ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Books and News22 Sep 2007

Gaelan and I went to hear William Gibson tonight. William F****** Gibson! The guy who invented the word “cyberspace” back in 1984!

He was reading and speaking at the archives as part of the Ottawa Writers Festival. He read from his new book, Spook Country, which, like the last one, is set in the present (or the past, actually: spring of 2006). “I’ve been writing books set in the 21st century since the 1980s,” he quipped, when asked about his “non-futuristic sci-fi”. After the reading, a local CBC host interviewed him and then he took questions from the audience. He was on stage for a good 90 minutes.

Despite the interview format, he was definitely in command of the discussion. Listening to him speak gave me the same feeling you get when your favorite prof. gives a really good lecture. For a man that pioneered the hyperactive world of cyberpunk, he speaks very slowly and deliberately.

He covered a fair bit of ground. One thing that stuck out for me was “Science Fiction is no more about the future than county music is about the country. And just as with country music, some people realize that, and some people don’t.” He went on to say that George Orwell’s 1984, written in 1948, didn’t need to look ahead to the future: that wasn’t the point. 1984 was built out of pieces of 1948, and was intended to make a statement about the present. This view of sci fi (or “speculative fiction”) as using the future as a convenient setting to make a statement about the present isn’t news to me, but it was nice to hear him say it.

Another thing he said was that before he started reading sci-fi, finding some old reels of wire containing audio recordings from the second world war for which no player existed anymore was an important experience for him. “Whenever I see some new technology, part of me always pictures it in a box under a table at a rummage sale in a parking lot”.

He also said he cringed the first time he heard the term “cyberpunk”.

He signed books for a while after the talk, so I got him to sign a newly-acquired copy of Spook Country. I shook his hand and thanked him for writing so many great books. Gaelan got him to sign a well-used copy of Neuromancer.

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