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Queen Victoria's Personal Spook, Psychic Legbreakers, Snakes and Catfood: An Interview with William Gibson and Tom Maddox

 

A conversation with William Gibson is kind of like a full-immersion baptism in all of the weird and disturbing gomi [1] that comprises late twentieth century culture (Arthur Kroker would call it "excremental" culture, but then again, he's also capable of calling "the post-Einsteinian individual" a "hyper-Hobbesian energy pack." Screw that noise). Japanese Nazi geneticists in white bathrobes and terrycloth tennis hats, Luddite death squads, catfish farms, high rollers drawing voodoo designs in lines of cocaine, guinea pig- driven flamethrowers, unlicensed denturists... these are a few of his favorite things.

Gibson's writing is, on the most basic level, a testament to this obsession with the bizzarre and the disturbing: he takes these random, abandoned fragments of our shattered society and fuses them together into a strange and beautiful mosaic of words. The resulting gestalt, though, is more just than an artistic curiosity. Out of this odd assortment of cultural detritus, Gibson creates some genuinely new ideas, and redefines many old ones. "Scramble and resequence; but, in the process of borrowing symbolic energy from the past, new simultaneities and odd juxtapositions, like dreams, emerge" [2]. Take Gibson's most famous creation, cyberspace, as a prime example. The Media Lab (MIT) and Autodesk (California) are all lathered up about the possibility of actually building the thing. "Ether, having once failed as a concept, is in the process of being reinvented. Information is the ultimate mediational ether" [3]. As much as he is an entertainer, Gibson is also vitally important as a writer of ideas.

Tom Maddox, a long-time friend of Gibson's, is a professor at Evergreen State College, an excellent science fiction writer, and an astute critic. In the short biography of Gibson he wrote for the ConText 89 program, he points out that the public's reaction to Gibson has often been a mixed one: "[Many SF writers and readers say] Gibson's work is all 'surface' or 'flash,' 'never passes from ugly to ennobling.'" In other words, the reasons given by Gibson's detractors for their (often violent) dislike of his works rarely varies from typical conservative distaste for Postmodern writing techniques [4]. (On the other hand, it could be jealousy....) The explanation Maddox provides for this kind of reaction ia a blunt and simple one: Gibson's writing can be a colossal mindfuck for those unprepared to deal with the issues it raises.

It's a truism of SF criticism that speculative fiction is more about the author's lifetime than any hypothetical "future." Reading Neuromancer is like putting on a pair of the X-ray specs from John Carpenter's They Live, and seeing the subliminal underbelly of North American capitalist culture. A trip through the lookinglass darkly, a strangely warped reflection in the left lens of the author's mirrorshades... it doesn't matter which metaphor you use, because the upshot of it all is that Gibson sees a blackness in our society that very few people are anxious to hear about, much less do or say anything about. So when someone picks up a Gibson novel which describes a world where multinational corporations have more personality than the people they employ, where the US navy "recruits" dolphins by hooking them on heroin, where people would rather live vicariously through media personalities than cope with their own lives, a little voice starts up in the back of their head. Our world isn't like that at all. Oh no.

Bruce Fletcher (Virus 23 staff writer) and I met Gibson and Maddox in Edmonton, where they were guest writers at ConText 89 (Gibson was the Guest of Honor), and persuaded them to talk for several hours about many of the things that make Gibson's work unique. My starting place was the Summer 1989 issue of the Whole Earth Review, "Is the Body Obsolete?" [5]. In attempting to deal with the question of bodily obsolescence, Whole Earth lays bare the connections between most of the important work being done today in, well, in just about every field you can imagine (and a few others): cybernetics, theories of the body, downloading, feminist theory, artificial intelligence... the list goes on and on. Essentially, this is the same weird collection of oddities--gomi--that Gibson is so fond of. Sure, it's intellectualized gomi, but gomi nonetheless. The section on Gibson himself falls right in the middle of the magazine, acting (intentionally or not; there are no accidents, right?) as the point where all the other articles converge. It seemed to me that a natural place to begin an examination of Gibson's fiction would be the exploration of some of these connections. Judging from the range of the topics we covered in about 2 hours--many of which I've never seen mentioned in another interview with Gibson--I think it worked pretty well.

