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Across the Border to Spook Country
For the last few decades, William Gibson, who grew up in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States, has lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, just across the border from Amazon.com's Seattle headquarters, which made for a short drive for a lunchtime interview before the release of Spook Country. We met just a few miles from where the storylines of the new novel, in a rare scene set in Gibson's own city, converge. You can read the full transcript of the interview, in which we discussed, among other things, writing in the age of Google, visiting the Second Life virtual world, the possibilities of science fiction in an age of rapid change, and his original proposal for Spook Country, which we have available for viewing on our site. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
Amazon.com: Could you start by telling us a little bit about the scenario of the new book?
William Gibson: It's a book in which shadowy and mysterious characters are using New York's smallest crime family, a sort of boutique operation of smugglers and so-called illegal facilitators, to get something into North America. And you have to hang around to the end of the book to find out what they're doing. So I guess it's a caper novel in that regard.
Amazon.com: The line on your last book, Pattern Recognition was that the present had caught up with William Gibson's future. So many of the things you imagined have come true that in a way it seems like we're all living in science fiction now. Is that the way you felt when you came to write that book, that the real world had caught up with your ideas?
Gibson: Well, I thought that writing about the world today as I perceive it would probably be more challenging, in the real sense of science fiction, than continuing just to make things up. And I found that to absolutely be the case. If I'm going to write fiction set in an imaginary future now, I'm going to need a yardstick that gives me some accurate sense of how weird things are now. 'Cause I'm going to have to go beyond that. And I think over the course of these last two books--I don't think I'm done yet--I've been getting a yardstick together. But I don't know if I'll be able to do it again. I don't know if I'll be able to make up an imaginary future in the same way. In the '80s and '90s--as strange as it may seem to say this--we had such luxury of stability. Things weren't changing quite so quickly in the '80s and '90s. And when things are changing too quickly, as one of the characters in Pattern Recognition says, you don't have any place to stand from which to imagine a very elaborate future.
Amazon.com: Now that you're writing about the present, do you consider yourself a science fiction writer these days? Because the marketplace still does.
Gibson: I never really believed in the separation. But science fiction is definitely where I'm from. Science fiction is my native literary culture. It's what I started reading, and I think the thing that actually makes me a bit different than some of the science fiction writers I've met who are my own age is that I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and William Burroughs in the same week. And I started reading Beat poets a year later, and got that in the mix. That really changed the direction. But it seems like such an old-fashioned way of looking at things. And it's better not to be pinned down. It's a matter of where you're allowed to park. If you can park in the science fiction bookstore, that's good. If you can park in the other bookstore, that's really good. If people come and buy it at Amazon, that's really good.
I'm sure I must have readers from 20 years ago who are just despairing of the absence of cyberstuff, or girls with bionic fingernails. But that just the way it is. All of that stuff reads so differently now. I think nothing dates more quickly than science fiction. Nothing dates more quickly than an imaginary future. It's acquiring a patina of quaintness even before you've got it in the envelope to send to the publisher.
Amazon.com: So do you think that's your own career path, that you're less interested in imagining a future, or do you think that the world is changing?
Gibson: I think it's actually both. Until fairly recently, I had assumed that it was me, me being drawn to use this toolkit I'd acquired when I was a teenager, and using my old SF toolkit in some kind of attempt at naturalism, 21st-century naturalistic fiction. But over the last five to six years it's started to seem to me that there's something else going on as well, that maybe we're in what the characters in my novel Idoru call a "nodal point," or a series of them. We're in a place where things could just go anywhere. A couple of weeks ago I happened to read Charlie Stross's argument as to why he believes that there will never, ever be any manned space travel. It's not going to happen. We're not going to colonize Mars. All of that is just a big fantasy. And it's so convincing. I read that and I'm like, "My god, there goes so much of the fiction I read as a child."
The main character could of been interesting, but wasn't really developed much.
The book's main problem seems to be its characters, who aren't particularly engaging - particularly the addict is too passive a character.
I thought I'd like where it was going when I first started reading it but, in the end, it just left far too much to be desired.
William Gibson is an amazing writer. His descriptions, such as: "The old man reminded Tito of those ghost-signs, fading high on the windowless sides of blackened buildings,... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Piper
I read it with great pleasure, especially the parts of narrative related to Tito and Milgrim, despite the feeling of sorrow that both are too good to be real.Published 3 months ago by yp1ripe
William Gibson, so famous for his cyber-punk novels, many of which predated the internet (well, at least the present incarnation of it) has gone on to write these funky,... Read morePublished 3 months ago by arcarc_reviews
Tedious and slow, with characters not worth caring about, a dull almost non-existent plot and lacking in sufficient action or suspense to maintain even a basic level of interest. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Says who?
William Gibson has always being a visionary author, but this time his novel is place in present time, which makes it harder to create speculative science fiction, but some he... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jose Maria Arteaga
Enjoyed his book for the narrative, and the characters, but the overall ending left a lot to be desired. Fairly typical read for his books, and I still enjoy them.Published 7 months ago by James Schmeling
This was my first William Gibson book. Loved it. Indeed, an odyssey of whackos. Thomas Pynchon's V is one of my favorite books and I felt a little of V in Spook Country--not so... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Roger
Hollis Henry, a former lead singer, is a would-be journalist on her first assignment for Node Magazine. She's investigating 'Locative Art' in Los Angeles. Read morePublished 11 months ago by John L. Miller
Spook Country, the second book in the so-far three book series starting with Pattern Recognition, deals with Augmented Reality, spying and counterterrorism, featuring a cast of... Read morePublished 17 months ago by jokergirl