Tag Archives: William Gibson

William Gibson does not think our present was anyone’s future

David Wallace-Wells has a long interview with William Gibson on the Art of Fiction in the Paris Review.  The interview concludes

Do you think of your last three books as being science fiction?


No, I think of them as attempts to disprove the distinction or attempts to dissolve the boundary. They are set in a world that meets virtually every criteria of being science fiction, but it happens to be our world, and it’s barely tweaked by the author to make the technology just fractionally imaginary or fantastic. It has, to my mind, the effect of science fiction.

If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. Granted, you have half a dozen powerful and really excellent plot drivers for that many science-fiction n­ovels, but you can’t have them all in one novel.


What are those major plot drivers?


Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences. There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa. New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.


And you haven’t even gotten to the technology.


You haven’t even gotten to the Internet. By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door. It’s just too much science fiction.

Scenarios have to be plausible, but reality is under no such constraints.

Pattern recognition

I quoted William Gibson‘s book Pattern Recognition in a workshop on Expertise for the Future the other day.  Gibson wrote:

… we have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which ‘now’ was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents’ have insufficient ‘now’ to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. … We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.

In the novel the words are spoken by Hubertus Bigend a smart, but creepy public relations media entrepreneur,suggesting that while it is an insightful comment on some of the current problems of thinking about the future, maybe we shouldn’t take it as the last word.

William Gibson on the future

Novelist William Gibson interviewed by BBC News:

The rapid rate of technological and social change means the future comes crashing towards us faster than ever before, says visionary science fiction author William Gibson.

“In the 1960s I think that in some sense the present was actually about three or four years long,” he said, “because in three or four years relatively little would change.”

That stood in sharp contrast to late 2010, he said, when big changes had become a daily occurrence.

“Now the present is the length of a news cycle some days,” he said in an interview with BBC News.

That ferocious rate of change made writing about the present day exciting, he said, and explained why his current novel, Zero History, is set around about now.

“The present is really of no width whatever,” he said.

Realising how things were speeding up made Mr Gibson take a conscious decision to recalibrate what he described as his sense of “contemporary weirdness” that fuels his writing.

“By the time I had finished my sixth novel I had this nagging sense that my yardstick of contemporary weirdness was really an 80s yardstick,” he said.

“There’s a sense in which I need the formal official metric unit of contemporary weirdness in order to know how much I can successfully expand that and induce science fiction’s characteristic cognitive dissonance in the reader.

“What I actually found was that this contemporary weirdness was incredibly expansive and the deeper I looked into it the weirder it got,” he said.