Posts tagged: William Gibson
Gibson recently made an appearance at the New York Public Library, and he also did a surprise reading of the first couple pages of his forthcoming science fiction novel The Peripheral. The reading begins about 80 minutes in.
For more Gibson, check out our dossier.
A while back someone put every issue of OMNI Magazine online for free download in PDF and other formats. Over at the William Gibson forums, Memetic Engineer rounded up all the issues of OMNI that are available for download and have stories by William Gibson in them:
May 1981, features “Johnny Mnemonic.” From the contributors page: “Gibson is a full-time writer living in Vancouver, British Columbia. His work appears in two anthologies, Universe 11 and Shadows 4, both published this year by Doubleday. The issue also features a story by Ray Bradbury and an interview with David Cronenberg.
July 1982 features “Burning Chrome.”
July 1983 features “Red Star, Winter Orbit” by Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
July 1984 features “New Rose Hotel.” (Which was turned into the Gibson movie you never heard about: directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento)
July 1985 features “Dogfight” by Gibson and Michael Swanwick.
The October 1981 issue features “Hinterlands,” but it’s not available in the OMNI archives.
The text on these scans is readable but blurry. If you just want to read the stories, buy the Burning Chrome collection.
See also: William Gibson dossier
Wired has a profile of performance artist Stelarc, whose extreme body modifications predate the modern grinder movement by several years. He’s probably most famous for the third ear that he has on his arm, which is partly surgically constructed and partly cell-grown.
“At present it’s only a relief of an ear,” Stelarc said. “When the ear becomes a more 3-D structure we’ll reinsert the small microphone that connects to a wireless transmitter.” In any Wi-Fi hotspot, he said, it will become internet-enabled. “So if you’re in San Francisco and I’m in London, you’ll be able to listen in to what my ear is hearing, wherever you are and wherever I am.” […]
William Gibson, a friend of Stelarc’s, once wrote: “Stelarc’s art never seemed futuristic to me. If it were, I doubt I would respond to it. Rather, I experience it in a context that includes circuses, freak shows, medical museums, the passions of solitary inventors. I associate it with da Vinci’s ornithopter, eccentric nineteenth-century velocipedes, and Victorian schemes for electroplating the dead — though not retrograde in any way. Instead, it seems timeless, as though each performance constitutes a moment equivalent to those collected in Humphrey Jennings’ Pandaemonium: The Coming of the Man-Machine in the Industrial Revolution — moments of the purest technologically induced cognitive disjunction.”
Meanwhile, doctors have grown an ear on a woman’s arm. I was a little confused by the story, but I think what they’re doing is growing the ear on her arm with intention of moving it to her head later.
Wired has a long interview up with William Gibson on mechanical watches, Twitter, punk rock and Gungdam Style (he also refuses to talk about the Neuromancer movie, saying only that it does seem to be progressing):
The watch thing, fortunately, was kind of a self-limiting experiment…. I felt when I started doing that, that I’d never really been able to have a hobby in an adult sense, a hobby that was completely divorced from anything else I do in life, and a hobby that required an impossibly steep, insane learning curve. I actually did that.
I just learned stuff about old watches for maybe four or five years…. I got to the point where I could pass for semi-informed in the company of really world-class authorities, but by the time I got there, I realized that it had nothing to do with accumulating examples of one particular kind of thing — which I always found kind of creepy about collecting.
Anyway, I never wanted to be a collector of anything; I just wanted to pointlessly know really a lot about one thing. I did it with that, but there was sort of an end to the curve. I guess the end to the curve was realizing that what it had been about was the sheer pointless pleasure of learning this vast, useless body of knowledge. And then I was done [laughs]. I haven’t had to do that for ages. And I’ve never gotten another one of those; that may have been my one experience with that. But it was totally fun — I met some extraordinarily strange people over the course of doing that.
None of that would have been possible, but for the internet. In the old days, if you wanted to become insanely knowledgeable about something like that, you basically had to be insane — you had to travel around the world, finding other people who were sufficiently crazy to know everything there was to know about that. That would have been so hard to do, dependent on sheer luck, that it kept the numbers of those people down.
But now you can be a kid in a town in the backwoods of Brazil, and you can wake up one morning and say, “I want to know everything about stainless steel sports watches from the 1950s,” and if you really applied yourself, to the internet, at the end of the year you would have the equivalent of a master’s degree in this tiny pointless field. I’ve totally met lots of people who have the equivalent of that degree.
Probably Twitter would be the thing, the thing that took over the time slot from that. For the most part.