What follows is a sliced, diced (and hopefully coherent; everyone present was nursing a hangover) version of that conversation.

* * * * * * * * * *

QUESTION : (Producing a copy of the Whole Earth Review, Summer 1989: "Is The Body Obsolete?") Have you seen this? It's a collection of a whole bunch of different things that seem to crystallize around your work: theories of the body, information theory; there's a piece on Survival Research Laboratories [6], a list of the major influences on cyberpunk writers, and (pointing out the interview entitled "Cyberpunk Era") they even did a [William] Burroughs-style cut-up of your old interviews.

GIBSON : No... show it to me. (To Tom Maddox) Have you seen this? This is really bizzarre. I wouldn't give them an interview so they cut up a bunch of old interviews.

MADDOX : Who did this?

GIBSON : Kevin Kelly. It's the Whole Earth Review.

MADDOX : Oh--I heard about that, yeah.

QUESTION : For me, one of the most interesting things in this magazine is when they start talking about what happens when you download people into machines. What constitutes personality when the borderline between people and machines starts to blur? The Flatline seems to be a personality, but is a ROM construct, and the Finn, who gets himself made into some kind of construct...

GIBSON : (Laughing) That's one of my favorite parts in that book... he's got the high rollers drawing in cocaine.

MADDOX : Do you mean, what is it that's in there?

QUESTION : Yeah. At the end of Mona Lisa Overdrive you've got Angie, Finn, Colin, and Bobby--two dead people and two personality constructs, one modeled after a "real" man and one a complete fabrication--in the Aleph, heading off into alien cyberspace, and they seem to have their own volition. It's not just a machine kind of thing... they're not programmed to act in certain ways. So that's what I want to look at: where does the self go? How much self do any of these characters have?

GIBSON : Yeah, well, that's just a question, you know? I suppose the book poses that question, but it doesn't answer it. I can't answer it. As for that downloading stuff, I think those guys who seriously consider that stuff are crazier than a sackful of rats. I think that's monstrous! It just seems so obvious to me, but people like those guys at Autodesk who're building cyberspace--I can't believe it: they've almost got it--they just don't understand. My hunch is that what I was doing was trying to come up with some kind of metaphor that would express my deepest ambivalence about media in the twentieth century. And it was my satisfaction that I sort of managed to do it, and then these boff-its come in and say "God damn, that's a good idea! Let's plug it all in!" But, you know, it just leaves me thinking, "What??" You know, that is actually stranger than having people do theses about your work, is to have people build this demented shit that you dreamed up, when you were trying to make some sort of point about industrial society. It's just a strange thing.

QUESTION : Actually, there is an article in here on NASA's virtual reality project, and Whole Earth calls it cyberspace.

GIBSON : (looking at the photo of a sensor-lined glove that controls the movement of the wearer in "cyberspace") Hey, Tom: you know, if you turned this thing inside out, you could get the computer to jerk you off?

MADDOX : (laughing) That's beautiful, Bill. Put it in your book and someone'll build it.

GIBSON : (laughing) Instead of jacking in, you'd be jacking off.

QUESTION : It seems to me that what is at the center of the discussions in this issue of Whole Earth is the way the "personhood" of people is jeopardized by new technologies. What does happen to the concept of self in a society where downloading, cloning, and replaceable body parts are commonplace? In your books, the main characters use technology to protect what's left of the self. Molly is a particularly good example. The mirrors over her eyes, and the razorblades under her nails seem to me to be an attempt to protect what's left of any kind of interiority.

MADDOX : I think the categories you're using are too traditional. Those are adaptations; those aren't protections of the self. The self is much more labile than in previous cultures, if you will... and in Gibson's stuff, it seems to me that what the self is is sort of open to negotiation on a particular day.

GIBSON : Yeah, I'd agree with that.

