William Gibson: The Rolling Stone interview

The 40th Anniversary ish of Rolling Stone contains an excellent interview with William Gibson, conducted by Salon's Andrew Leonard.
Totally ubiquitous computing. One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real, the virtual from the real. In the future, that will become literally impossible. The distinction between cyberspace and that which isn't cyberspace is going to be unimaginable. When I wrote Neuromancer in 1984, cyberspace already existed for some people, but they didn't spend all their time there. So cyberspace was there, and we were here. Now cyberspace is here for a lot of us, and there has become any state of relative nonconnectivity. There is where they don't have Wi-Fi...

I find myself less pessimistic than I sometimes imagine I should be. When I started to write science fiction, the intelligent and informed position on humanity's future was that it wasn't going to have one at all. We've forgotten that a whole lot of smart people used to wake up every day thinking that that day could well be the day the world ended. So when I started writing what people saw as this grisly dystopian, punky science fiction, I actually felt that I was being wildly optimistic: "Hey, look – you do have a future. It's kind of harsh, but here it is." I wasn't going the post-apocalyptic route, which, as a regular civilian walking around the world, was pretty much what I expected to happen myself.


See also:
William Gibson's Spook Country
Original proposal for William Gibson's Spook Country
William Gibson explains why science fiction is about the present



  1. seems like everyone keeps asking Gibson the same damned questions, and he’s having to repackage his answers. I realize not everyone is a fanboy like me and reads all of them, but it’s like I’ve reread the same interview for the past year or so.

    someone needs to do another No Maps-type interview. (not another limo ride with a camera, but something equally cool and insightful. let the man ramble.)

  2. Well, its the only interview I’ve read so far, so I don’t know if Gibson’s been taken to task on this, but what is UP with the constant referencing of brand names in Spook Country? Its like you are caught up reading this beautiful, intriguing book and then all of a sudden its like, “and now for these messages from our corporate sponsors!” I really don’t care who got paid or didn’t for all the brand name dropping in the book, but it really disrupts my reading experience. When I’m watching a movie or t.v. and someone grabs for a can or a bottle of some very specific consumer something I don’t really care. But reading feels so much more intimate and private and when what seems to be totally blatant and tasteless advertising flashes by I feel imposed upon in a very unwelcome way. But still, I can’t stop reading!

  3. to wolfiesma:

    I too am bothered by gratuitous reference (in most any medium) to branding – its jarring and interrupting. I haven’t yet read this Gibson book, but my guess is that he is trying to capture the current state of language. I try not to use brand names in daily speech – but have you ever asked random people for driving directions? What they did on the weekend? What are some things they like? Often answers to those and similar questions will usually be a string of verbs connected by brand names and adjectives like ‘really’ or ‘awesome’.

    ‘Just drive to the Wendy’s, turn left, go to the really big Wallmart, look for the awesome McDonalds, and you’re there.’ – ‘I had an awesome time, we ate at Olive Garden, got some Coors, and got wicked trashed, and rolled into 7-11 at 8am’ etc… etc…

    Its not Gibson’s fault, its ours. Our language is so impoverished by the omnipresence of branding, even for those who consciously reject it, its almost impossible not to be inundated by it.

  4. Gibson doesn’t use brand names in his fiction as a way of promoting products (except maybe in the case of the Buzz Rickson Flight Jacket). Instead, I think he (correctly) sees the brand name as one of the key means by which we can visualize those enormously complex global supply chains upon which our lives depend.

    Think about scenes like the one in “Pattern Recognition” where Cayce is asked to approve a prospective sneaker logo and for a moment envisions the assembly line of Asian workers who would produce the sneakers onto which the sperm-like logo would be emblazoned–should she approve it.

    Brands are part of our world–forms of intellectual property worth billions of dollars in their own right. And their value isn’t (only) about the quality of the products they’re associated with but also related to their cultural meanings and history. There is a crazy amount of marketing and branding research dedicated to understanding how brands accrue cultural value. Most of it is crap.

    Frankly, Gibson is far more insightful about how these things work than even the very best marketing researcher.

  5. I agree our language has become impoverished and that our ability to express ourselves with precision has atrophied, but that is why I turn to brilliant writers like Gibson. If he is just reflecting the culture’s linguistic degradation and brand saturation then why doesn’t it feel more natural? Maybe he is exaggerating these aspects of the culture so we see them more clearly. I have to admit, the references to RedBull and Ipods (and Ativan!) seem appropriate, but the Marlboro and PowerBook references feel forced. I accept the brand name when I have a relationship with the product, but if I don’t, I want the generic object described instead (so maybe I can imagine my own special brand in its place!)

    Thanks for helping me get my head around this.

  6. Like Kromekoran, I’m getting mighty sick of rereading the same basic “Spook Country” interview. WG’s response to the term “fraught” seems to be the only new thing this one brings to the table – maybe that’s just because I’m a total Jameson nerd.

    To Wolfiesma: To take up your question, I’d say that there’s very little that’s “natural” about the relationships that the characters in “Pattern Recognition” and “Spook Country” have with the world around them. Almost without exception, they seem fragmentary, isolated, adrift in the cultural wilderness of late capitalism (“No Maps For These Territories”), trying to plot a course through all of the overlapping worlds of the present (sorry if this all sounds pretentious – I just finished some work on “PR” and Jameson’s cognitive mapping). The one exception I might posit is Tito, and the stability that his family and systema offer.

    You could be entirely right, though – this might be more about craft than intent or effect. One aspect of “Pattern Recognition” that I did find revolutionary in terms of normalcy was the simple fact that it was the first novel I’ve read which actually communicated the experience of checking and exchanging e-mail and posting online without resorting to awkward and stuttering prose explaining the nuts n’ bolts of what was happening. Almost every novel I’ve read in which online communication (present or future) played a major role invariably resorts to tacky infodumps, or at least drawing far more attention to the process than any character would pay. “PR,” on the other hand, wrote about these things as they are today: as common as walking downstairs.

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