Cocktail Hour: The Chatsubo Quencher

William Gibson’s cyberpunk masterpiece Neuromancer has one of the best opening lines, not only in sf but in literature: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

The book’s first few pages, set in an expat bar in near-future Japan called the Chatsubo, are a textbook example of how to yank your reader into an imagined world without boring them with a bunch of leaden exposition. Gibson helps us immediately understand his world — its casual drug use, its cybernetically enhanced populace and street-level con games — not through narrative intrusion but via dialogue, description and action served up in crisp, street-savvy prose.

Check it out: “The bartender’s smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it. The antique arm whined as he reached for another mug. It was a Russian military prosthesis, a seven-function force-feedback manipulator, cased in grubby pink plastic.”

In one descriptive, action-filled paragraph, Gibson lets us know people in his imagined future can be sculpted into any beautiful shape they want and that advanced cybernetic gear isn’t just commonplace but old enough to be antique. All without slowing us down for a yawn-inducing infodump. That’s a master at work.

It’s writing worth tipping a drink to.

While the only drink I remember being described in the opening chapter of Neuromancer is draft Kirin beer, this week’s cocktail seems like the kind of sophisticated urban refreshment that would be popular in the Chatsubo.


2 1/2 oz. Hana lychee sake
1 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup

Shake the liquid ingredients over ice in a shaker and pour into a chilled martini or cocktail glass. Garnish with a long, thin strip of lemon peel.


Cocktail Hour: The Esper

The Esper: Not for amateur telepaths... or amateur drinkers.

I discovered Alfred Bester my freshman year of college while reading an anthology of classic science fiction.

His story “Fondly Fahrenheit” opened with a child murder at the hands of a homicidal android, placing it light years apart from the more optimistic Golden Age tales that preceded it in the book. It was also noteworthy because the narrator slipped between the use of “I,” “me” and “we” to describe his actions, an effective experimental touch that suggested the android and its human owner were slipping into shared psychosis..

On the strength of that first impression, I soon plowed through Bester’s The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination. Those novels’ cynical outlook and crisp prose resonated with me as I immersed myself in the cutting-edge (at the time) cyberpunk of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Turns out, both cite Bester as a major influence, as did scads of other boundary-pushing cyberpunk and New Wave authors.

Beyond being a writer ahead of his time, Bester was a drinker. Legend has it he left his entire estate to his bartender, Joe Suder. What’s more, robot bartenders and cocktail parties feature heavily in his fiction, and I stumbled across no shortage of printed interviews he gave at convention bars over pitchers of beer.

In other words, Alfie Bester is the perfect inspiration for a cocktail.

Today’s, THE ESPER, borrows its name from the telepaths in Bester’s The Demolished Man, whose extrasensory perception makes murder near impossible in the 24th Century.

I based this concoction on the similarly named Vesper, created by James Bond author Ian Fleming in Casino Royale. Fleming’s cocktail combines gin, vodka and Lillet, a wine-based French aperitif. In the case of THE ESPER, I substituted absinthe for the vodka, because… well, let’s just say I’ve had more than a few extrasensory experiences courtesy of la fée verte.

I recommend one ESPER, only one, before dinner — or while reading Alfred Bester. Careful, this one’s boozy, boozy, boozy.


3 oz. gin
1 oz. absinthe
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
A thin slice of lemon


Shake the ingredients with ice in a shaker, then pour into a chilled martini glass or champagne goblet. Add the lemon slice.