William Gibson (1948- )
Presented by Robin Stanford, November 7, 2017
William Gibson is a Vancouver author, best known for his science fiction (SF) novels. He also writes speculative fiction and non-fiction. Gibson’s short stories and novels are about the influence of technology on our culture. He coined the term “cyberspace” and was writing about cyberspace and virtual reality over a decade before these technologies were known to the public. Gibson also writes about popular culture, advertising, and modern art. Although his books are often set in the future, they address social issues facing us today.
Like Arthur C. Clarke, Gibson’s novels have inspired new product development in the Tech world, particularly in the area of virtual reality. He resists the label of Oracle, however, saying his aim isn’t to provide specific predictions or judgments, so much as to find a suitable fictional context in which to examine the very mixed blessings of technology. Gibson does not consider himself a technical person, saying he doesn’t always understand how the tech works but he likes what it can do and the new human processes it creates.
Gibson began writing short stories in the 1970’s, experimenting with different styles, sometimes in collaboration with other SF authors. He was intentionally trying to write a new kind of science fiction, moving away from the world as a white monoculture and the protagonist as a good guy from the middle class or above. Gibson also wanted science fiction to be more naturalistic, believing there had been a poverty of description in much of it. Gibson acknowledges Thomas Pynchon as a major influence on his work, particularly Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). Gibson’s novels have also been compared to the work of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.
His first novel, Neuromancer (1984), is now considered a classic dystopian novel and the start of what came to be known as the Cyberpunk genre of SF. Neuromancer (1984) and the following two books in the Sprawl trilogy were meant to demonstrate the dangers of a world where people would rather live vicariously through their computers than experience real life. Instead of acting as a warning about industrial society, the novels were seized upon as a kind of roadmap and an excited generation of people started trying to do exactly what Gibson was warning them about.
The Difference Engine (1990) is a collaboration with Bruce Sterling and popularized what came to be known as the Steampunk genre of SF. Many of his novels have become bestsellers including Pattern Recognition (2003), which a reviewer called probably the best exploration yet of the function and power of product branding and advertising in the age of globalization. Gibson has written hundreds of essays and articles for magazines, some of which are compiled in Distrust That Particular Flavor (2012). He continues to be a popular author and his new novel Agency (2018) is hotly anticipated.