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A dystopia of the sign: dystopian themes in the work of William Gibson

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posted on 2023-01-18, 16:56 authored by Nicole Lowrey
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts to the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of English, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

The presence of dystopian ideas in the work and worlds of William Gibson has been frequently discussed with regard to his first trilogy – the Sprawl trilogy. This thesis discusses the dystopian elements in all three of Gibson’s trilogies. Gibson's colourfully and energetically conjured environments, the violent opposition of forces, the narcissism and self-interest of his protagonists all work to create an atmosphere that is at an environmental and political low point with little hope of correction or elevation. Gibson's second and third trilogies are a continued exploration of dystopia. His physical environments, the socio-political environments he creates, and most significantly the increasing dominance and permeation of media, mediation and worlds where the 'real' has been subsumed by mediated approximations, point to a dystopia darker and less thrilling than in the first trilogy. Referencing Karl Marx, Fredric Jameson, Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard either by implication or direct reference, Gibson creates a cultural landscape which becomes one with the signified, where technology serves corporate interests and the informational loses relevance and value in the process of exchange. In this thesis it is argued that development of Gibson’s style from a visceral noir science fiction in his first trilogy to detective fiction in his third trilogy serves to more effectively direct the reader's focus on the dystopian. By the Blue Ant trilogy, his worlds are based quite closely on the reader's own: references to terrorism, surveillance and corporate control create an oppressive claustrophobia. The 'lighter' subject matter only serves to illustrate the pervasiveness of the emptiness of contemporary informational exchange, and the relationship of the imposition of the sign to strongholds of corporate power.


Center or Department

Faculty of English. School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Thesis type

  • Masters

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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The thesis author retains all proprietary rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over the content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis. The author has declared that any third party copyright material contained within the thesis made available here is reproduced and communicated with permission. If you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact us with the details.

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