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gil 28th Nov 2006 15:11

William Gibson
It was with a sense of horror that I discovered there was no specific William Gibson topic on Palimpsest, though he receives frequent mentions, and there were The Pattern Recognition topic and the Book 21: Virtual Light by William Gibson topic.

In his infrequent appearances, he turns out to be a soft-spoken fellow, now resident in Vancouver, but with a sort of slow southern delivery. He has occasionally recorded book readings, and, while clear, the voice is a monotonous drone. His manner is self-effacing for such an icon.

Though most of his output is classed as science fiction, he sees himself rather as a student of Change, rather than of Science, about which he professes to know little or nothing. He has written a number of important articles on change. He is a particular fan of London, Tokyo and Hong Kong, which, to him, represent "mirror-worlds" - deceptively similar to American cities, yet different in detail. This ability to select small items of set-dressing that distinguish or highlight differences between societies feeds into his work.

His writing is quite hard to get into - several people to whom I have lent the least challenging book (Pattern Recognition) find him too daunting. John Self demonstrates this with the first few words of PR:


Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted Circadian rhythm.

It is that flat and spectral non-hour, awash in limbic tides, brainstem stirring fitfully, flashing inappropriate reptilian demands for sex, food, sedation, all of the above, and none really an option now.
He is not everyone's cup of tea, and to enjoy him, you've got to favour his racy style of writing, which certainly suited his short story anthology, Burning Chrome, and the original "Sprawl" trilogy, set in the far future:
Count Zero
and Mona Lisa Overdrive

Then came the "Bridge" trilogy, set in the nearer future:
Virtual Light
and All Tomorrow's Parties

and his latest, Pattern Recognition, is set in the present day. His forthcoming book seems also to be contemporary.

So, let me open the topic with a chunk of autobiog. from his own site:

I was born on the coast of South Carolina, where my parents liked to vacation when there was almost nothing there at all. My father was in some sort of middle management position in a large and growing construction company. They'd built some of the Oak Ridge atomic facilities, and paranoiac legends of "security" at Oak Ridge were part of our family culture. There was a cigar-box full of strange-looking ID badges he'd worn there. But he'd done well at Oak Ridge, evidently, and so had the company he worked for, and in the postwar South they were busy building entire red brick Levittown-style suburbs. We moved a lot, following these projects, and he was frequently away, scouting for new ones.

It was a world of early television, a new Oldsmobile with crazy rocket-ship styling, toys with science fiction themes. Then my father went off on one more business trip. He never came back. He choked on something in a restaurant, the Heimlich maneuver hadn't been discovered yet, and everything changed.

My mother took me back to the small town in southwestern Virginia where both she and my father were from, a place where modernity had arrived to some extent but was deeply distrusted. The trauma of my father's death aside, I'm convinced that it was this experience of feeling abruptly exiled, to what seemed like the past, that began my relationship with science fiction.

I eventually became exactly the sort of introverted, hyper-bookish boy you'll find in the biographies of most American science fiction writers, obsessively filling shelves with paperbacks and digest-sized magazines, dreaming of one day becoming a writer myself.

At age fifteen, my chronically anxious and depressive mother having demonstrated an uncharacteristic burst of common sense in what today we call parenting, I was shipped off to a private boys' school in Arizona. There, extracted grub-like and blinking from my bedroom and those bulging plywood shelves, I began the forced invention of a less Lovecraftian persona - based in large part on a chance literary discovery a year or so before.

I had stumbled, in my ceaseless quest for more and/or better science fiction, on a writer name Burroughs -- not Edgar Rice but William S., and with him had come his colleagues Kerouac and Ginsberg. I had read this stuff, or tried to, with no idea at all of what it might mean, and felt compelled - compelled to what, I didn't know. The effect, over the next few years, was to make me, at least in terms of my Virginia home, Patient Zero of what would later be called the counterculture. At the time, I had no way of knowing that millions of other Boomer babes, changelings all, were undergoing the same metamorphosis.

In Arizona, science fiction was put aside with other childish things, as I set about negotiating puberty and trying on alternate personae with all the urgency and clumsiness that come with that, and was actually getting somewhere, I think, when my mother died with stunning suddenness. Dropped literally dead: the descent of an Other Shoe I'd been anticipating since age six.

Thereafter, probably needless to say, things didn't seem to go very well for quite a while. I left my school without graduating, joined up with rest of the Children's Crusade of the day, and shortly found my self in Canada, a country I knew almost nothing about. I concentrated on evading the draft and staying alive, while trying to make sure I looked like I was at least enjoying the Summer of Love. I did literally evade the draft, as they never bothered drafting me, and have lived here in Canada, more or less, ever since.

