Red Right Hand: THE WILLIAM GIBSON INTERVIEW
*He is not a secret agent. Not at all.

 

THE WILLIAM GIBSON INTERVIEW

Second in a series of posts where I answer questions from interviews of other people. Each interview is chosen by readers. You can suggest one yourself in the comments.

In this edition, I am interviewed by The Onion AV Club's questions for author/futurist William Gibson, based on a suggestion by Will Hindmarch.

Zero History can be seen as the third part in a loose trilogy that started with Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. Was this intentional?

I don't really get the sense that even Spook Country was intended to follow on Pattern Recognition. Gibson's follow-up feels to me to be an after-the fact connection to the preceding book. That it naturally found it's way to related themes and into characters like Milgrim. Probably the same is true of Zero History.

You often return to the same characters in your work. Do you like the sense of a pervasive world?

You apparently need to read my work a little more closely. Or at all. As an aspiring TV writer, I've been writing pilots and specs. There's not much use in me writing a second episode to follow a pilot until such time as I sell said pilot. As far as specs, I rarely write a second spec for a series I've already spec'ed.

By the time the first one is outdated, the series in question has probably fallen out of favor as a spec anyway, so...again, less reuse of characters, but yes, I do like a pervasive world. Don't you kinda of have to in television.

So you basically just throw characters into the mix and stir.

That is kinda the way I write pilots. I usually want to design a compelling character. Someone I want to write about and then draw the world they inhabit around them. So, yeah...apt assumption for someone who clearly just skimmed my stuff.

Have you ever written yourself into a corner that way?

Not so much. By concentrating so heavily on writing for television, I generally create characters with fairly open and explorable arcs. Though, sometimes, when I write a character who's supposed to be a super genius (and I've gone that way more than once, it's an archetype I really like), I do tend to get them into plots that they'd be smart enough to get out of a lot faster than five acts.

History deals partly with the Hounds, a clothing line that’s based on utility and authenticity. Do you think this speaks to a current need in our culture?

We need extremely little in life. In clothing, the only necessarily utility is protection from the elements and whatever level of modesty is required by society and one's self. After that comes aesthetics. Authenticity is right at the bottom, is 100% an issue of fashion and it's really a bullshit concept in that sense as it takes place entirely in the wearer's head and very rarely in the observer's.

I'm not sure I can even grasp the concept of authenticity in clothing, except for authenticity to one's self and outside of myself, I honestly can't trust that from anyone, especially anyone who makes a point of pointing out that authenticity. We all find the fashion holes our fashion pegs fit in. Those who choose not to are rare indeed. In fact, if five people reading this think they are the one's choosing not to fit the hole, four of them just don't realize that they found they're perfect fitting hole, it's just not as popular as some other ones.

Does it fit a need in our culture? No. Does it fit a psyche-fart in our culture? Hell, yes.

You’ve talked elsewhere about the modern dilemma of separating the real from the virtual. How does something like Twitter confuse the issue?

I don't remember the conversation to which you refer, but I think that Twitter, fairly obvious blurs the lines between small talk and real conversation, between people you know and people you think you know and between even familiarity and intimacy.

For instance, I can now carry on something not unlike a conversation with a person I've never met. Now, assuming I'm not an attention whore twitter who follows every @ they can get their grubby little headsponge on, the people that I do choose to follow are going to fall into certain categories.

1. Friends, people I know in real life or have regularly communicated with at length prior to signing up for twitter.

2. News gathering follows. An entirely one-way exchange, people feeding me information. Links, jokes, news, whatever.

3. Automatic followbacks. A thing I do not clog my timeline with.

4. Figures of admiration.

The division gets really confused in number four. There's a bizarre level of stalkeridity in that, even in people who very unstalkerlike, normal and well-adjusted. It sneaks in. Many are fully aware of it and deal with it but just the fact that you need to be aware of it speaks to a blurring of the line. You already know something about them before you begin following them and the tweetview lets you in even more. And now, the possibilty that they might be answering your tweets creates a false familiarity when they don't even know your name while they're replying to your tweet. If their personal assistant isn't doing the tweeting, truly a virtual existence.

