As I mentioned in my last post, William Gibson is one of my favorite writers to hear talk about his work, and I thought for this fortnight's Firmament, I'd celebrate his new Paris Review interview with a list of ten favorite Gibson interview quotes. These are hardly exhaustive: one thing I quickly realized when I started to dig beyond the Paris Review and my own two interviews with him was that he gives a lot of interviews (at least in recent years), with all kinds of outlets. He certainly says some of the same things from time to time--as you could hardly help but do, especially since he hears the same questions even more often: his line that science fiction is his "native literary culture" (the one in which he was born but may not always remain) is frequently repeated, but no less true or well-thought-out for being so.
But what's impressive is the thought and insight he brings to all of these discussions, no matter who is on the other side of the conversation and no matter how many times he's heard the "are you a science fiction writer?" question (yup, I asked it too). When I talked to him I felt like he would take anything I asked and run with it in ways I didn't expect, while still trying to answer the question. I was lucky enough to talk to him early in the publication process for both Spook Country and Zero History, but I get the feeling that even those interviewers who catch him later still find him doing his best to think through something new while talking to them.
And so the quotes below (and my search of his interviews to find them) are just a sample, and likely not a representative one: they are largely from interviews for his most recent trilogy. They don't include, for example, the Gibson doc from 2000, No Maps for These Territories, which I did see a while back and which largely consists of him holding forth in the back of a car as it drives around North America. As much as the film might try to build him up as a visionary technosage, he comes off there and elsewhere merely as a genial, thoughtful, and freakishly observant person who is too unassuming to really warrant the verb "hold forth" and who claims nothing more than being one writer trying to pay attention to what's going on around him: an anthropologist, as he often says in the interviews, rather than a futurist.
Here is some of what he's noticed (in no actual order, despite the numbers):
1. On what drove him through Neuromancer, from an early (1986) interview with academic Larry McCaffrey:
Panic. Blind animal panic. It was a desperate quality that I think comes through in the book pretty clearly: Neuromancer is fueled by my terrible fear of losing the reader's attention. Once it hit me that I had to come up with something, to have a hook on every page, I looked at the stories I'd written up to that point and tried to figure out what had worked for me before. I had Molly in "Johnny Mnemonic"; I had an environment in "Burning Chrome." So I decided I'd try to put these things together. But all during the writing of the book I had the conviction that I was going to be permanently shamed when it appeared. And even when I finished it I had no perspective on what I'd done. I still don't, for that matter. I always feel like one of the guys inside those incredible dragons you see snaking through the crowds in Chinatown. Sure, the dragon is very brightly colored, but from the inside you know the whole thing is pretty flimsy- just a bunch of old newspapers and papier-mache and balsa struts.
2. On the word, "neuromancer," from the Paris Review interview:
Coming up with a word like neuromancer is something that would earn you a really fine vacation if you worked in an ad agency. It was a kind of booby-trapped portmanteau that contained considerable potential for cognitive dissonance, that pleasurable buzz of feeling slightly unsettled.
I believed that this could be induced at a number of levels in a text--at the microlevel with neologisms and portmanteaus, or using a familiar word in completely unfamiliar ways. There are a number of well-known techniques for doing this--all of the classic surrealistic techniques, for instance, especially the game called exquisite corpse, where you pass a folded piece of paper around the room and write a line of poetry or a single word and fold it again and then the next person blindly adds to it. Sometimes it produces total gibberish, but it can be spookily apt. A lot of what I had to learn to do was play a game of exquisite-corpse solitaire.