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William Gibson's stories are part of a single, coherent universe
This isn't exactly anything new. People have been tossing this idea around ever since Virtual Light came out in the early nineties, but they predominantly put the Sprawl Trilogy chronologically earlier than the Bridge Trilogy. Setting the issue of dating aside, since the dates aren't truly important to the characters or stories (Although Virtual Light is said to take place in 2005, the actual year is never mentioned in the book), Virtual Light is assumed to come later because the Nanotech shown in the book seems to be years in advance of any of the technology shown in The Sprawl.

However, this is bunk. The Sprawl is decades ahead of The Bridge in almost every area. Domestic spaceflight is commonplace, and artificial intelligences like Wintermute and Neuromancer are incredibly advanced when compared to the Idoru, who is herself considered a leap forward. Not to mention that the interface between user and computer in The Sprawl, cranial electrodes, is far more advanced than the goggles and gloves setups used by characters in The Bridge Trilogy. With this in mind, the answer's obvious: The Bridge predates The Sprawl. Possibly by decades. And what's more, most of the climactic changes necessary to resolve the two are a result of the end of All Tomorrow's Parties.


At the end of All Tomorrow's Parties, the Idoru is able to make herself physical and, what's more, to spawn a copy of herself in every Lucky Dragon convenience store in the world. Nanotech is incredibly ubiquitous. But the problems with this are manifold. If a city can be built out of programmed nanites, and nanites can be programmed on demand in Lucky Dragon locations, couldn't nano-assemblers be created in Convenience Stores to take cities apart? The global trauma that separates The Bridge and The Sprawl is the Third World War, and if the Sprawl follows The Bridge, Nanotech has ceased to be ubiquitous for the same reason nuclear power stations are relatively rare in America: the fear of weaponry that uses this technology. What's more, if the Idoru can create copies of herself anywhere in the Western World, Soviet (Or Soviet-Kombinat!) Special Ops A.I.s could spawn similarly. The Lucky Dragon stores are incorporated into Maas Neotek by the time of the Sprawl series, their gambit having failed. The Idoru's spawning is likely the event that inspired the formation of the Turing Police well before Neuromancer's time.


Obviously, Nanotech is too dangerous and stigmatized to be used. Most of the technology of The Sprawl is more utilitarian than The Bridge, more vicious, and it's likely that this tech was invented during the war. The highest-performing computer hardware is based on biological components, which also neatly inverts the standard cyberpunk-hacker stereotype.

Gibson's more recent work, his closest to the present, also fits into this schema. Most notably, Hubertus Bigend is pretty much blow for blow a copy of Josef Virek, some years previous. They behave in the same way, both are frequently likened to oversized infants, and both have a penchant for hiring young women involved in some way in arts or entertainment to chase down esoteric secrets. It's implied, when Marly looks into Virek's past, the Josef Virek is not his original identity. The reason that Virek and Bigend are so similar is simple: Virek IS Bigend, the augmented reality from Spook Country evolves into the goggles and gloves rigs from The Bridge.


This raises, however, one important issue: Cell Phones. People in The Sprawl and The Bridge don't use them. While cellphones are an indispensable part of everyday life, it's entirely feasible that they could fade away between the Techno Thrillers and The Bridge, like Automats or radium water:

1. Over-advancement. The leaps forward in the power of Smart Phones over the past decade are incredible, but they grow more expensive to manufacture and future proof with every generation. It's feasible that Cellphones consumed augmented reality the same way that they consumed PD As, transforming into portable, personal computers like Chia's Sandbenders.

2. Paranoia. Surveillance Technology is a big theme in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, where various methods (including Volapuk) are used to avoid surveillance. It's possible that the underground figures in The Bridge and the economic underclass eschewed cellphones for practical reasons, the same reason many modern drug dealers still use pagers.

3. Cost. Income inequality in The Bridge is far more pervasive and broad than in real life. It's possible that that kind of portable communication, especially when combined with the first two reasons, would prompt a lot of people to give up their cell phones.

A large portion of William Gibson's short fiction can tie into this theory, making for one cohesive world. "Johnny Mnemonic" is already canon, and "New Rose Hotel" and "Burning Chrome" can be tied directly into the Sprawl trilogy without much difficulty. "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" likely takes place during the post-War chaos, as it mentions interim governments and extreme resource scarcity; the ASP technology handwaved over is a forerunner of simstim, as is the dream-recording technology in "The Winter Market", which also features the first appearance of ROM constructs like the Dixie Flatline or Finn. "Dogfight" takes place slightly later in the timeline, during or after Neuromancer, as it features a very compact version of the image-projection hardware Riviera uses in that book.

Neal Stephenson and William Gibson are different views of the same universe.

