In William Gibson's fiction, the Sprawl is a colloquial name for the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (BAMA), an urban sprawl environment on a massive scale, and a fictional extension of the real Northeast Megalopolis.
The novels Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) (collectively known as the Sprawl trilogy) take place in this environment, as do the short stories "Johnny Mnemonic," "New Rose Hotel," "Burning Chrome," and "Fragments of a Hologram Rose."
The Sprawl is a visualization of a future where virtually the entire East Coast of the United States, from Boston to Atlanta, has melded into a single mass of urban sprawl. It has been enclosed in several geodesic domes and merged into one megacity. The city has become a separate world with its own climate, no real night/day cycle, and an artificial sky that is always grey. It is said of the Sprawl that "the actors change but the play remains the same."
Although there are areas of rich people in the Sprawl, a vast majority of the people struggle to survive from day to day. However, advanced technology is ubiquitous and accessible to all, regardless of financial standing. People spend much of their time in the "matrix" for work or recreational purposes. A common addiction for Sprawl inhabitants are "simstims" (simulated stimuli), a form of virtual reality that allows people to experience a television program, typically soap operas, from the point of view of a fictitious media personality.
The Sprawl is a typical (perhaps archetypal) 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 the Northeast Megalopolis, the present-day group of metropolitan areas extending from Boston to Washington, DC.
Several Songs on the Arcade Fire album "The Suburbs" make reference to the Sprawl, including the tracks "Sprawl I (Flatland)" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)."
The Sprawl is used also in the film adaptation of Philip Dick's novel Minority Report as an area in which the protagonist may be hidden.
- Markoff, John (November 25, 1990). "Ideas & Trends; Art Invents A Jarring New World From Technology". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-07-30.