Culture

'Hang On, We Think The Birds Are Dying.' William Gibson Interviewed

William Gibson is, arguably, the most influential science fiction writer of the last 30 years. As a co-creator of the genre CyberPunk (a term he never embraced) Gibson had an uncanny knack for imagining the network-saturated future that, only a few years later, we would all inhabit. For the last decade or so Gibson has taken the unusual step of reversing the process and writing books that seem like science fiction but are firmly located in the present.

The Paris Review recently published a long interview with Gibson. In it the writer speaks of his past, of his craft and – most importantly – his views on technology, culture and possibility.

Speaking of his first groundbreaking books he says:

"I didn't have a manifesto. I had some discontent. It seemed to me that midcentury mainstream American science fiction had often been triumphalist and militaristic, a sort of folk propaganda for American exceptionalism. I was tired of America-as-the-future, the world as a white monoculture, the protagonist as a good guy from the middle class or above. I wanted there to be more elbow room. I wanted to make room for antiheroes."

Speaking of culture and technology Gibson sees parallels between our world and that of the Victorians:

"I think the popular perception that we're a lot like the Victorians is in large part correct. One way is that we're all constantly in a state of ongoing technoshock, without really being aware of it—it's just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We're still riding that wave of craziness. We've gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven't had one in a while."

And, finally, referencing the subversive possibilities of science fiction he discovered in the small town he grew up in Gibson recalls:

"That wasn't the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn't tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard... You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick's brain!"

These are just a few nuggets. The rest of the interview is well worth the time.


You can keep up with more of what Adam Frank is thinking on Facebook and Twitter. His new book is About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang.

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