Is that the reason behind your shift from futuristic science fiction to the more immediately modern work you do now?

No, I think it's got more to do with the harder sell in television of futuristic science fiction and the fact that I stopped writing Star Trek specs a long time ago.

Do you still consider yourself a science-fiction writer? Does that term still have meaning?

I don't consider myself a science fiction writer, but to get all semantic on your ass, I do consider myself a writer of science fiction. I write plenty of non-sci-fi in several genres. It would be simply inaccurate to take on the title of science fiction writer.

The term still has meaning, but it either is or should be shifting away from what it once was. There's the whole "speculative fiction" tag. I get that. I support it. I think in the world where that tag exists, science fiction starts to veer toward something more in line with the present and the immediate future. In that sense, isn't CSI science fiction maybe even science fantasy). Science fiction is just stories where science is integral to the plot conceptually. Eureka is science fiction. Battlestar is not, generally (though some episodes are, most are about human conflicts like religion and survival).

What? Yeah, they fly in space and they are robots. How and why doesn't matter so much. Don't care how the ship works. Don't care how the robots work. It's a character drama, and character driven. Eureka is a character drama is well, but the plots are built on science and understanding the science just a little is part and parcel of the story.

Doctor Who is science fantasy. Leverage is crime fantasy (just to show that fantasy isn't limited in genre).

The Event is a list of things that happen. It's only even fiction in that those things didn't really happen.

You often feature strong female protagonists, which in science fiction is not always a given.

At this point, a strong female protagonist is just good marketing, because they're aren't enough of them, and a lot of the ones there are really aren't that interesting. Sometimes they're just guys in conceptual drag. For all I know, I'm guilty of that, but I'd like to think not.

The iPhone pops up often in History. Given the recent controversy over the iPhone 4’s lack of function as an actual phone, what do you think that has to say about the way the market defines our need for a product?

Yeah, I don't get that. It calls people and you talk to them. Does it not do everything that every other phone since the beginning of time (that being defined as 1876 A.D.) I think the complaints are that it's not a full-on fucking Star Trek Tricorder yet. While that's handy, I'm not sure it's a good thing.

Or is this about the antenna thing, they fixed that right? I have a 3GS and see no reason to upgrade in the near future. I don't need a flash, photo quality is bullshit (unless you're taking surveillance photos), and I don't want Facetime.

Of course the internet has fostered a complaint nation. The unironic rage I see whenever Twitter goes down for less than a minute (despite that it is a free service, it asks nothing of you, and that no one is entitled to), or when FaceBook commits some intentional and egregious privacy violation (despite the fact that after half a dozen such violations, the thought of quitting the also free and non-entitled service is anathema), it fills me with...unironic rage?

As far as it's appearance in Gibson's book. It was either that or Blackberry. They're the only phones to reach an iconic status ripe for exploitation in fiction. And Blackberry has a very "suit" connotation. The iPhone is everybody else.

You’re famous for inventing terms like “cyberspace.” Now you’re using brand names and other people’s terms. Does it change the process to be using pre-existing slang?

I invented cyberspace? I need a lawyer. I need retroactive trademark protections.

Pattern Recognition was optioned for a film adaptation a few years ago. Has there been any movement on that?

Fuck film. Put that shit on TV. That's where the good stuff lives anyway.

You characters wade through intellectual one-upsmanship and high concepts, but in the end, personal relationships matter the most. Do you think these connections are more important to us in the digital age?

They are. Just go to your FaceBook and pull up your friends list. Who's gonna turn up at the hospital, feed your cat, and maybe even help you out with your bills when something catastrophic happens to you? The more people that you have like that in your life, the better off you are. In the digital age, we have an opportunity to expand that circle in new and different ways. It's is perfectly possible to have real personal digital friendship that can reach that level. We don't know our next door neighbors like we did in the pre-digital age, but you only had the people on either side of you and down the street. Now, you've got a whole planet of connections, but a lot of those aren't very deep, it makes the real ones more important, real world-based or otherwise.
©2016 Michael Patrick Sullivan