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August 27, 2007

William Gibson — Episode 3: 'Back From the Future'


Above, the headline over Deborah Solomon's Q&A with William Gibson, published in the August 19, 2007 New York Times magazine.

The interview follows.

    Back From the Future — Questions for William Gibson

    Although you’re known as the father of cyberpunk science fiction, your new novel, “Spook Country,” is set in the post-9/11 present and endows the whole culture with a noirish gloom. At what point did American life become stranger than science fiction? If I had gone into a publisher in New York in 1981 and told them I wanted to write a novel that is set in a world where the climate is out of whack and Mideast terrorists have hijacked airplanes and in response the U.S. has invaded the wrong country — it’s too much. Contemporary reality is like an overlapping set of dire science-fictional scenarios.

    Your main character is a female journalist who’s researching “locative art,” which is basically mural-making that is so cutting-edge you can’t even see it except digitally. Where did you get that idea? I wanted something that was lowbrow, like something in Juxtapoz magazine. It’s the magazine of the lowbrow-art movement. It’s actually the only art magazine that I read on a regular basis.

    I’m not sure that’s something to boast about. I’m a very pro-art kind of guy, but I’m not that visually literate. My inner redneck looks at something and says, “Oh, that’s so cool.” At home I bump into a couple of artists. When I was starting to write, two of my neighbors were Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham.

    This is in Vancouver, British Columbia. Did you, as a transplanted American, move to Canada to escape the draft? I was always registered for the draft. Like a lot of people in the Bush administration, somehow I wasn’t called.

    What leads a novelist to dedicate himself to imagining the future as opposed to the vanished past? I wanted to immigrate to the future as a boy because all the physical artifacts around me were very old. I wanted the future that was pouring out of the television screen.

    Television no longer represents the future? No, television is going away. It’s going to be like radio. It’s going to be appropriated into the realm of the digital.

    You had an uncommonly sad childhood, losing your father to a choking accident when you were 6. It was a pre-Heimlich restaurant. He was away on a business trip. My mother never told me. She couldn’t tell me. She had someone else tell me.

    Then your mom died suddenly when you were in your teens. Loss is not without its curious advantages for the artist. Major traumatic breaks are pretty common in the biographies of artists I respect. Not that I’d wish that on anyone.

    Do you feel that you’ve transcended the science-fiction genre in your work? My roots are in a genre. That is the funny thing. Novels are called novels because, ideally, they provide a novel experience. But in genre, you’re sort of buying a guarantee that you are going to have essentially the same experience again and again. It’s a novel. It won’t be too novel. Don’t worry.

    Are you sick of being known as the writer who coined the word “cyberspace” in 1982? I think I’d miss it if it went way.

    What is the derivation of the word? “Cyber” is from the Greek word for navigator. Norbert Wiener coined “cybernetics” around 1948 to denote the study of “teleological mechanisms.”

    What is your hope for the future? That we’ll turn out not to have already terminally soiled our unthinkably rare and lovely little sphere of water and air.

    Isn’t that a rather perfumed way to describe the earth? I suppose it’s a bit wet, but I’m from Vancouver. Green streak a mile wide.

August 27, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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