"Future shock is already here." -- William Gibson

"You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work." -- William Gibson

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

With the publication of his first novel Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson achieved unprecedented success by winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best science fiction and fantasy novel, plus the Philip K. Dick Award for best original science fiction paperback. Two years after the movie Blade Runner (1982), the emergence of Gibson's realm of "cyberspace"; coincided with the cultural deluge of the internet. Computer geeks and hackers could be heroes, or at least dramatic characters. Gibson became the newly crowned godfather of cyberpunk, a movement that has given rise to a spate of futuristic films, some cheesy, some brilliant. Gibson's world-ranging fiction is an interplay between dread and ecstasy, with riffs about technology as if it is a new drug.

William Ford Gibson, the "King of Dystopia,"; was born in Conway, South Carolina, in 1948. His father, who worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the first atomic bombs were made, died accidentally on a business trip. After that, he grew up in the small mountain town of Wytheville in southwest Virginia, which he disliked, until he was 15. When the family TV set finally was able to receive programs, he became greatly enamoured of a show called Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, and sent away to receive a ray gun and space helmet. At age 13, he decided he should become a science fiction writer. He attended boarding school in Arizona and developed an interest in the science fiction of Ray Bradbury. Gibson's other early literary influences included Bruce Springsteen, William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon. He once told Rolling Stone magazine, "I want to eroticize computers the way Bruce Springsteen eroticized cars.";

At age 18, in response to what he calls the "Kafka-esque"; possibility of being drafted, he came to live in Toronto's Yorkville district where he met Deborah Thompson. They travelled in Europe, married, and came to Vancouver in 1972 to be near her parents. Gibson's first published story, "Fragments of a Hologram Rose,"; appeared in Boston's UnEarth magazine in 1977. It was written as a course assignment at UBC, and he earned $23 for it. He graduated from UBC and began writing science fiction in 1980. In 1981, Omni magazine bought the first story he sent them, "Johnny Mnemonic,"; for $2,000, and asked for another, whereupon Gibson was encouraged to complete a novel. In 1986, Gibson sold the screen rights for Neuromancer and published his second novel in his Sprawl trilogy, Count Zero (1986), containing some of Neuromancer's characters. Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) completed the trilogy. Gibson has been hired to write screenplays, including a draft for Aliens 3. One of his short stories became the basis for the 1995 movie Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves; another was the basis for the 1999 movie New Rose Hotel starring Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento. The stork-like, bespectacled Gibson made a cameo appearance in the mini-series Wild Palms and was interviewed by Playboy. His writing reportedly inspired U2's song "Zooropa,"; and the rock band's Zoo TV tour.

FULL ENTRY:

At the turn of the Millennium, the two most famous living authors of British Columbia were undoubtedly Douglas Coupland and William Gibson.

With the publication of his first novel Neuromancer (1984), William Gibson achieved unprecedented success by winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best SF novel of the year, plus the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award for best original SF paperback.

As noted by the Moria site for fantasy and horror reviews, "Gibson's vision of a densely detailed future, vying between corporate echelons and a teeming streetlife packed with hi-tech hackers and rogue genetic engineers, and a background filled with affectedly casual information-dense in-references to brand name technological and pop culture innovations heralded a stylistic revolution, the likes of which science-fiction hadn't quite seen before." Except, of course, if one discounts the movie Bladerunner (1982).

Gibson's literary realm of 'cyberspace' coincided with the new cultural deluge of the internet. Computer geeks and hackers could be heroes, or at least dramatic characters. Gibson was the newly crowned godfather of cyberpunk, a movement that has given rise to a spate of futuristic films, some cheesy, some brilliant. Gibson's world-ranging fiction is an interplay between dread and ecstasy, with riffs about technology as if it's a new drug. As the flavour of the decade, Gibson has had numerous projects under consideration by Hollywood heavies such as James Cameron, Russell Mulcahy, Kathryn Bigelow and Peter Weir. He has contributed scripts to The X Files and is the subject of a documentary called No Maps for These Territories (2000). In 2008, William Gibson received an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser University for helping to "introduce the concept of cyberspace to the world."

William Ford Gibson, the 'King of Dystopia', was born in Conway, South Carolina ("a place like a gas station";) on March 17, 1948. His father worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee where the first bombs were made. His father died accidentally on a business trip when Gibson was old enough to start school. After that, he grew up in the small mountain town of Wytheville in southwest Virginia, which he disliked, until he was 15. When the family TV set finally was able to receive programs, he became greatly enamoured of a show called Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, and sent away to receive a ray gun and space helmet. At age 13, he decided he should become a science fiction writer. He attended boarding school in Arizona and developed an interest in the science fiction of Ray Bradbury. Gibson's other early literary influences included Bruce Springsteen, William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon. He once told Rolling Stone magazine, "I want to eroticize computers the way Bruce Springstreen eroticized cars."

