Friday, November 4, 2011

They're fish!

I really enjoyed this fabulous interview with William Gibson in The Paris Review.

Gibson, of course, is one of the greatest science fiction writers ever, the man who coined the term "cyberspace", who gave us (so far) nine spectacular novels, with hopefully more coming.

What will you learn if you go read the interview? Well, all sorts of things!

  • You'll learn about Gibson's fascinating writing techniques: never planning past the first sentence, constantly re-working and re-considering his story:
    Every day, when I sit down with the manuscript, I start at page one and go through the whole thing, revising freely.


    I think revision is hugely underrated. It is very seldom recognized as a place where the higher creativity can live, or where it can manifest. I think it was Yeats who said that literary revision was the only place in life where a man could truly improve himself.

    letting the work flow from someplace hard to describe:
    I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m in the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why the story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.
  • You'll learn about Gibson's view on whether science fiction writers are writing about the future, the past, or the present:
    Nobody can know the real future. And novels set in imaginary futures are necessarily about the moment in which they are written. As soon as a work is complete, it will begin to acquire a patina of anachronism. I know that from the moment I add the final period, the text is moving steadily forward into the real future.


    all fiction is speculative, and all history, too—endlessly subject to revision.

  • You'll learn what Gibson, surprisingly, finds to be the technology that is most characteristic of the human species:
    Cities look to me to be our most characteristic technology. We didn’t really get interesting as a species until we became able to do cities—that’s when it all got really diverse, because you can’t do cities without a substrate of other technologies. There’s a mathematics to it—a city can’t get over a certain size unless you can grow, gather, and store a certain amount of food in the vicinity. Then you can’t get any bigger unless you understand how to do sewage. If you don’t have efficient sewage technology the city gets to a certain size and everybody gets cholera.
  • You'll get some great anecdotes that will totally drop your jaw:
    For years, I’d found myself telling interviewers and readers that I believed it was possible to write a novel set in the present that would have an effect very similar to the effect of novels I had set in imaginary futures. I think I said it so many times, and probably with such a pissy tone of exasperation, that I finally decided I had to call myself on it.

    A friend knew a woman who was having old-fashioned electroshock therapy for depression. He’d pick her up at the clinic after the session and drive her not home but to a fish market. He’d lead her to the ice tables where the day’s catch was spread out, and he’d just stand there with her, and she’d look at the ice tables for a really long time with a blank, searching expression. Finally, she’d turn to him and say, “Wow, they’re fish, aren’t they!” After electro­shock, she had this experience of unutterable, indescribable wonderment at seeing these things completely removed from all context of memory, and gradually her brain would come back together and say, Damn, they’re fish. That’s kind of what I do.

It's a thrilling roller-coaster of an interview, with so many choice bits that you'll find yourself returning to his ideas again and again.

Just as we do with his books!


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