I’ve written here before about “future fatigue,” a modern condition from which I seem to suffer. Over at TechCrunch I wrote about why I think the space democratization movement cuts through my future fatigue:
What gives me a real “future buzz” are the things that haven’t been science fiction tropes for decades. Like electric cigarettes. The whole idea weirds me out. And if someone had told me in the 2000 that my friends would be smoking electronic cigarettes in 2012, I’d have told them they were full of it. At first I only saw them advertised on torrent trackers and the like, advertised along with penis enlargement pills and services that would connect me with “adult friends.” I thought electronic cigarettes were just a scam. But now I regularly see people I know smoking them.
Electric cigarettes seem like a true novelty. More so than quantum teleportation or iPhones or the Large Hadron Collider, electronic cigarettes make me feel like I’m living in the future.
The thing is electronic cigarettes are actually pretty low tech. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, the first electronic cigarette was invented back in the 60s but never commercialized. I can imagine them showing up in ads in the back of comic books, along side x-ray specs, the 60s equivalent of advertising on torrent sites. It apparently took until 2000 for someone else to take the idea seriously. Realistically the 60s version would probably have been much larger, and I’m not sure the components would have been cheap enough in the 60s to make it economical and you wouldn’t be able to charge it over USB. But we’re just talking about freebasing drugs here, not quantum teleportation.
We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!
Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality? - Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier interviewed by R.U. back in 2002.
Notes from a William Gibson Q&A Session (9/08/10), which covers a little of the same ground.
I recently read Clay Johnson’s book Information Diet and it’s changing the way I think about my consumption, production and sharing of media. I’m still trying to figure out what’s best for me as a media professional. How can I have a healthy media intake and remain gainfully employed? I need to keep up with what others are writing on my beats, what’s going on the tech industry as a whole and in the world in general. I also need to keep up with what’s going on in the journalism profession. Plus I have other interests I like to follow. All the while I need to avoid filter bubbles and expose myself to serendipity for the chance to make new connections and find new angles on beats.
As I try to work it all out, I enjoy reading about other writers’ media diets. Earlier this month Warren Ellis wrote that he reads about 100 blogs on various subjects, and indirectly addressed the issue of filter bubbles and serendipity.
“I read a newspaper every day, and I watch a well-produced, intelligent news analysis programme every night, and I have been known to leave 24-hour news running in a video window all day, and that still doesn’t give me a world picture in the way that my blog capture does,” Ellis writes. “The only way to find interesting things to talk about is to be open to the world as possible, and tune your machinery to bring as much of it to you as possible, without getting to the point where you’re getting no time to process it.”
I found that to be an interesting counter perspective to the notion that we get less, not more, variety from blogs than we get from a daily paper - the idea that, as expressed by Cass Sunstein, newspapers provide a better architecture for seredipity. Abe Burmeister called the suburbanization of information:
Physical newspapers play a similar mixing role, especially those that strive towards mass market audience. The more people they try to attract, the broader the mix of news stories. Turning the pages and sorting the sections is a constant reinforcement of the diversity of information in the world. We may ignore large chunks of it, but somewhere inside we know that other people actually do care about the sports section, science section, international affairs or the local stories.
As more and more people go online for news, we are losing site of the mix. News aggregators, blogs, email alerts and customizable websites give us a tremendous ability to focus our information. We surround ourselves with the news that we want to hear/see/feel. We can zip around in snug little information cocoons, isolated from the harsh reality of different ways of thinking. Those nasty conflicting viewpoints are relegated to trashbin of somebody else’s RSS feed.
William Gibson told Richard Metzger that Twitter is the greatest aggregator of novelty and that following the right 70 people is like a shopping bag full of imported magazines. Of course 70 is a really small number of people to follow on Twitter (and Gibson is now following over 100 as of this writing). And as Ellis points out, 100 blogs isn’t an astronomical number compared to some media junkies intake. Personally, I rely mostly on Twitter now for information aggregation and don’t use an RSS reader much anymore. I follow 402 people or publications on Twitter (down from about 600 before I read Information Diet). I’m trying to cut that number down further, hopefully to 200.
Of course Ellis and Gibson are professional writers of fiction, not journalists on a particular beat or citizens just trying to stay informed. I’m sure Ellis, and possibly Gibson as well, is also very consciously choosing people and publications to follow to avoid filter bubble and ensure some measure of serendipity.