At age 18, in response to what he calls the "Kafka-esque"; possibility of being drafted, he came to live in Toronto's Yorkville district where he met Deborah Thompson. They traveled in Europe, married in the early '70s and came to Vancouver in 1972 to be near to her parents. Gibson's first published story, Fragments Of A Hologram Rose, appeared in Boston's UnEarth magazine in 1977. It was written as a course assignment at UBC and he earned $23 for it. He graduated from the University of British Columbia and began writing SF in 1980. In 1981, Omni magazine bought the first story he sent them, Johnny Mnemonic, for $2,000, and asked for another, whereupon Gibson was encouraged to complete a novel. Influenced by William Burroughs and Robert Stone, as well as musicians Lou Reed and Steely Dan, Gibson wrote what one reviewer described as "a sizzling, computer-age novel, filled with street-Beat poetry and grotty characters from a future underworld where body parts are grown for sale and computer programmers work in 'cyberspace,' an abstract dimension in which software takes on visible shape like neon sculptures.";

Since that first novel, Neuromancer, Gibson has cited himself a collage artist who collects computer buzz-words and jargon to mask only a slight knowledge of high-tech machinery. Near the outset of his career he worked on a 1927 Hermes typewriter, referring to writing as "a painful, slow process, like pulling a big chain out of your ear."; He didn't buy his first Apple computer until a Boxing Day sale in 1985. That same year he appeared at Toronto Harbourfront's International Festival of Authors in October and explained to one interviewer that science fiction is not essentially about the future. "Science fiction writers who think they are futuristic are naïve,"; he maintains. "Good SF tends to be about aspects of where we are now that we don't like to think about.";

In 1986 Gibson sold the screen rights for Neuromancer to Hollywood for $100,000 and published his second novel, Count Zero (1986), containing some of Neuromancer's characters almost a decade later in fictional time. Having collaborated with Bruce Sterling on a short story called Red Star, Winter Orbit for an anthology, Gibson later collaborated with the Texas-based author Sterling for The Difference Engine (1991), an historical work about Charles Babbage, the reputed inventor of the modern computer. As his work became world famous and the term cyber-punk became trendy, Gibson was accorded guru status by sci-fi conventions and hired to write high-priced screenplays, including a draft for Aliens 3. One of his short stories became the basis for the 1995 movie Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves; another was used as the springboard for the 1999 movie New Rose Hotel starring Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, and Asia Argento. Gibson and his friend Maddox wrote two X-Files episodes, "Kill Switch" and "First Person Shooter". The stork-like, bespectacled Gibson made a cameo appearance in the latter, as well as in the mini-series Wild Palms. He has been been interviewed by Playboy, his writing has reportedly inspired an album by U2 and his 'Sprawl' trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive has led to thousands of websites related to his writing and ideas.

Although he continues to incorporate technological changes, imaginary and otherwise, Gibson's fiction has gradually evolved from dystopic SF visions towards contemporary realism. Gibson's novel Virtual Light (1993) is set in the near future of 2005 and concerns a group of hackers called the Republic of Desire. The protagonists such as ex-cop Berry Rydell are struggling with McJobs in a world increasingly split between the rich and the homeless, and California has been split into Northern and Southern California, areas known as NoCal and SoCal. In Tokyo a new city is emerging from a superquake known as Godzilla. Virtual Light won Canada's Aurora Award for best SF novel, as did Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). In Idoru (1996), Chia McKenzie is a teenager sent to Tokyo to investigate the impending marriage of her favourite singer to an idoru, a virtual Japanese pop star. Pattern Recognition is a contemporary novel about a New York-based 'cool hunter' named Cayce Pollard who works as a marketing detective for corporate clients. She eschews commercialization herself, but gets detoured into a search for the 'Maker' of obscure bits of footage that are released on the internet.

Gibson lives in Vancouver with his wife Deborah. They have two children, Graeme and Claire. He says he was too shy to ever become a journalist, hence his preference for writing fiction. "The States has become as foreign to me as England," he said in the 1980s. "I've very uncomfortable with national identities anyway. The planet is getting smaller all the time, smaller and faster.";

For many years Gibson had published only one story directly related to his hometown of Vancouver, "Winter Market"; (Vancouver Magazine, November, 1985), set around the False Creek area of "Couverville"; sometime in the future. The story is narrated by the editor of a newly released album by "Lise,"; whose creative dreams are marketed like pop songs to achieve instant triple-platinum success. Lise is a doomed "high-tech St. Joan burning for union with that hard-wired Godhead in Hollywood."; Gibson describes a desolate future. "Trashfires gutter in steel canisters around the Market. The snow still falls and kids huddle over the flames like arthritic crows, hopping from foot to foot, wind whipping their dark coats. Up in Fairview's arty slum-tumble, someone's laundry has frozen solid on the line, pink squares of bedsheet standing out against the background dinge and the confusion of satellite dishes and solar panels."; The 2007 novel Spook Country also culminates with scenes in Vancouver.

The Peripheral (2014) has been heralded as a popular return to 'near-future'sci-fi set in two futures, in smalltown USA and desolate Londono further away from the present. These two fictional worlds are connected by a black-market technology called "continua enthusiasts"; that allows some people to go backwards in time. The novel is rife with Gibson's invention of new words and terms, not all of which are always explained.