QUESTION : Something else that comes up over and over is the position that women characters end up occupying in your books, and in Postmodern literature in general. There's a book written by a feminist theorist at Yale named Alice Jardine called Gynesis, and she talks about the way in Postmodern fiction that women's bodies become a map for Postmodern Man to follow--the only the only remaining guide to the unknown. Angie in Count Zero, with the vvs written on her brain, or the messages Wintermute sends Case through Molly's eyes in Neuromancer, could be textbook examples of this phenomenon.

MADDOX : No; I don't know; I just don't...

GIBSON : I find it kind of poetically appealing.

MADDOX : Yeah. I can't imagine it being true or false, right? (laughing). It's a nice way of looking at this stuff.

GIBSON : Yeah (laughing). It's a good come-on line; try that next time.

MADDOX : (laughing) Right: "Let's explore the unknown."

GIBSON : I don't think it's necessarily women's bodies; why not men's bodies? You know, it's a two-way street. The closest I ever come to saying anything about that is the scene in Neuromancer where Case fucks the construct of Linda Lee in the construct on the beach. He has some kind of rather too self-consciously Lawrencian experience. He connects with the meat and it's like he gets Lawrencian blood-knowledge (and that's a little too much the English major there), but I was sincere about that; on some level I guess I believe it. But I think it works both ways.... Am I shooting myself in the foot, Tom? Should I be saying these things and have people come back in 20 years and cite this guy's thesis to me?

MADDOX : There's a fundamental separation of categories that you have to understand here. Asking Bill if this thesis about women's bodies is true to his work is asking him to be the interpreter of his own text, in which case he's just another interpreter. Now if you what he meant by something, well, that's legit, but he can't validate or invalidate a particular interpretation, and in fact, to ask him to validate or invalidate a particular interpretation is like asking him to betray the possibilities of his own work. Umberto Eco wrote a book called A Postscript to The Name of the Rose, in which he said that in writing his postscript he was betraying the novel. He said, if I wanted to write an interpretation, I wouldn't have written a novel , which is a machine for generating interpretation.

GIBSON : Well, the thing that I would question in that theory as you paraphrased it is that women's bodies are the map; I think bodies are the map, and if, for instance, you looked at the sequence in Mona Lisa Overdrive where what's-her- name, the little thing... I forget her name... Mona! yeah, Mona.

MADDOX : (laughing) Your title character, remember?

GIBSON : Jesus, I can't remember the character's names... I never think about this shit. (laughing) That's what I think you gotta understand.

MADDOX : Nobody who ever writes a book thinks about this shit.

GIBSON : Yeah, the eponymous Mona, where she remembers her stud showing up for the first time, when she's working in a catfish farm. All that really sexual stuff happens there before he takes her away. Think about the way she's looking at him, the way she's reading his body. Or look at the art girl, Marly. Marly follows the map in that book. She's the only one who can receive the true map and she goes to the heart of it. She gets an audience with God, essentially, and she does it through her own intellectual capacity and her ability to understand the art.

MADDOX : She, in a way, for me is the most important one of those three characters [in Count Zero].

GIBSON : If I was doing a thesis on my work, I would try to figure out what the fuck that Joseph Cornell stuff means in the middle of Count Zero. That's the key to the whole fucking thing, how the books are put together and everything. But people won't see it. I think it actually needs someone with a pretty serious art background to understand it. You know, Robert Longo understood that immediately. I was in New York--I've got a lot of fans who are fairly heavy New York artists, sort of "fine art guys", and they got it right away. They read those books around that core. I was actually trying to tell people what I was doing while I was trying to discover it myself.

QUESTION : It goes back to Postmodernism, to pieces again, and to making new wholes from fragments, doesn't it?

GIBSON : Yeah. It's sort of like there's nothing there in the beginning, and you're going to make something, and you don't have anything in you to make it out of, particularly, so you start just grabbing little hunks of kipple, and fitting them together, and... I don't know, it seemed profound at the time, but this morning it's like I can't even remember how it works (laughs).

QUESTION : But it seems to me that the body is still more important to your female characters than to your male characters. You start out with Case, and the whole thing about how "the body is meat." It's like it's just not important to him; it doesn't matter.

