Thursday, September 16, 2010

William Gibson, a naturalist with a science fiction toolkit

On September 15, 2010, William Gibson gave a reading from his new novel "Zero History" at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Austin. The reading was followed by Q&A and a signing. I attended a similar reading and signing when he was in Austin in 2008, promoting his earlier novel "Spook Country". This year I could clearly see what some critic meant by calling Gibson an unappreciated humorist. A big part of his speech and answers consisted of quotable one-liners. Here are some pearls of his wit.

Austin was not so much Ground Zero in cyberpunk, as it was Patient Zero in cyberpunk. The first reading from "Neuromancer" by Gibson was given here, to about 5 people, at ArmadilloCon.

In the 20th century I was a futurist, but in the 21st century I'm some kind of naturalist with a science fiction toolkit.

It doesn't surprise me that 21sth century is not what I thought it might be, because that's what happens when you get to the real future from the real past. The real future has no capital F. Europeans have been hip to this forever, and they used to laugh at us. [But now we're starting to realize it too].

William Gibson at Barnes and Noble

Somebody in the audience asked him if the similarity between the names of Case in "Neuromancer", and Cayce in "Pattern Recognition" was an accident. Gibson replied that Case in "Neuromancer" is named after Case knife company, that made a very iconic kind of knife. They were so ubiquitous that Case knife became synonymous with pocket knife. And they have a beautiful logo. When Gibson was thinking what to name the guy, he saw that logo, and the name suggested itself to him.

With Cayce Pollard from "Pattern Recognition", he doesn't know where exactly he got that first name. "So there is no symbolic meaning, but you can find one," Gibson added.

Another question from the audience was about antagonists in his books. Gibson replied:

As a grown-up, I didn't believe in villainy the same way I mmight have done when I was younger, and the way our pop culture encourages us to. [...] The real antagonist in all my work is the way the world is. And the way it undoes the good guys AND the bad guys.

Question: why doesn't he write more short stories?

Most very good science fiction stories have as many ideas as most good SF novels. And I'm not a guy who has a lot of ideas. If I wrote short stories now, I would use up my limited narrative ideas.

Question: is he a pessimist or an optimist?

To answer this question, Gibson reminds us that in the years of the Cold War, when he grew up, people were conditioned to think that world was going to end very soon. Thus, he says, he thought he was being optimistic to write a novel set in 2035, in which there still were people.

Here is a link to my post on William Gibson's appearance in Austin in 2008, where he talks much more extensively about cyberpunk, literature, future, and such.

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