There's a danger that by putting their Art of Fiction interviews with Samuel R. Delany and William Gibson in the same issue (the new one), the Paris Review would be cramming them into a "Science Fiction Special Issue" pigeonhole, but to their credit, the Review didn't make anything more of their pairing beyond pairing them, and, as it turns out, juxtaposing them raises all sorts of interesting echoes, as you might expect from two writers who grew up nearly at the same time and have crafted major careers on the borderlands between SF and literary fiction. (Gibson has a nice aside about his early reading: "I was a teenager, just thirteen or fourteen, reading novels Delany had written as a teenager--that was incredible to me.")
I'm more of a Gibson man than a Delany one at this point, and consider Gibson one of the most reliably fascinating interviewees around (see more here on that later). I came to him relatively late, after reading Neuromancer years ago and not particularly tapping into it, when I fell in love with Pattern Recognition, the first book of his recent Bigend trilogy. Though I've had Triton and Dahlgren on my shelves for years, meanwhile, all I've read of Delany is the first half of his memoir, The Motion of Light on Water, which I put aside, if I remember it right, mainly because I was overwhelmed by his precocity: teen novelist, composer, and even husband, which seemed so distant (and perhaps demoralizing) to a late bloomer (at best) like me. Of his identities that are different from mine ("black" and "gay" most traditionally prominent among them), the one I found hardest to bridge as a reader, at least on first introduction, was "prodigy." I've found it a lot easier to connect to Gibson's small-town teen ennui and, later, the bohemian indolence and reticence of his twenties.
As I said, the echoes between them are endless, but I thought I'd highlight two replies to similar questions, about cities, which are of course one of the great subjects of non-spaceship SF (and of literary fiction as well). The full interviews, by the way, are not available online yet, but the new Summer 2011 issue in which they are found is worth getting for their sake and you get stories by Gates, Lethem, and Barrodale, and poems by Cathy Park Hong and Lia Purpura I'm still enjoying figuring out, and part two of four of Bolano's war-gamer tale, The Third Reich, as well.
Interviewer: In your writing you seem fascinated with cities and the contact they provide. Where does that come from?
Delany: Doubtless from living in them. I was born in Manhattan. I grew up in Harlem, a block away from what was then the most crowded block in New York City, according to the 1950 census. Something like ten thousand people lived in one city block. Probably that means it was more crowded than Calcutta or Singapore or Yangon--places we think of as inhumanly crowded today. The city gets you used to crowds, used to people relating to one another in a certain way, like strong and weak interactions between elementary particles. The strong interactions only come into play when the particles are extremely close, less than the distance of a single atomic nucleus. Those are the interactions readers want to see in novels. At the same time, paradoxically, cities can be dreadfully isolating places. The Italian poet Leopardi wrote in a letter to his sister, Paulina, about Rome, that its spaces didn't enclose people, they fell between people and kept them apart.
Gibson: But the simplest and most radical thing that Ridley Scott did in Blade Runner was to put urban archaeology in every frame. It hadn't been obvious to mainstream American science fiction that cities are like compost heaps--just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent. In Europe, that's just life--it's not science fiction, it's not fantasy. But in American science fiction, the city of the future was always brand-new, every square inch of it.
Interviewer: Cities seem very important to you.
Gibson: Cities look to me to be our most characteristic technology. We didn't really get interesting as a species until we became able to do cities--that's when it all got really diverse, because you can't do cities without a substrate of other technologies. There's a mathematics to it--a city can't get over a certain size unless you can grow, gather, and store a certain amount of food in the vicinity. Then you can't get any bigger unless you understand how to do sewage. If you don't have efficient sewage technology the city gets to a certain size and everybody gets cholera.