GIBSON : He's denying it.

MADDOX : There's that key line "He fell into the prison of his own flesh," which is the whole point, in a way. I don't know--if you want some real ammunition for this that's not just bullshit Postmodernist criticism, there's a guy at Berkeley named Lakoff, George Lakoff. He's a cognitive psychologist, and he's testing a whole set of theories based on the notion that all knowledge is a "body" of knowledge, and that every single intellectual structure in the world is ultimately a piece of embodied spatial knowledge translated by metaphor into something else.

GIBSON : Wow...

MADDOX : Very heavy shit. This guy's really something. He's got a book called Women, Fire and Dangerous Things that's about how we categorize the world. And, as a matter of fact, I'll set him loose on Neuromancer some time because he'll come really back with like four hundred explanations about why this is the way that Bill's books work. But it fits very nicely with Bill's thoughts, because in the worlds he creates, knowledge is perceived knowledge, which means embodied knowledge, and the people who deny that, like Case, maybe they have to be taught by women about that denial, taught that the prison of our own flesh is the only place there is.

GIBSON : The thing is, I'm very labile, especially this morning (laughs). I could sit here with 20 different people and 20 different theories and say, "Yeah, that's what it is." I like Chip Delany's reaction to anybody who comes on him with anything like this. He listens really intently and then he says, "That's an interesting thesis." And that's all. (laughs)

MADDOX : It's very easy to make this stuff stand up and dance to whatever tune you want it to. If you're Julia Kristeva and you've got some well worked out critical act that you want to work on something, fine. But here's what I'm really objecting to in this stuff. The categories that you're applying to this stuff are not categories that are integral to the books. Things like the map on the woman's body and the "self". The interesting thing about Bill's stuff is that it's creating new categories. Cyberspace is not an analogue of something. It's not the self, it's not sex, it's cyberspace. that's what's really interesting. Look at the new categories. There's sort of ongoing discussion groups where people who work at universities and corporations all around the world are thinking about what they call cognitive engineering The most valid literary criticism that I know of is archaic by comparison. It's got all these categories it's trying to drag kicking and screaming into the twentieth century. It's like J.G. Ballard says about Margaret Atwood and those people: "Yeah, it's the psychology of the individual--who gives a fuck, you know? It's all been done." Right, it's been done as well as it's ever going to be done. And why people get excited about Bill's stuff, is that it's not what's been done. And the categories are genuinely emergent. Maybe there's not a body. Maybe the idea of the body or self is entirely irrelevant. Maybe the question of the self becomes infinitely complex. Literary critics love to talk about consciousness. You know what Marvin Minsky says about consciousness? It's a debugging trace. It's like a little piece of froth on the top of this larger thing. I think Bill believes that. Consciousness is just part of the act (laughs). All this other shit that goes on is equally important.

GIBSON : Yeah. The snake wanted catfood [7], yeah.

MADDOX : (laughing) Yeah, the snake wanted catfood, right, yeah, right.

GIBSON : And, you know, sometimes you're just running on brain stem. I was running on brain stem last night. Look where it got me too.

(laughter)

MADDOX : This is what Bill's work is in fact about. Bill has been an obsessive afficionado of late twentieth century experience, which for most people is just too unnerving. They don't want it, so they screen themselves off from it. But Bill actively seeks it out, and this has always been true. I mean most people don't want it. It fucks their minds up and they don't want to be part of it.

GIBSON : What I do is I give it to them in these books and they're able to open up to it a little bit because it's science fiction.

MADDOX : Right. But in science fiction itself, which is enormously conservative in these matters, his stuff generates a lot of resentment because they don't want to know, and they don't want to experience what the late twentieth century is like, they want to experience what some fifties version of the future is like. Most of the stuff he thinks about, in terms of structure and all that, the visual artist immediately gets, bang bang bang. Whereas people who do straightforward literary criticism wheel out these creaky old novelistic categories that don't apply worth a fuck.

