Tessier-Ashpool is a fictional family appearing in William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy novels. The family owns Freeside, a space station shaped like a spindle Bernal sphere constructed in high orbit. The family resides in the Villa Straylight, which occupies one end of the spindle.
The family is organized and run as a corporation, Tessier-Ashpool S.A.. Family members are kept under cryogenic stasis and thawed out periodically so that governance of the family is cycled between members. According to "orbital law" they are legally dead while cryogenically preserved.
The Tessier-Ashpool family owns the mainframe to which one of their two artificial intelligences, Wintermute, is attached. As the computer hardware is located in Bern, Switzerland its resident AI thereby has limited Swiss citizenship "under their equivalent of the Act of '53". The other AI, Neuromancer, is housed within another family-owned mainframe located in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Tessier-Ashpools were founded with the marriage of scions of two powerful families: Marie-France Tessier, who was Swiss and John Harness Ashpool, an Australian who inherited a Melbourne engineering company. After the two were married, Ashpool began construction of Freeside in high orbit due to the relatively relaxed laws governing construction.
The family became extremely successful financially, developing the attached space station, sponsoring human colonization of space, and acquiring a number of other firms which subsequently flourished. By the time of Neuromancer, an ownership search on one of their subsidiary firms required tracing through four larger corporations, although a share of their common stock had not been traded on the open market for more than a hundred years.
Tessier and Ashpool had two children: "Jane" and "Jean". Due to less-stringent orbital laws they were able to clone their remaining family from these two. Their children are known by a combination of their first name and the generation of clone they are (i.e., "3Jane" or "8Jean"). In Mona Lisa Overdrive, it is revealed a batch of 20 clones was made: 10 Jeans and 10 Janes. All have the hyphenated last name "Tessier-Ashpool."
However, following the death of Marie-France, the family became extremely reclusive. Family members, including Ashpool, tended to place themselves in cryogenic sleep. At any one given time, only one or two of the children would be awake. They are also known for cloning their own assassins, "vat-grown" ninja who follow their orders without question.
The family brought a large number of antiques with them and tried to make them fit the orbital environment but failed aesthetically. A representational image presented to that effect is the Door. It is briefly mentioned that the door was ugly. It had been a beautiful door, but to make it fit the room, the Tessier-Ashpools had cut it down. This, combined with the fact that it was the only rectilinear part of the room, made it look ugly in the new environment.
Without telling her new husband, Marie-France embarked on a plan to create artificial intelligences and envisioned a future whereby the family and the AIs would create a sort of symbiosis to expand and run the family corporation and grant them a sort of immortality. Upon finding out about this plan Ashpool strangled his wife to death, leaving the plan unfinished.
Nonetheless, the AI known in the "Turing Code Registry" as Wintermute speculated over the years on a way of completing the plan. The culmination of Wintermute's schemes constitute the plot of Neuromancer.
By the time of Neuromancer the family has become extremely degenerate and dysfunctional. The patriarch Ashpool spends almost all of his time in cryogenic stasis. A dissolute alcoholic and heavy drug user, when he is awakened for the final time he has sex with and subsequently murders a clone of his daughter. Molly arrives to find him slowly succumbing to a suicidal drug overdose and kills him before it can take full effect. 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool is the only member of the family not to have fallen prey to such insanity since Wintermute apparently communicated with her and provided her with copies of her mother's journals and plans. Nonetheless, she is described as "jaded" and is extremely disconnected from the world outside the Villa Straylight.
Ashpool is killed during the events of Neuromancer, leaving 3Jane in charge of the corporation. In Count Zero it states that 3Jane has become 'increasingly eccentric' and explains that Freeside was sold to a contractor in Pakistan by the Tessier-Ashpools in the 7 years in between the two books. Later in the book it is discovered that all that remains of Straylight is a fragment of the AIs they once created, and the Tessier-Ashpools are nowhere to be found. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, the final novel of the Sprawl trilogy, 3Jane and the company are described as bankrupt. This is partially due to 3Jane spending her remaining wealth constructing an "Aleph", an approximation of the Matrix, into which she uploaded her personality before the death of her physical body.
The Tessier-Ashpool database cores are representative of one of the icons of architectural modernism, the RCA Building atop the "city within a city" of New York's Rockefeller Center. The atavistic structure of the clan is reflected in this choice—the Rockefeller complex being founded by one of the 20th century's pre-eminent capitalist dynasties.
Most of the background information for the family is revealed in the novel Neuromancer in the form of a semiotics essay written by 3Jane when she was 12 years old. The unfinished essay is printed in full:
By the standards of the archipelago, ours is an old family, the convolutions of our home reflecting that age. But reflecting something else as well. The semiotics of the Villa bespeak a turning in, a denial of the bright void beyond the hull. Tessier and Ashpool climbed the well of gravity to discover that they loathed space. They built Freeside to tap the wealth of the new islands, grew rich and eccentric, and began the construction of an extended body in Straylight.
We have sealed ourselves away behind our money, growing inward, generating a seamless universe of self. The Villa Straylight knows no sky, recorded or otherwise. At the Villa's silicon core is a small room, the only rectilinear chamber in the complex. Here, on a plain pedestal of glass, rests an ornate bust, platinum and cloisonne, studded with lapis and pearl. The bright marbles of its eyes were cut from the synthetic ruby viewport of the ship that brought the first Tessier up the well, and returned for the first Ashpool…
- Versluys (2000). The Urban Condition. The Netherlands: Uitgeverij 010 Publishers. p. 421. ISBN 90-6450-355-9.
- Johnston, John (1998). Information Multiplicity. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 242. ISBN 0-8018-5705-8.
- Tofts, Darren (2004). Prefiguring Cyberculture. Cambridge: The MIT Press. p. 6. ISBN 0-262-70108-1.