The Sprawl  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In William Gibson's fiction, the Sprawl is a colloquial name for the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (BAMA), an urban environment taken to the extreme.

The novels Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) (collectively known as The Sprawl trilogy) take place in this environment, as well as some of the short stories collected in Burning Chrome (1986).


The Sprawl arose due to increasing urbanization on the eastern USA coast, and by the time of the novels it is one immense city, mostly covered by geodesic domes that always seem to be leaking. Due to these domes, the Sprawl is virtually a world of its own, complete with its own climate, and lacking a real day-night cycle. Instead it has an endless grey day, where the actors change but the play stays the same. The Sprawl holds enclaves where the rich live, but the majority of the supercity's population is quite poor. However, almost everyone in the Sprawl is using advanced technology on a daily basis. Millions of people are addicted to soap opera simstims: simulated stimuli being a technology that allows for the recording and playback of sensory input through neural interface. These shows are thus witnessed by the 'viewer' who essentially becomes one of the characters by experiencing the latter's senses. Many others spend hours in the matrix on a daily basis for work or pleasure. Indeed, for Sprawl inhabitants, technology is a commodity as mundane as air.

Comparative setting

The Sprawl is a typical example of a cyberpunk setting. Related places visited in Gibson's fiction include Chiba City, a high-tech district near Tokyo, and Freeside, an orbital complex which includes the family estate of the rich Tessier-Ashpool clan, as well as the Rastafarian colony New Zion. A notable non-fictional precursor to The Sprawl is BosWash, the present-day group of metropolitan areas extending from Boston to Washington, DC. The Sprawl also bears relation to other fictional settings:

  • Coruscant, the capital of the Galactic Republic and later Empire in Star Wars. It is an ecumenopolis, a city which takes up an entire planet.
  • Trantor, capital of the galactic empire in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series. With the exception of the Imperial Palace, the city is entirely enclosed in artificial domes. Because the planet has no rural areas, it is entirely dependent upon spaceships to bring-in food & remove waste. After the fall of the Empire, the survivors are forced to rip-up the steel floors to expose the Fertile soil underneath for growing food.
  • Mega-City One in the Judge Dredd series.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Sprawl" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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