Monday, July 23, 2012

Book talk: Distrust That Particular Flavor

Gibson reading at Powell's in 2010.
Photo by Adam Gallardo
In his last three novels, William Gibson has written about the everyday world as if it were science fiction. He exposes the strange incongruity of life in the early 21st century. He's always done this, he claims, he just used to say that his stories were set in the future. So it should come as no surprise that the essays collected in this book sometimes come off like SF vignettes.

Gibson claims to have no talent for non-fiction. His toolbox is that of the novelist he says, but it's that eye for narrative and telling detail that makes these pieces so readable. And so recognizable as Gibson's creations.

The pieces here are culled mainly from magazine articles and talks. Most deal with the author's vision of the future (as a SF writer he gets asked to talk about the future a lot), or with his somewhat uneasy relationship with technology. It's somewhat disconcerting to read about the man who coined the term "cyberspace" slowly coming to grips with the Internet via an addiction to ebay.

At all times, Gibson's humanity and sly sense of humor shines through in these essays, as when he describes Singapore in the essay "Disneyland with the Death Penalty."

"Singapore is a relentlessly G-rated experience, micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation. If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country, that country might have had a lot in common with Singapore." (72)

Some of the stronger pieces in the book feature Gibson turning the novelist's observant eye inward. He writes with a sense of wistfulness about his own past and his development as both a reader and writer in essays like "Rocket Radio," "Since 1948" and "Time Machine Cuba."

If there's a complaint to be leveled here, it's that many of the essays are too short. Just as the reader begins to truly engage with a piece, it's over. But I don't know that being left with wanting more is necessarily a bad thing.

I'd definitely recommend this book to any fans of Gibson's fiction, but those unfamiliar with his work might find these nonfiction pieces the perfect gateway to his fictional worlds.

No comments: