The Rule of Exceptions #3

ManhattanSpaceDay2

INTERVIEWER

When did you decide to write about the contemporary world?

GIBSON

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.

[…]

INTERVIEWER

You’ve called science fiction your native literary culture. Do you still feel that way, having written three books that are set in the present?

GIBSON

Yes, but native in the sense of place of birth. Science fiction was the first literary culture I acquired, but since then I’ve acquired a number of other literary cultures, and the bunch of them have long since supplanted science fiction.

INTERVIEWER

Do you think of your last three books as being science fiction?

GIBSON

No, I think of them as attempts to disprove the distinction or attempts to dissolve the boundary. They are set in a world that meets virtually every criteria of being science fiction, but it happens to be our world, and it’s barely tweaked by the author to make the technology just fractionally imaginary or fantastic. It has, to my mind, the effect of science fiction.

If you’d gone to a publisher in 1981 with a proposal for a science-fiction novel that consisted of a really clear and simple description of the world today, they’d have read your proposal and said, Well, it’s impossible. This is ridiculous. This doesn’t even make any sense. Granted, you have half a dozen powerful and really excellent plot drivers for that many science-fiction n­ovels, but you can’t have them all in one novel.

INTERVIEWER

What are those major plot drivers?

GIBSON

Fossil fuels have been discovered to be destabilizing the planet’s climate, with possibly drastic consequences. There’s an epidemic, highly contagious, lethal sexual disease that destroys the human immune system, raging virtually uncontrolled throughout much of Africa. New York has been attacked by Islamist fundamentalists, who have destroyed the two tallest buildings in the city, and the United States in response has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

INTERVIEWER

And you haven’t even gotten to the technology.

GIBSON

You haven’t even gotten to the Internet. By the time you were telling about the Internet, they’d be showing you the door. It’s just too much science fiction.

Text: William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211, Interviewed by David Wallace-Wells. Paris Review.

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