Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Interview with William Gibson

James Patrick Kelly, co-editor of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, took a few minutes out of his very busy schedule to chat with Rewired contributor William Gibson. Gibson kindly took a few minutes out of his ridiculously busy schedule, which includes his tour for his best-selling new novel, Spook Country.

When Jacob, Rina, and I caught Gibson on the early part of his tour, he vehemently questioned the continuing relevance of science fiction. Pretty bold from a guy many consider to be the father of cyberpunk. But that's Gibson all over, and he makes a compelling case, to the chagrin of us genre fans (more about that in the interview.)

Spook Country, as with its loosely-connected predecessor, Pattern Recognition, is written in the present, not even clearly definable as sf despite its high-tech elements. Yet Gibson still claims loyalty to science fiction, saying recently on Amazon that "Science fiction is my native literary culture." These contradictions are what makes Gibson so confounding and continually relevant. And also why his strange, cinematically atmospheric story, "Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City," fits perfectly in Rewired, where the intersection between present and future has been thoroughly messed with.

[When I took my turn in the lengthy receiving line at Gibson's reading, despite the many demands on his time he graciously agreed to this interview. And even more graciously, he gave me his personal email address. No, you absolutely cannot have it. Mine, mine, mine.]

James Patrick Kelly: In No Maps For These Territories, you mentioned that some younger readers who are turned on by Neuromancer are disappointed that the later works aren't Neuromancer knockoffs. Was your evolution as a writer conscious or unconscious? Is there anything you deliberately stopped doing or some new direction you decided to try?

William Gibson: I think it's just a matter of continuing to grow. I wasn't a particularly mature person when I wrote Neuromancer. I don't think that reflects badly on the book; it is what it is. But it stays what it is, while I've kept changing.

JPK: You have argued persuasively that science fiction is really about the present. You said in an interview that "It uses the conceit of the imaginary future to examine the present, whether the author is aware of that or not." Why is it, do you think, that readers and writers can convince themselves that they are engaging with possible futures?

WG: Both the writing and reading of sf are very culturally complex. Reading a novel requires complex cultural skills, that have to be learned.

Reading an sf novel (Samuel R Delany has very persuasively argued) requires an additional layer of cultural skills. But complex cultural skills are usually quite transparent to those who possess them. So we aren't necessarily self-aware with regard to what we're doing when we read an sf novel set in an imaginary future.

JPK: Do you think that your work in the eighties helped create the future, our present, as some have claimed? Or was it simply documenting existing trends?

WG: In some cases, I believe that I inadvertently provided "illustrations" for technologists who might otherwise have been unable to explain what they were trying to do.

JPK: You are one of the most influential sf writers of your generation. If we use the term "cyberpunk" as a catchall to describe that influence, is there anything about the forms cyberpunk has taken over the years that has surprised you?

WG: I don't see cyberpunk as having had much effect on mainstream "genre" sf at all, really. Walk into any sf specialty shop and ask for contemporary cyberpunk-inflected fiction. I don't think you'll find much. As a "flavor" of popular culture, cyberpunk seems to me to have had much more influence on other forms: films, music, video, games...

JPK: You've talked about the impossibility of predicting where we will be ten or fifteen years from now. Many people claim that this is exactly the timetable for the singularity that Vernor Vinge has written of. Do you think that we are headed for a post-human, post-scarcity future, assuming we don't boil the oceans away or blow ourselves up?

WG: The day I first saw "the Singularity" referred to as "the Geek Rapture", something changed for me. Anyone convinced of the onset of the Singularity, in my opinion, should read Norman Cohn's The Pursuit Of The Millennium.




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