Distrust That Particular Flavor: William Gibson's long-overdue essay collection

The remarkable thing about Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson's debut essay collection, is that it was so long in coming, collecting two-and-a-half decades' worth of nonfiction, opinion, travelogue, memoir, media theory, speeches, criticism, and miscellania. Because although Gibson disclaims any title to being an essayist — he says in his introduction that writing nonfiction always felt like cheating on his fiction work — he's awfully good at it. Even when the pieces are slight — as a few of these are — they are always delightful, exquisitely written, done to a turn with both insight and that unmistakable prose that is just shy of spectacular (Gibson once told me that he is averse to spectacular prose, it strikes him as premeditated and ostentatious).

There are many different threads in this book, but they converge on a few themes: one is Gibson's relationship to the Internet. He is, after all, the infamous creator of the term "cyberspace" who even more infamously refused to use email (he preferred faxes) until well into the net era, a man who is (falsely) reputed to use a manual typewriter in preference to computers. Another is Gibson's relation to technology, design, aesthetics and culture, from the underground rock scene he found himself in as a slacker in his early twenties to the gaudy pulp science fiction paperbacks he reared himself on to the ancient military firearm he found in his parents' attic as a boy. These threads converge in a pair of essays on Japan — a place of futuristic aesthetics, forward design, and odd history — an essay on Gibson's early obsession with eBay and the vintage watches to be had there, and in a transcript of a speech on robots, cyborgs and digital brains that is a moving piece of memoir shot through with prediction and technological insight.

By many standards, Gibson is a slow writer — his book publishing career is 27 years old, and consists of nine and a half novels, a book of short stories and this collection of essays — but he is a very, very fine one. His work has been seminal to many key moments at the end of the last century and the start of this one, and it is a rare pleasure to read his direct reflections on society and his work, rather than inferring them from his fiction. This is a fine and even essential complement to the Gibson canon, and a delight to read.

Distrust That Particular Flavor