William Gibson interview

originally published in Alternative Press

William Gibson interview

William Gibson is a mass of contradictions. He may be the man who invented cyber-space, but when it comes to cheese, he’s a traditionalist at heart. “Right now, my favorite is a very, very old cheddar that’s made in Ontario, that my local cheese guy gets occasionally.”

He might have visualized the Internet a decade before it came into everyday life, but he still can’t set up his VCR.  “I’m one of those people who, unless I’ve had somebody over to the house, everything’s flashing 12 o’clock.”

And,though five of his six novels have been optioned for a movie, he dislikes the only one which has actually come to fruition.  Johnny Mnenomic, he says, “was a strange experience. The version that was finally released, seeing that for the first time, was kind of dismaying.  I didn’t see it until the New York press preview, and that was a drastic experience.  Not only did I not recognize the story, but I could definitely feel the vibe in the theater, saying ‘this is not going to get good reviews.’

“When we made it, what we thought we were doing was a very quirky, flagrantly ironic, pseudo-genre film that people could enjoy on a number of levels, but which they probably wouldn’t enjoy on the routine Sci_Fi action adventure level, because we really felt like we were sending all that up.  So there’s a terrible sinking feeling when you see your cunning piss take of something turned into a bad version of the thing you were making fun of in the first place.”

The result leaves Gibson unconvinced that science fiction adaptations remain a viable alternative for Hollywood, and that despite the fact he’s currently writing a screenplay for his debut novel, Neuromancer.  “Sometimes it works, but it’s probably easiest to start from scratch.

“The reason they do it is, it’s kind of a ritual object, they carry it around and say ‘this is a successful book.’ Out of that they try to get the script, which is another ritual object, until someone manages to turn it into a film.  It doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily respect the original object at all, but they need to have something to carry around, that someone puts in a briefcase and takes from one building to another.”

Right now, the South Carolina born, Virginia raised, resident of Vancouver BC is regarded amongst the hottest novelists around.  Idoru (Putnam, $24.95), examining the relationship between a Virtual Reality rock star, and the woman he apparently intends to marry, has already topped best sellers lists in LA and San Francisco (“for about 18 seconds,” he laughs), while Gibson’s admirers generously ply him with cyber-speak compliments: “the virtual reality guru,” “the most prescient visionary working in Sci Fi today,” “the Raymond Chandler of the digital age.”

Surfing the zeitgeist of popular culture, a point and click collector of computer-age iconography, Gibson not only visualizes the future, he visualizes the ramifications of what that future holds in store. Yet he insists a lot of it came about as much through accident as design.

“It’s research in an odd way, in that I keep my eyes open for aspects of contemporary technology or proposed technology that strike me as funny, or poignant, I kind of have a bin in the back of my head where that stuff piles up, and I think I have a certain skill in putting it together in ways that are at least remotely possible.

“I also have friends, who I give these books to; people who are much more technically adroit than I am.  I ask them to look at them, and they’ll go through and say, ‘this wouldn’t work,’ or whatever, and make sure everything is practical.  And I think I have a lot of computer industry readers, who get off on it for that reason… although that’s not the only reason I want them to get off on it.”

It was through this principle of “what if,” of course, that Gibson first stumbled upon the concepts which have made his name and fame, visions of a prototypical Internet, and with it, that entire sub-universe he christened “cyberspace.”

“It’s funny; when I look back at it, I took it for granted that computers could all be connected, and would all be connected, because it made sense.  This was in the late 1970s; I knew people, mostly around Seattle, who were early computer industry employees, long haired people with lumpy flannels.   I didn’t become interested in computers per se, but I did become very interested in the language these people worked with.”

He vividly remembers, he says, “getting very excited the first time I ever heard ‘interface’ used as a verb.  It was a whole new way to use the language, and I started decoding that stuff, or deconstructing it, but doing it the way you would a piece of symbolist poetry.  And what emerged from that was a kind of odd understanding of what computing was potentially about, that to my surprise as much as everyone else’s, turned out to be correct.”

And today, four novels, one collaboration and a collection of short stories later, the book wherein all that took place, 1984’s Neuromancer, remains the popular touchstone in his career, the story… no, scrub the story, the concept, which defines William Gibson in the mid-1990s.  He is the man who gave us “cyberspace.”

“That’s true,” he acknowledges, “and I’m stuck with it.  I’m sure I’ll be remembered for that long after I’m remembered for doing anything else.  People will say, ‘oh, he’s the one who invented the word “cyberspace”; what else did he do?  Oh, he wrote books.’“

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