GIBSON : Most of the stuff that I'm seeing, even the stuff in The Mississippi Review, it's like a bunch of guys from the English Department being forced to write rock criticism (laughs).

QUESTION : So what do you consider some of the better work that's been done on your writing?

GIBSON : Well, one of the things that's really amazing about the British reception of my work, and this has just been consistent all the way through, is they think I'm a humorist. By and large, they think of me as being largely a humorist, and they think the stuff's funny as hell. It's 'cause they're Brits. They understand--it's more like their sense of humor. The kind of sense of humor I've got is still considered sort of suspect to North America, it's considered just a little too bleak. See, a lot of it was written because I thought it was funny.

Bruce Fletcher : That kind of backhanded humor really came out in the reading [excerpts from The Difference Engine [8]] last night.

GIBSON : Well, there's kind of two levels to that thing. Actually, the world we're depicting there is infinitely grimmer than the world of Neuromancer, and it needs that humor. I mean, when you get to the third section of the book, you realize that they've invented the art of making people disappear. And they're doing this with death squads (chuckles). There are death squads working in London to take these Luddites out, or anyone who interferes with the system. They just arrest you and take you to Highgate and hang you in the middle of the night, and drop your body into a pit of quicklime, and that's it. One of the viewpoint characters is this tortured British spook diplomat named Laurence Oliphant--he was a real historical figure--he was Queen Victoria's personal spook: "Oliphant of the Tokyo legation." He was a hero; he was in this crazed samurai uprising, in Tokyo. Anyway, Oliphaunt's manservant was an avid lepidopterist. In the middle of one night, these black-clothed barefoot ninjas with samurai swords were sneaking toward Oliphant's bedroom and they stepped on this fucker's pinned butterflies which he'd put into the tatami.

(laughter)

GIBSON : That's true, that's a true story. Oliphant got his wrist slashed, and one of the lines in the book, which is actually lifted from a recorded conversation with Oliphaunt, is, "Strange how a Japanese"--and this scar is right on his wrist, so when he shakes hands you can see it--"Strange how a Japanese sword when you're concerned is quite adequate carte de visite." (laughs)

MADDOX : Oh Jesus Christ (laughs).

GIBSON : In our book, Oliphant is the man who dreams up disappearing people; he believes in the All-Seeing Eye. He just dreams it up to solve one terrible problem that they have, and then it takes over. And so he's sort of tortured by knowing he's the guy that discovered the principle of this, because he knows it's wrong. It's gonna be a crazy book; I hope we can finish it. We've got the whole plot together; it's really twisted.

FLETCHER : What are the mechanics involved with collaborating with someone on a book?

GIBSON : It's impossible to explain. It's like telling somebody how you "be married." You "be married" the only way you can be married to the person you're married to, and that's all there is to it.

FLETCHER : Since we're on the topic of writing, I'd like to talk a bit about influences. I find the Cyberpunk 101 reading list [9] interesting in terms of what it says about the formation of canons. As soon as people accept and validate a category like "Cyberpunk," it becomes a retroactive thing. All of a sudden everyone like J. G. Ballard and William Burroughs becomes a proto- cyberpunk writer. There are works on this list written as long ago as 1937.

GIBSON : (looking at list, laughing) Last and First Men??! ...and Chandler... I don't like that, you know? I'd like to go on record as saying that I don't like Raymond Chandler. I think he's kind of an interesting stylist but I just found him to be this creepy puritanical sick fuck. (laughter)

QUESTION : That would explain the way you handle Turner in Count Zero.

GIBSON : Yeah, Turner is a kind of detective, a deconstructed [literally and figuratively: ed.] thriller guy. I wanted to get one of those macho thriller guys, a real he-man straight out of the kit, and just kind of push him apart. I never was quite able to do it. The scene that works for me the most is when he kills the wrong man. There's a slow build and he blows the shit out of somebody and someone says to him, so-and-so's the agent here, you asshole.

MADDOX : (laughing) Yeah, why'd you kill him?

GIBSON : (back to the list) Alfred Bester, yeah. Bester I'll go for. [William Burroughs'] Naked Lunch, yes. Philip K. Dick, though, had almost no influence.

