I grew up on science fiction, devouring stories of space and machines, but it was discovering the early works of William Gibson in my 20s that opened my eyes and sparked my imagination on the ways in which technology and the digital world still yet unfolding at the time might become the setting and center of storytelling. Novels like Neuromancer and Virtual Light and Burning Chrome were wonderful immersions into possibilities, for good or ill. Over the years, I’ve followed and read Gibson as much as I can — some books I found more engaging than others, but perhaps that may have more to do with me as a reader than him as a writer.
His most recent book, Distrust That Particular Flavor, is not a novel but a collection of non-fiction essays and talks and magazine pieces that he has written over the years. While not nearly as strong as his fiction, the pieces in this collection give us an interesting view of Gibson, the writer, as well as Gibson, the reluctant futurist. For the novelist who is credited with coining the term “cyberspace,” Gibson has long harbored doubts about technology, and even admits to not using a computer or even the Internet for a long time (and then when he did, he discovered eBay — and that’s an entire story here). Those seeds of distrust spring up amid his early philosophy that technology would eventually create fundamental changes in culture, and his exploration of what the world would look like and how would character react to it.
What’s fascinating to me was to notice the publication dates on the pieces, and to try to place myself in the time when Gibson was writing some of these pieces. Some of articles and talks are about 20 years old now. He was thinking about what we now take for granted — all-the-time access, convergent informational flows, immersive worlds and more — before there was any reason to be thinking about it. I guess that’s what good writers do, though. And Gibson makes it clear here that while his stories might have been set in the future, the world and themes he was writing about were about the current times, and that had me trying to remember back to the storylines of the novels that captured my attention.
Distrust That Particular Flavor is somewhat uneven at times — even Gibson notes that he repeats similar themes and I found myself shuffling a bit through some of his pieces — but I always enjoy a journey into the mind and thinking, and craft, of a writer I admire, and this collection did that for me.
Peace (in the times),