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Agency by William Gibson (Berkley /Penguin Random House $37)
(BCBW 2020)

At the climax of the futuristic, Stanley Kubrick film 2001 Space Odyssey, the spaceship computer named Hal takes over. William Gibson?s 2020 speculative fiction odyssey, Agency, fast forwards to a more sophisticated premise.

In San Francisco, in the early 21st century, a woman named Verity melds with an artificial intelligence named Eunice whereupon it?s immediately clear to the human that the invisible AI presence ought to be the boss.

In London, about a century later, Wilf, a new dad, agrees to become part of an unnamed ?wheeled wearable? drone for ?physical telepresence? that will transport him back to Verity?s world.

Both humans quickly find themselves playing second fiddle to two bots. One is a far superior intelligence; the other is far superior on the physical plane.

In the first case scenario, the glib, post-Hal, virtual avatar-gone-rogue named Eunice communicates with the human protagonist Verity via a pair of glasses.

Verity used to be romantically linked with a billionaire high-tech investment wizard, who resurfaces later in the story, but at the outset she is couch-surfing, just glad to have a comeback job alpha-testing Eunice.

Quickly it becomes apparent that Eunice/the pair of glasses is a zillion times more powerful and well-connected. Verity melds her agency (?capacity to act?) to her new AI friend until Verity mysteriously disappears.

Gibson is not big on personality. Everyone seems to speak in the same cryptic, abbreviated style. (?Shit here has been pretty distracting.?) Possibly, this is intentional to show, planet-wide, that as we prefer interaction with screens that even our tongues have become text-styled. The mind-enhancement technology known as Eunice has as much character as anyone in the novel.

Verity was willing to become a subsidiary of her avatar partly because Eunice vowed to enhance and protect her human partner. We?re not sure why Eunice has decided to be disloyal to the post-military-industrial-complex-turned-futuristic-capitalist nabobs who have seemingly invented her/it and we hope to find out the reasons for Eunice?s rebellious nature.
Perhaps she has inherited some of great-grandfather Hal?s virtual DNA?

In every second chapter for about 150 pages we?re channel switching to the futuristic sub-plot, set in London and its environs, in the wake of a slow and steady apocalypse referred to as the ?jackpot.?

That?s where the newly-minted, 22nd century dad named Wilf is asked by his employer to meld with body-enhancement technology.

Eunice, we learn, is likely a euphemism for Untethered Noetic Irregular Support System [U.N.I.S.S.]. And, yes, there is such a word as noetic. It means related to the intellect. The sixth man to walk on the moon, Edgar Mitchell, co-founded The Institute of Noetic Studies in 1973 for research into parapsychology.

Who invented the multi-tasking avatar Eunice? And who has stolen her/it? Or has she/it gone into hiding?

It will not be giving away too much to say that Wilf?s post-apocalyptic mogul employer Ainsley Lowbeer ?can look into alternate pasts and nudge their ultimate directions.?
It?s subtle but by page 114 we learn that Hillary Clinton got elected as president. ?Democrats called her tweets ?Churchillian, someone had said, while Republicans called them ?Orwellian.??
In Agency, we certainly don?t mind that there is zero science involved. We are far too puzzled and mesmerized trying to figure out all the strange terminology and terse dialogue.

Although Agency can be seen as a very dark vision of how blind we are to the speed at which we are jettisoning control of our emotional and private lives with the advancements in technology, the burden of fashioning this vision is not without mirth for its creator. Gibson can be very, very funny. (e.g. Verity is crashing at a friend?s place; we learn that friend used to be in a band called The Fuckoids.) In fact, for anyone not mesmerized by a story of how a drone-ridden version of our present might meld with a ?post-jackpot? future, humour can serve as the saving grace.

The profile of William Gibson that appeared in The New Yorker at the outset of the year included a rather odd photo of him looking like some grunge grandpa who was sleeping under Burrard Bridge, when, in fact, this is a shy guy who lives in a Shaughnessy mansion. Such are the perils of being hailed as a genius guru since the early 1980s.
Most literary careers in the spotlight are much shorter than the average number of years you can get to play in the NHL. Gibson has prevailed, prospered and prophesied for four decades. He and Douglas Coupland are global authors who have chosen to stay in British Columbia. No fancy-pants Giller parties in Toronto for these guys. They don?t need Toronto.
The endurance of Gibson and Coupland is cause for some sort of civic celebration, having two internationally huge talents remaining loyal, on the creative edge. Now both have been on the cover of BC BookWorld twice in 33 years. 9781101986936

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BOOKS:

Neuromancer (1984)
Count Zero (1986)
Burning Chrome -- short stories (1986)
Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988)
The Difference Engine co-authored with Bruce Sterling (1991)
Virtual Light (1993)
Johnny Mnemonic: The Screenplay and the Story (1995)
Idoru (1996)
All Tomorrow's Parties (1999)
Pattern Recognition (2002)
Spook Country (Penguin, 2007) $32.50
Zero History (Penguin, 2010) $31.00
The Peripheral (Penguin, 2014)

[BCBW 2014] "Movie"