Sunday, January 19, 2020

William Gibson's "Agency" & North American Book Tour: Jan 21 - 28 | “How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real”


In a sprawling three part interview for Wired, William Gibson, one of science fiction’s most visionary and distinctive voices, maintained that he and his fellow writers don’t possess some mystical ability to peer into the future. “We’re almost always wrong”, said Gibson, elaborating in the "Wired interview Part 1: Why Sci-Fi Writers (Thankfully) Almost Always Get it Wrong". While concurrently institutions like The Guardian still maintain that in many ways, "William Gibson is the Man Who Saw Tomorrow". As a primer to this notable conceptual venturer of the 20th and 21st century, it bears mention that Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his 1982 short story “Burning Chrome” and expanded on the concept in his 1984 debut novel, "Neuromancer". In that book, which became a classic of the decade, inspiring both popular culture and playing no small role in defining the zeitgeist of the 1990s, Gibson predicted that the “consensual hallucination” of cyberspace would be “experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation” in a global network of “unthinkable complexity.” Yet Gibson says he simply got lucky with his prescient depiction of a digital world; “The thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn’t actually like the internet at all”, he asserts. Elaborating further, the other two features spanning science, technology and social theory, "Wired interview Part 2: Twitter, Antique Watches and Internet Obsessions", touch on the elusive democratizing forces of social media, digital and material disposability culture, and the birth of recorded sound, "Wired interview Part 3: Punk Rock, Internet Memes, and ‘Gangnam Style’". Tracking Gibson's output since the smash success of his debut novel he has penned numerous critically and publicly acclaimed works, including "Count Zero", "Mona Lisa Overdrive", "The Difference Engine" (co-authored with Bruce Sterling), "Virtual Light", "Idoru", and "All Tomorrow's Parties", making manifest the whole new genres of cyber and steampunk, and preconceiving the phenomena of virtual idols.


A collection of nonfiction called "Distrust That Particular Flavor", was published in 2012, at the conclusion of what is now considered his near-future trilogy, or Blue Ant novels, named for their shared axis of a less-than-benevolent corporate entity that runs through each. Through lives situated within tangible, meticulously constructed fringe cultural focal-points, Gibson built a framing device around the larger set of concerns and obsessions from the newly birthed 21st century. At the trilogy's inception Gibson found that he had to re-conceive the first novel's thematic foundation after history itself asserted a new narrative. With some 100 pages of "Pattern Recognition" written, Gibson refashioned the protagonist's backstory, which had been rendered implausible by the September 2001 attacks on New York; he called it "the strangest experience I've ever had with a piece of fiction." He saw the attacks as a nodal point in history, "an experience out of culture", and "in some ways ... the true beginning of the 21st century". This nodal point gave form and impetus to the the trilogy of "Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country", and "Zero History" that followed. The first of the trilogy recognized early as one of the great new science fiction novels of the 21st century. These new works shifted his focus toward the examination of cultural changes in post-September 11 America, including a resurgent tribalism, hyper specialization, and the infantilization of society, while the dominant themes nevertheless remaining a meeting point "at the intersection of paranoia and technology".


Another new nodal point as Gibson conceives it emerged with the United States 2016 election. Like many others, he never imagined that a callow real estate magnate and reality tv star would prevail in a democratic system. On Nov. 9, he woke up feeling as if he were living in something not unlike a alternate reality. “It was a really weird and powerful sensation,” Gibson says in his New York Times interview, "Sci-Fi Writer William Gibson Reimagines the World After the 2016 Election". Most people who were stunned by the outcome managed to shake off the surreal feeling. But being William Gibson, he decided to explore it, even plumb the depths of its instability and unease. This new framing would produce 2014's "The Peripheral" and surprisingly, Gibson's first direct sequel, 2020's "Agency". The New Yorker's interview with the author “How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real”, describes this process of assimilation, extrapolation and his seeing of currently developing social, economic and cultural trends which bear a synergy or symmetry. The first novel in this prospective trilogy, what The Guardian called a "glorious ride into the future", runs both parallel with current real world events and a far-reaching "Writing of the Future". Yet it was the pivot, or node of the events of 2016, which drastically refashioned the second novel's form, creating “A World in An Instant” in which Gibson recalibrated his relationship to the world. Speaking again with The Guardian, he quantifies this shift and recontextualization, “William Gibson: ‘I Was Losing a Sense of How Weird the Real World Was”. As he has since the 1980s, with the launch of every major work, William Gibson will be conducting an esteemable national book and reading tour, including a night at Seattle's Third Place Books. These always making for an invigorated discussion of the times, with this voice in science and speculative fiction offering his singular take on both the present and the possible.