I’ve often wanted some sort of “seredipity engine” that could show me random posts from a large pool of blogs - not too much stuff, just a small water fountain split off from a firehose, not filtered by what other people I follow read, not what’s popular with the world in general, and not sorted by what some algorithm thinks I want to read - just a nearly random list of articles outside my usual bubble. (I say nearly random because I would want it somewhat controlled to reduce the number of articles on the same topic, and to keep publications that publish multiple times a day to flood out publications on a less hectic schedule.)
These are my notes from William Gibson’s Q&A session after his Zero History reading at Powells Books in Portland, OR on 9/08/2010 (here are some photographs from the evening). I thought initially that most of this would come up in other interviews, but I recently reviewed my notes and realized that although some of it has come up elsewhere, some of it is either unique or unusual. So I decided to type up my notes.
Gibson started off saying “Powells is the best book store in the world. It’s not even a book store, it’s a genre all to its own,” before reading the first chapter of Zero History. After the reading he said “The reason I write opening chapters the way I do is to get rid of all the people who won’t ‘get’ the book. They’re all fairly easy to read after the first chapter.” He then opened up to questions. Most, probably all, of these answers are incomplete - but close to direct quotes from larger answers. I didn’t ask most of these questions and didn’t get down the exact questions asked.
Q: What’s next?
Gibson: I have no idea. I have to have no idea. I know no one believes me, but I never intended to make trilogies. When I was learning about writing, I was told that trilogy was a long novel with a boring middle published separately. I think the books could be read in any order. I think I would be interesting to read these backwards. But maybe that’s too advanced.
[of course now he’s said that his next novel will probably be about the future]
Where do you go for inspiration?
I’m not a globe trotting writer/researcher. Wherever I happen to go usually ends up in the book. For example, I happened to go to Myrtle Beach a few months before I wrote the book and I thought it was suitably weird.
Asked about predictions.
I’m not interested in the sort of sci-fi that does or doesn’t predict the iPad. I’m interested in how people behave.
Asked about the intelligence communities in his books
I don’t want anyone to think I’ve gone “Tom Clancy” but what you find is that you have fans in every line of work. How reliable those narrators are I don’t know, but they tell a good story.
Asked about humor in his work.
Neuromancer was not without a comedic edge. My cyberpunk colleagues and I back in our cyberpunk rat hole sniggered mightily as we slapped our knees.
But writers can’t have more than two hooks. “Gritty, punky,” sure. “Gritty, punky, funny” doesn’t work.
I asked him about the slogan “Never in fashion, always in style” because I read that slogan on his blog and never found out what company that slogan actually belonged to.
Aero Leathers in Scotland. But they weight too much. You wouldn’t tour in a WWII motorcyle jacket unless of course you were on a WWII motorcycle. [Gibson reportedly wore an Acronym jacket on the Zero History tour]
Asked about Twitter
Twitter is the best aggregator of novelty anywhere. There’s more weird shit there than anywhere. It’s the equivalent value of $300 worth of imported magazines for free every day.
Asked about hypertext/electronic media and how it is changing his work.
The book is a cloud of hyperlinks. You can Google any unfamiliar phrase and you will be sort of walking in my shoes, going where I did in my research. The links are there, and there’s even some easter eggs.
I’m not sure what question this was in response to
I large part of my narrative comes from growing up in a particularly backwards part of the south, which had a particularly spoken culture.
Asked about his favorite contemporary writers
Asked about the punk influence on his work.
It wasn’t the Sex Pistols, it was Waylon and Willy.
Asked what sci-fi influenced him.
Certain sci-fi that never had much impact on the mainstream of the genre. My novels have had very little impact as well. If you don’t believe me, go down to a sci-fi specialist shop. Cyberpunk has become a descriptor - cyberpunk albums, cyberpunk pants.
Asked about cyberpunk’s legacy.
Anything with a manifesto ends up looking silly.
Asked what he thinks of the post-cyberpunk writers, Cory Doctorow et al.
I think the original cyberpunks were a little thin on the ground.
See also: William Gibson dossier.
For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future, which sounds more portentous than I mean. What I mean is that we’ve got frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future, the failure of jetpacks, and we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown products.
Bruce Sterling described it as sort of an antidote to atemporality.
Matt “Black Belt” Jones wrote this in response, proposing “sensor vernacular” as the new future vibe:
I guess – like NASA imagery – it doesn’t acquire that whiff-of-nostalgia-for-a-lost-future if you don’t remember it from the first time round. For a while, anyway. […]
There’s both a nowness and nextness to Sensor-Vernacular.