This one is particularly out there, since Snow Crash and Neuromancer are almost diametrically opposed in style and worldview, but it can be done with a little hacking around.

Running from the above theory and using classic WMG devices, Laney was right about a huge world-changing "nodal point" coming up with the Lucky Dragon. In an alternate turn of events, the Lucky Dragon engineers locked their nanotech with enough safeguards, DRM, and other protection that its civilian role is almost guaranteed safe, though weaponized versions are still horrendously effective. It soon becomes as vital to society as electricity, setting the stage for The Diamond Age. The anti-terrorism components are so successful that a century or so later they're still used for the magic, unbreakable cryptography used by the ractive theaters.

Assuming that the thrasher-turned-Victorian-schoolteacher is in fact from Snow Crash, we now have to tie in that book, but the timelines are completely screwed up - even stretching the years as much as possible, Snow Crash still would take place about the time of the Bridge trilogy, and the universes are clearly different. Solution: Snow Crash is an in-universe work of fiction by a hip young author, taking place in the dark pre-nanotech days when everyone sat around playing Second Life. The relentless focus on hypercapitalism, corporate dominance, and government incompetence are all due to their Values Dissonance compared to a scarcity-based society, and possibly sponsored by Protocol, which is quite happy overseeing a world of anarchistic phyles without any big corporations or governments coalescing to challenge their control. At least, until the Fists.

Is it really Y.T.? Naw. Just some random skateboarder who saw the same ad she did.

This leaves Cryptonomicon as the last major work to link into the timeline. Given its setting, this might actually be the easiest. The World War 2 sections mark the point of divergence between our reality and theirs. The success of Detachment 2702 leads to an international obsession with combining special operations and information warfare, which inspires events as late as the Screaming Fist attack on Russia during World War 3. The massive supply of Japanese war gold found at the climax, and subsequent economic shocks to the world market, are a contributing factor to a worldwide depression that, several years later, leads the homeless of San Francisco to colonize the ruined Golden Gate Bridge...

Sally Shears (Molly) doesn't want people to know about her claws.
It bugs some readers that when Molly reappears in "Mona Lisa Overdrive," she never displays her famous claws, despite her new nickname being Sally Shears. Did she lose her claws? No. Near the end of the book, she runs a finger over a wire, cutting it; she used a claw, but was discreet about it. When Kumiko asks Sally about the scar she got, from when she was fighting in a ring as "Misty Steele", Sally says it's good to remember "being stupid." As Misty Steele, she was probably fighting largely if not entirely to show off how badass she was with those claws. That, combined with the story she told Case back in "Neuromancer" about her lover Johnny, suggests that Sally/Molly has learned her lesson about being cocky. She's clearly still a badass, but she's far more discreet about it now. And it's worked out for the better. Unlike in "Neuromancer," where Molly wound up needing her ass saved at the end, she was the one in control at the end of "Mona Lisa Overdrive."

Molly/Sally got her lenses removed after the end of "Mona Lisa Overdrive."
The last thing she says before leaving the heroes is, "(I) Wanna be my fucking self for a change." Badass as her lens implants are, she's been hiding behind them for the last 20 or 30 years.

Molly is Rikki from Burning Chrome.
Molly mentions in Neuromancer that she knows Bobby Quine, and her lenses would be a decent way to hide the eye implants.

Molly is not Rikki, but she is another one of Bobby Quine's ex girlfriends.
Rikki's personality seems radically different than Molly's, and it's unlikely that a young woman's personality would change that much in such a short time. Rikki is more feminine, dreams of being a sim star, and seems to come from an average, middle-class backgound; Molly is implied to have spent her entire life in the ghetto, and was born to "tussle." It's far-fetched to say that she and Rikki are the same person. However, given that Molly seems to like dating hackers, it is not far-fetched to say that she, like Rikki, may have dated Bobby, and learned the hard way what an asshole he is.
The alien program that Wintermute/Neuromancer made contact with at the end of "Neuromancer" is from the same race from the "Burning Chrome" short story, "Hinterlands."
The aliens of "Hinterlands" turned ever human who tried to make contact with them into a vegetable. This may be because the aliens were trying to communicate with telepathy, but their minds were so different from ours that they just damaged the astronauts' brains. Wintermute/Neuromancer, being an A.I., had a mind unlike any human's. So while humans cannot communicate with the alien entity, Wintermute/Neuromancer can.

The Finn found out about Wintermute using his form to speak to Molly and Case
...and it inspired him to make the construct of himself that Molly/Sally and Kumiko met with in "Mona Lisa Overdrive."
  • Either the Finn was flattered that Windermute chose his persona, and it got him thinking, "I make a good A.I."...
  • Or he was unhappy about being impersonated, and made the construct to keep alive what he felt was his real identity, and to set the record strait for anyone who stopped by.