William Gibson is a science fiction writer whose works increasingly take place in a realistic present. His latest book, Zero History, is about fashion, authenticity and identity. It’s a freestanding third work in an informal trilogy, which also includes Pattern Recognition and Spook Country.
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‘I don’t get the feeling that nothing is happening,’ replied the father of Cyberpunk. ‘I just get the feeling that more and more of it is happening on a different field.’
This Intelligence Squared event at Cadogan Hall in London saw the coming-together of two great believers in the vibrancy and power of the present: William Gibson and Cory Doctorow. Despite the discussion covering topics unrestrained by time - reaching back to the age of the Victorians and stretching, via 1940 and our ‘increasingly interesting’ present, to 2060 - or location (we were taken from the Far East to western Canada, with stop-overs in Shoreditch and Brooklyn), Gibson repeatedly underlined the centrality of the present in his work. He stressed that good science fiction writing is based on looking at ‘all the things around you’ and finding ‘the ones with the most obvious legs to carry you into the future.’
What sort of a future that will be, however, remains a mystery to Gibson. There are simply ‘too many wild cards in play,’ he said, for us to casually erect accurate futures. One thing that seemed certain was the sustained threat to any genuine subculture. We are now left, he lamented, with only ‘splinters of Bohemia,’ the violation of which seems almost complete in a world where ‘the way D. H. Lawrence looked is … much more important than what D.H. Lawrence wrote.’
"I might be one of the first generation of science fiction writers to come to the writing of it with a head full of academic critical theories…"
For all of the Internet era, and even before, novelist William Gibson has been the ultimate science fiction guru of the age. He invented the notion – the word – “cyberspace” before the Web even existed. He took us to dystopic futures that became nows in “Neuromancer,” “Burning Chrome,” and “Virtual Light.”
Now, when whole lives – or big pieces – have migrated to the Web and beyond, Gibson is beyond as well. He’s watching the culture from new angles. We speak with Gibson about his latest novel, “Zero History,” and where our world – and his – stand now.