Standalone edition cover.
"Johnny Mnemonic" is a short story by William Gibson, and the inspiration behind the 1995 film of the same name. The short story first appeared in Omni magazine in 1981, and was subsequently included in 1986's Burning Chrome, a collection of Gibson's short fiction. It takes place in the world of Gibson's cyberpunk novels, predating them by some years, and introduces the character Molly, who plays a prominent role in Gibson's Sprawl trilogy of novels.
The film plot differs considerably from the short story, and a novelization of William Gibson's screenplay written by Terry Bisson was published in 1995 under the title of Johnny Mnemonic. In 1996 a film tie-in edition of Gibson's original short story was published as a standalone book.
The Johnny Mnemonic character is a data trafficker who has undergone cybernetic surgery to have a data storage system implanted in his head. The system allows him to store digital data too sensitive to risk transmission on computer networks. To keep the cargo secure, the data is locked by a password known only to the intended recipient. Johnny enters a trance-like state while the data is being transferred or the passwords are being exchanged, making him unaware of the contents and unable to retrieve it. He makes a modest living in the Sprawl by physically transporting sensitive information for corporations, underworld crime rings or wealthy individuals.
As the story opens, Johnny has arranged to meet with his most recent customer, Ralfi Face, at the Drome bar. Ralfi has stashed hundreds of megabytes of data in Johnny, and is overdue paying for the storage. To add to his troubles, Johnny has learned that Ralfi has placed a contract on him, although the reasons are unclear. Johnny finds Ralfi at his usual table, accompanied by a muscle man. Johnny threatens them with a sawed-off shotgun in his bag, but is incapacitated by a neural disruption device hidden under the table. Ralfi reveals that the data was, unknown to him at the time, stolen from the Yakuza, who are very interested in ensuring it is not revealed.
Johnny is rescued by Molly, a "Razorgirl" who has undergone extensive body modifications, most notably fingernail blades and amplified reflexes. She joins the action at the table, looking for a job. When attacked by the muscle man she cuts his wrist tendons and takes the incapacitating device control from him. Ralfi offers to pay her off, but she turns off the device anyway and frees Johnny. Johnny immediately offers a higher bid to hire her as a bodyguard. Johnny and Molly take Ralfi as they exit the bar, but then Ralfi is killed by a "vat bred" Yakuza contract killer, who effortlessly dismembers Ralfi with a monomolecular wire sharper than any knife. Johnny fires the shotgun ineffectually, while Molly is delighted to be up against a pro.
Johnny decides that the only way to save himself from the same fate is to get the data out of his head. When Johnny tells Molly the only way to retrieve the password is with a SQUID, she leads him to an amusement park to visit Jones, a retired "navy dolphin". Jones' previous job was to locate and then hack enemy mines using sensors implanted in his skull, including a SQUID. To keep them loyal, the Navy addicted all of their "war whales" to heroin, so Molly trades Jones some heroin in exchange for retrieving the password. Armed with the password, Johnny has Molly read it to him in order to enter the retrieval trance, recording everything that is returned. After downloading the data, Johnny uploads a snippet to a Yakuza communications satellite, with the implication that the rest will be released if he is not left alone.
This leaves the more immediate threat of the Yakuza hitman, who is unaware of the threat to release the data. Molly takes Johnny to the "Lo Teks", anti-technology misfits who live in a suspended hideout high in the geodesic domes covering the Sprawl. Communicating via taut wires strung between the platforms, the Lo Teks are instructed to allow the killer to ascend the hideout to meet Molly on "The Killing Floor". Here, on a sprung floor that is wired to synthesizers and amplifiers, she deftly maneuvers around the hitman while discordant noise blares from the soundsystem. Put off-guard by the bizarre environment and constantly shifting floor, the Yakuza killer loses his edge over Molly, who is able to precisely time her bounces to affect his stability, eventually causing him to accidentally sever his own wrist with his monomolecular wire. Instantly recognizing he has lost, the Yakuza throws himself from the platform to the city below, happy to be free of the noise.
At the end of the story Johnny and Molly intend to make a living for themselves by using Jones to retrieve all the faint traces of all the previously stored data in Johnny, and blackmail his former customers with it, while living with the anti-tech gang.
- Gibson, William Carleton (1996). JOHNNY MNEMONIC. Toronto: Harper Collins. .
- Bisson, Terry (1995). Johnny Mnemonic. New York: Pocket Books. .