Why is William Gibson at BookPeople Tonight?
Because you should definitely distrust that particular flavor
By Wayne Alan Brenner, 11:01AM, Thu. Sep. 6, 2012
Is there anything more ironic than technical problems with phones when you're interviewing William Gibson?
Let's keep that question rhetorical.
Let's not even go into it, almost fetishizing the equipment via vivid description, the objects of technology providing context for the action: Those objects and what they do (or fail to do) are only the means to an end.
This brief interview is the end.
This brief interview is the end of the beginning of the day in which Gibson, author of the legendary Neuromancer and many other novels (Zero History, most recently) returns to Austin – to BookPeople at 7pm, near the bustling intersection of Sixth and Lamar – to present his newest book: His first collection of essays, Distrust That Particular Flavor.
This is how it went:
Brenner: Even before reading the essays, I was struck by the design of the book. There's the cover, but especially the interior text by Nicole Laroche, the chapter breaks and so on - about as eye-catching as possible without being other than elegant.
Gibson: It's extremely good, isn't it? I was very pleasantly surprised.
Brenner: As a writer who's concerned with precisely defining the appearance of things, did you get to have any input in the design process?
Gibson: I was shown bits of the design as it was done, and I suppose I could've balked at any point, but I found it all very satisfactory. My publisher wanted it to be, he said, an object. [laughs] And it is – it's a tasteful object.
Brenner: Oh, definitely. Especially where the cover's reflective surface, the micro-diffraction-grating or whatever causes that subtle rainbow effect, it's more matte than it is glossy …
Gibson: Oh, there are endless – there's a whole language in publishing all about the emotionality and reflectivity of matte over foil. I'm not making that up, either, it's something that we all have to live with, all these details. If you make a cover too matte, it holds fingerprint oils in an unpleasant way. It's really clean when it comes out of the shipping carton, but after it's been handled, it looks yucky. I had that once, and it's not a good thing.
Brenner: "Distrust That Particular Flavor" is one of those cautionary phrases that makes a person want to know what it means. But in the essay it's from, it's declarative instead of imperative, and your essays, like your fiction, are rife with all kinds of compelling phrases ~ so why use that one in particular?
Gibson: Actually, my very excellent editor chose it when I was completely blanking on a title for this thing. She dove in to the manuscript and emerged with that. And I liked it, if only because it sounds ... it sounds unlikely to me, and it has a certain laissez-faire quality to it. Like the author's declaring you can call the book any old thing.
Brenner: You write in the introduction that it's taken you a while to get comfortable, or better than uncomfortable, with writing nonfiction. But now that you've reached the point of being okay with it, do you find yourself having to choose between using new discoveries in fiction or in essays?
Gibson: No, I go to narrative first. Everything goes into the narrative hopper. I don't really – it's not as though I have two hoppers – it all goes to potential fictive use. And non-fiction is still triggered exclusively by request. Like, some entity or branch of the Wall Street Journal asked me if I'd write a short essay on the history of futuristic fashion. And I jumped right on it it – because it's one of those peculiar topics that have always fascinated me.
Brenner: So many of your stories partly concern themselves, on various levels, with the tropes of fashion and merchandise branding & trafficking, and I know this is gonna sound more like a GQ question than an altweekly one, but I can't help but wonder: What does the man who invented Cayce Pollard wear? Are there particular brands of clothing that you, well, if not collect or wear exclusively, at least brands that you prefer?
Gibson: Oh, they're fairly obscure and, in some cases, I actually know the designer. But I like to think that I wear them in such a way that no one would ever imagine that would be the case. I think I have a way of wearing clothes that makes it look like, you know, Grandpa is going by the day-care center to pick up the kids – that's probably really true. I'm of an age now where I use Dick Cheney as a kind of yardstick. If I'm in a shop, looking at something, I think "Would it make TMV if Dick Cheney appeared wearing these pants?" And it kind of works – if Dick Cheney could wear it, I could wear it. But that could also cover things by some hip Berlin designer, sometimes. You have to take it a garment at a time.
Brenner: People have been waiting for a Neuromancer movie for decades, and now maybe finally one's going to get made?
Gibson: Well, it periodically looks as though one might be made. All I can tell you about that is that the general constellation of people and things around it are now more attractive, so it's now more possible than it has been before. But, you know: I wait with everyone else to see whether this will happen.
Brenner: And what if you had to choose having one of your other novels made into a movie instead?
Gibson: That would require imagining that it would be done extraordinarily well. Because it's very easy to imagine any of my novels being made into a movie that would set my teeth on edge. But, if it was good, which ones? I'd have a hard time choosing between Virtual Light and Pattern Recognition. I think that I'd most like to see an incredibly cool film of Pattern Recognition, which I suspect would have to be made in England to really work, mostly. England and Russia – that would be good. And actually, someone is making optioning noises about that one. So that may start to almost happen soon.
Brenner: You're traveling all over for this book tour, like you have for previous ones, and of course you've gone all over the planet on assignments and for research and so on. What's the best thing and the worst thing about all that, about traveling?
Gibson: It's funny: The worst part of it is the repetition … and the best part of it is the repetition. I'm the sort of person who, when I find a place I really like, I would much rather go back there ten times over the course of a couple decades than go and find another place I like. Because I enjoy the increasing depth, one's own sense of a foreign place – I find that really nice. Like I sort of halfway know London and I sort of halfway know Tokyo, in ways that I wouldn't if I'd gone to each one just a couple of times and then gone elsewhere.
Brenner: How does the preference for being grounded in that way, at least relatively grounded, fit in with your constant eye on the future?
Gibson: If I were constantly in a new place, I think I'd have less perspective on the nature of change. If you live through change in one place over a long period of time, it gives you an actual historical model, a very intimate model, for how things do change.
Brenner: Where's the longest you've lived?
Gibson: I've been permanently a resident of Vancouver since, I think, 1972. And I'm usually in a mile or two of some non-existent central point. I'm quite a stick-in-the-mud that way.
Brenner: Is there anything about Austin you're looking forward to experiencing, or is it just kind of a literary pitstop this time?
Gibson: I'm very cautious about nostalgia, but I have a fondness for Austin, for having been sort of Cyberpunk Central. Austin was actually the epicenter of the cyberpunk thing, and that was how I initially got to know it – going down there to see Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner and various wonderful hangers-around who got it. And that was actually before it was called that, before it was called cyberpunk – which makes it even better.
Brenner: Do you think, when something gets a label like that, when it has such recognition, that it's almost over?
Gibson: I think as soon as someone from the outside labels your bohemia, the mechanisms of co-option and absorption are well underway. And that was exactly what I thought when I heard anyone use the term "cyberpunk." I used to mount a vigorous defense that there was no such thing, that "there's something happening here, but you don't know what it is" sort of thing. And then I looked around and realized that my colleagues, who were mostly a bit younger, were quite taken with the name. So I sort of sighed, Okay, well, that's what it's going to be called. Because these guys think it's cool.
Brenner: And these days, you're not really writing science fiction so much … ?
Gibson: Actually, I am. I'm now working on a book that's like a double-helping of incredibly rich, crazy-ass science fiction.
[At which point the renowned godfather of cyberpunk had to move on – "Ah, I'm almost to my car now" – and your reporter shifted to anxiously making sure there'd been proper communication between his iPhone and the separate audio recorder.]