersey Devil infestation, I make it eight quadrupeds – plus one definite biped.”
“It can’t be Sinyard then.” I holstered a 3mm Honda and pocketed half a dozen spare ampules of gel. “He’d never come alone.”
“So maybe that’s the good news, but I gotta tell you, this guy weighs in at close to one-forty kilos. And wears size eleven-and-a-half boots. As an expert system, I’d advise you to use the Mossad & Wesson bullpup, the one with the subsonic witness protection nozzles—“ She broke off, as if listening to something only she could hear. “Uh-oh,” she said, “I think he’s coming down the chimney…”
[Originally published as “Cyber-Claus“, in The Washington Post Book World Dec 1, 1991. A very merry Christmas to all, and may Memory and President Sinyard rest easy upon you.)