Having ridden out the crest of the Sixties in Toronto, aside from a brief, riot-torn spell in the District of Columbia, I met a girl from Vancouver, went off to Europe with her (concentrating on countries with fascist regimes and highly favorable rates of exchange) got married, and moved to British Columbia, where I watched the hot fat of the Sixties congeal as I earned a desultory bachelor's degree in English at UBC.

In 1977, facing first-time parenthood and an absolute lack of enthusiasm for anything like "career," I found myself dusting off my twelve-year-old's interest in science fiction. Simultaneously, weird noises were being heard from New York and London. I took Punk to be the detonation of some slow-fused projectile buried deep in society's flank a decade earlier, and I took it to be, somehow, a sign. And I began, then, to write.

And have been, ever since.

Google me and you can learn that I do it all on a manual typewriter, something that hasn't been true since 1985, but which makes such an easy hook for a lazy journalist that I expect to be reading it for the rest of my life. I only used a typewriter because that was what everyone used in 1977, and it was manual because that was what I happened to have been able to get, for free. I did avoid the Internet, but only until the advent of the Web turned it into such a magnificent opportunity to waste time that I could no longer resist. Today I probably spend as much time there as I do anywhere, although the really peculiar thing about me, demographically, is that I probably watch less than twelve hours of television in a given year, and have watched that little since age fifteen. (An individual who watches no television is still a scarcer beast than one who doesn't have an email address.) I have no idea how that happened. It wasn't a decision.

I do have an email address, yes, but, no, I won't give it to you. I am one and you are many, and even if you are, say, twenty-seven in grand global total, that's still too many. Because I need to have a life and waste time and write.

I suspect I have spent just about exactly as much time actually writing as the average person my age has spent watching television, and that, as much as anything, may be the real secret here.

Noumenon 28th Nov 2006 16:20

Re: William Gibson
Interesting excerpt and thanks for starting up a small corner for a WG shrine. His books are totally in the front of my mind as I try to write, although I doubt I demonstrate his conciseness.

Daveybot 28th Nov 2006 16:54

Re: William Gibson
I only got into Gibson last year, laregly due to Gil's extensive knowledge of the fella, but I must say his writing has had a huge impact on the way I think about society, community, architecture and design.

Most of my tutors automatically assumed that this was related to Gibson's more well-known work on - and invention of the term - 'cyberspace', but I don't think they'd actually read his books enough to understand his thinking beyond the rather 'sci-fantasy'-sounding nature of cyberspace as opposed to the way he clearly thinks of it. And besides, my work so far this past eighteen months has focussed much more on squatter developments and the growth of interstitial communities, more akin to Gibson's writing in the Bridge Trilogy, of which of course my tutors had not heard.

Ah well, what can you do? They want to think of my projects as 'imaginative' then I guess I can't stop them.

At any rate, good on you Gil for starting this thread - I hope to return to it frequently as I continue to learn about the man and his books.

Digger 28th Nov 2006 17:17

Re: William Gibson
your tutors, forgive me Daveybot, sound particularly vacant in many many ways!

I liked Virtual Light, and really should get round to reading the other two some time. Good thread Gil.

gil 29th Nov 2006 13:51

Re: William Gibson
Glad to see your interest was sparked, Daveybot. Presumably you include the (Idoru-referenced) The Kowloon Walled City. The Wiki article hardly does the squatter etc. aspect justice. I have spent the last half hour looking for the URL of a fascinating site I read a few years ago. I'll keep looking.

gil 29th Nov 2006 14:00

Re: William Gibson
There's just this weirdly navigated, and tantalising site, but the original Japanese exploration report seems to have vanished.

Daveybot 29th Nov 2006 14:34

Re: William Gibson
Ooooh, nifty. I have indeed mentioned it once or twice, as well as more diluted Old Towns around the world, but I'm always up for a little further reading. I'd love to see a space syntax diagram of such a place!

It looks (I hope) as though I'll be able to continue these themes of exploration in this year's studio work (though focussed on suburbia this time) so will be reading some more as I go - I think some JG Ballard may be quite handy this term, too. I'm rather stuck on campus today listening to my classmates presentations on 'suburbia and TV/cinema' and 'Suburbia & technology', with vast echoing gaps of time in-between them, but I shall have a good read later. It looks like there's a lot of nifty info in there.

Digger 29th Nov 2006 14:46

Re: William Gibson
Oooo, I read this thread and then walk to the kitchen via the charity book shelf and lo and behold, there sits Idoru! Hurrah!

Colyngbourne 29th Nov 2006 15:01

Re: William Gibson
I really love Idoru - such that I bought another copy to give to the library I borrowed it from, just so that I could keep the library copy with this cover.

I always think of eXistenZ (or however you spell it) when I think of the young girl character (is that Chia, gil?) plugging into her game.

Digger 29th Nov 2006 15:36

Re: William Gibson
That's the copy I've just picked up, looks a bit yellowed, but the spine and cover are immaculate so i can't believe it's been read!

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