MADDOX : Right, you've really never much really read...

GIBSON : I never really read Dick because I read Pynchon. You don't need Dick if you've read Pynchon. I mean Dick was the guy who couldn't quite do it.

MADDOX : Ah, I think that's different, but you haven't read Dick, Bill (laughs).

GIBSON : That's true. I read a little Dick, but I didn't like it. [Michael Moorcock's] The Cornelius Chronicles? Well, [Samuel R. Delany's] Nova, yeah, I could see Nova. But The Cornelius Chronicles, well.... I never read [Alvin Toffler's] Future Shock. [J. G. Ballard's] The Atrocity Exhibition, yeah. [Robert Stone's] Dog Soldiers, yeah.

QUESTION : Do you know Richard Kadrey, the guy who made this list?

GIBSON : Yeah. You know, I think Richard Kadrey's first short story was my first short story cut up into individual blocks of one or two words and rearranged. It was published in Interzone, and it's really weird. I talked to him about it, and he just wouldn't cop to it. It's weird, it's indescribably weird, you should actually read it. Ther are sentences in there that are out of "Fragments of A Hologram Rose," but they've been dicked with in some mysterious way. And you couldn't really say it's plagiarism. I actually thought it was kinda cool.

MADDOX : Yeah. he's a good guy, a smart guy. Richard's the only one I know who's really, Metrophage is really and truly a Gibson hommage. He's not derivative at all.

GIBSON : Yeah, it's really good. This guy published his book and everybody's saying, "God, this really a rip-off of you. You should be offended!" I thought that it was a dynamite book and that it really stands out. What he'd gotten in there and done was he'd gone in there and played riffs on the instrument that I'd never dreamed of. And he's one of the hipper people in the field, that's for sure. He knows about drugs, too. (laughter)

QUESTION : What about the "punk" in cyberpunk? Do you see any real connections between what you write and punk rock?

GIBSON : I read something recently where they described me as the dark godfather of an outlaw subculture (laughs). I mean, when I was fifteen, that was my wildest dream, but now...

MADDOX : (laughing) It's a case of being careful what you wish for, Bill, because sometimes you get it.

GIBSON : There was a while, at the start of all this cyberpunk stuff, when I contemplated dressing up like that, getting a foot tall blue mohawk or something. When people go to a reading to see a cyberpunk author, they expect to see him come running in out of the rain and whip the sweat out of his mohawk and start signing books. (laughter) Actually, one time I was in New York signing books, there was this godawful huge roar outside the bookstore, and these two huge motorcycles screeched up to the curb, and these two huge guys covered in leather and studs and chains and shit got off, and came into the store. When they got a good look at me in my loafers and buttondown shirt their faces just fell, you know? One of them pulled out this copy of one of my books and said, "Well, I guess you can sign it anyway." (laughs)

QUESTION : Some of the characters you describe in your books sound a lot like various types of punks: the Gothicks and Jack Draculas, for example.

GIBSON : Yeah, I hung out with some of them [Goths] in London. You know, they pierce their genitals? And they won't fuck anyone who doesn't have a hunk of steel shoved through there. It's weird, 'cause they hang little bells & shit on them. You can hear them jingle when they move (laughs).

FLETCHER : Are there other people who've influenced you that you talk to regularly? Do you correspond with Timothy Leary at all?

GIBSON : I exchange letters with Mark Pauline; the stuff in Mona Lisa Overdrive is supposed to be a homage to SRL, but I don't think I quite got it. Leary? I talk to him on the phone, yeah. We don't really correspond, because he doesn't write... MADDOX : I was going to say he's probably post-literate at this point (laughs).

FLETCHER : I like his new book, he's redone Neuro-Politics, he calls it Neuro- Politique [check titles]. It's dedicated...

