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
[Anything by Iian Sinclair, Zoo City by Lauren Bach, Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence, which he found "wounding."]
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.