I think my attraction to it – what ever it is – is that these signals are hints that the hangover of 10 years of ‘war-on-terror’ funding into defense and surveillance technology (where after all the advances in computer vision and relative-cheapness of devices like the Kinect came from) might get turned into an exuberant party.
I like Bridle’s stuff, but it’s hard for me to feel like it’s a truly new aesthetic. The fashion bits look like electro revival scene style from the 00s that continue to be popular today, which is itself a revival of 80s electro, hip-hop and synthpop. And 8-bit already got a revival in the 90s and 00s, and of course that was all 80s nostalgia. Glitch still felt vital in the early 00s, but it’s by now passe (and it was all probably predated by Amiga stuff anyway). A lot of this stuff Bridle is rounding up still feels like retrofuturism rather than something new. We’ve had steampunk and dieselpunk and atompunk, so now it’s pixelpunk. We’re about to hit full circle and have retro-cyberpunk complete with VR headsets and Power Gloves.
And as to sensor vernacular, does that feel like “the Future”? Not to me. This machine vision stuff has been coming to us for a long time, with Terminator, Predator, Until the End of the World, etc. We’ve seen visions of the future where computers triggered by sensors, voice driven computers, unmanned aircraft for decades now. So now we’re seeing augmented reality, we’re seeing Kinect, we’re seeing Geoloqi and the Internet of Things, and yes it all feels very “now” but it doesn’t feel that much like the future because it’s just taking too long for technology to catch up to our imaginations. Kinect and Siri just aren’t Kit or HAL.
In 2010 William Gibson wrote about “future fatigue,” a symptom or perhaps cause of the atemporality that Bridle decries:
Say it’s midway through the final year of the first decade of the 21st Century. Say that, last week, two things happened: scientists in China announced successful quantum teleportation over a distance of ten miles, while other scientists, in Maryland, announced the creation of an artificial, self-replicating genome. In this particular version of the 21st Century, which happens to be the one you’re living in, neither of these stories attracted a very great deal of attention.
In quantum teleportation, no matter is transferred, but information may be conveyed across a distance, without resorting to a signal in any traditional sense. Still, it’s the word “teleportation”, used seriously, in a headline. My “no kidding” module was activated: “No kidding,” I said to myself, “teleportation.” A slight amazement. […]
Alvin Toffler warned us about Future Shock, but is this Future Fatigue? For the past decade or so, the only critics of science fiction I pay any attention to, all three of them, have been slyly declaring that the Future is over. I wouldn’t blame anyone for assuming that this is akin to the declaration that history was over, and just as silly. But really I think they’re talking about the capital-F Future, which in my lifetime has been a cult, if not a religion. People my age are products of the culture of the capital-F Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don’t know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one’s own culture.
While Gibsons’s Neuromancer is mostly remembered for cyberspace and virtual reality and artificial intelligence, there’s a lot more going on in that particular future setting. Just about everything that was “the future” during Gibson’s life time up to the point that the Sprawl Trilogy books were written: neurotechnology, nanotechnology, space travel, life extension, cryogenics, biological computers and all sorts of other weird biotech. There are even geodesic domes and arcologies.
Where do you really go from there? The transhumanist and singularitian authors like Vernor Vinge, Ken McLeod and Charlie Stross try to take it further, but although their novels may be better and more scientifically accurate do they really have a vision of the future more advanced than Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov? And besides, even the extropian/singularian strain has actually been around at least as long as the cyberpunk strain.
The Headmap Manifesto was such a buzz when I first read it in 2003 (I can only imagine what it was like to read it in 1999). It didn’t so much predict new technologies - mobile phones, GPS and handheld computers all existed at the time - but rather new uses for existing technologies. I already had a smart phone when I read but it still seemed exciting. Minority Report didn’t predict any future technology that you couldn’t have read about long before the movie was released 10 years ago, but it captured many people imaginations because so much of it seemed to be right around the corner. But now as these things arrive - location aware applications, the Kinect - instead of being amazed we say “oh, it’s about time.” A friend of mine just bought a 3D printer, which is really cool but it’s yet another “it’s about time” rather than a future shock.
What comes next, other than iterative improvements to what we already have? Vat grown meat and organs for transplanting? When your first relative gets a vat grown heart transplant, will you think “that’s amazing” or “thank God they figured out how to do that in time?”
The other night in Portland, Gibson said Twitter was the equivalent of only $300 worth of imported magazines - guess the value has already inflated.
I thought Richard’s comment about how there may never be another LOST was interesting.