GIBSON : Oh God, finding that out was the weirdest experience. I was in L.A. working on screenplays, and I got into this limo in L.A.X. to go to a meeting in this fancy Chinese place on Sunset. I got this crazy little Yugoslavian limo driver--you have to be very careful with limo drivers because every limo driver's an out-of-work screen writer or something--I get in and he sort of looks at me and he says, "Are you the William Gibson?" and I said, "Well, I'm the William Gibson that's sitting in your car" (laughs). And he says, "I haven't read your books, but I'm the greatest admirer of Dr. Timothy Leary," and he whips Leary's book out and it's dedicated to me and Bob Dylan. I mean, if you want weird, I thought, you know, total cognitive dissonance there. And he got talking so much that he made me late for the meeting: he overshot the restaurant.

FLETCHER : Yeah, that's the book, all right (laughs).

GIBSON : Yeah, he overshot the restaurant, and then he told me this really sad story about how he'd been a TV producer. It was a heartbreaking fucking story; I believe it too. He got his ass out of Yugoslavia, and he got over to Hollywood, and he thought, you know, he could work in the TV or film business, and he just realized that he'd been around and nobody would touch him with a ten foot pole. So there he was, mooking around and driving this limo. Anyway, I went into the meeting, and somewhere between realizing that I didn't want to write another version of Alien III and getting back into the car, when we were sort of doing small talk, I said, "This is such an amazing town. The guy driving my limo used to be a television producer in Yugoslavia," and I told them this story that had really affected me. One of the people who's there is this woman who's The Bitch Woman from the studio--she's there to hurt me if I get out of line--they've always got an edge, you know. She keeps her mouth shut until I'm finished, and then she sort of drew on her pity look, and she says to me, "Huh. Don't they all have a story."

MADDOX : Yeah, right. All the little people (laughs).

GIBSON : Oh, man. But they do--they have people who're like psychic leg-breakers that they bring along. There's always one.

Notes

1 "Kumiko stared as Sally drew her past arrays of of Coronation plate and jowled Churchill teapots. "This is gomi," Kumiko ventured, when they paused at an intersection. Rubbish. In Tokyo, worn and useless things were landfill. Sally grinned wolfishly. "This is England. Gomi's a major natural resource. Gomi and talent."
-William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive. (p.30)

2 Sol Yurick, Behold Metatron, the Recording Angel. New York: Semiotext(e), 1985, 6. The Semiotext(e) series is published at Columbia University, and, despite some embarrassing editing problems, is a valuable source of texts by influential Postmodern theorists like Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Deleuze and Guattari.

3 Sol Yurick again: page 9.

4 One of the few really good studies that has been done to date on Gibson's merits and faults as a writer is Lucy Sussex's "Falling Off the Fence: Reviewing William Gibson's Neuromancer and Count Zero," The Metaphysical Review, November 1987. If you can't find it (The Metaphysical Review is an Australian journal), send me a SASE c/o this magazine, and I'll mail you a copy.

5 I have to admit a vested interest here. A discussion of the space the body occupies in Gibson's writing will form the core of my Master's thesis.

6 A sorta-kinda performance art group from California (where else) that builds big machines that destroy each other. SRL was one of Gibson's major influences in the writing of Mona Lisa Overdrive (see the article elsewhere in this magazine).

7 A quotation from Tom Maddox's short story "Snake-Eyes," which can be found in Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House, 1986. At the risk of bowdlerizing the piece, I'll just mention that it's about this guy whose higher thought processes become involved in a conflict of interest with his brainstem. And you thought hangovers were bad...

8 The Difference Engine is an alternate world novel Gibson is writing with Bruce Sterling. It is set in a nineteenth century England where Charles Babbage's steam-driven computer actually gets built, and all sorts of weird shit happens as a result (including Lord Byron becoming Prime Minister). Gibson read excerpts from the manuscript at several points during ConText 89.

9 Another product of The Whole Earth Review, the Cyberpunk 101 reading list can be found in the Summer 89 issue, or, in an earlier form, in Signal: Communication Tools for the Information Age. New York: Harmony Books, 1988. (Signal is a whole Earth catalog). It makes for some interesting reading, but it should come with a warning sticker that reads "WARNING! CANON FORMATION IN PROGRESS!"

 

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