Cracker by Damian Christie

Peeing from the shoulders of giants

As promised before I left for Australia, here's the complete Q&A of an interview I did a couple of months back with US author William Gibson shortly before the release of his latest novel, Pattern Recognition.

For those who know who Gibson is, great, but for those who don't, he's written about 8 books, the most famous is probably his first, Neuromancer, in which he basically predicts the advent of the Net. Obviously the Net had been around in a sense for some time before he wrote about it, but it was still quite a few years before the world truly came on-line. He's also credited with coining the word cyberspace, and is beloved by geeks around the world. Gibson has his own blog at

The written-up article and my book review of Pattern Recognition appear in the Feb/March issue of Pavement Magazine, but given the constraints of how much you can fit in a one-page article, I thought it would be worth providing the full, unedited, unabridged, no-holds-barred Q&A here for your edification...

How does Pattern Recognition represent a departure from your previous works?

Pretend it's a first novel, I did myself. It's set in the present, has single-character narrative viewpoint, and isn't, particularly, science fiction. Those are all departures, for me.

The storyline aside, what was the underlying point you were trying to make with Pattern Recognition? (I'm hopeless at picking up themes and the like, I thought Animal Farm was just a sad story about some pigs...)

I'm not a didactic novelist. I think I'm trying to pose questions of the text, and by extension of the world. Or trying to discover questions to pose, more like it. Pattern Recognition seems to me to pose questions about branding, terrorism, and globalization, but I wouldn't go so far as to say what I think they are. That would usurp the reader's prerogative. There's a level at which I want it to be a mutually exploratory process. I don't think anyone else really needs my answers, but some people may find my questions useful, or at least entertaining.

Over the years you've been watching, do you think the Internet has gone from being an Information Superhighway to something more like an endless strip mall, set in the seedier part of town?

It's more like Jorge Luis Borges' Library of Babel, except that, interleaved with your Dante, sometimes invisibly, there are gum-wrappers, lost shopping-lists, bits of anonymous cellophane with a faded word or two. It's profound and banal simultaneously, and to the precisely the same staggering degree.

Given the plans we suspect Bigend had for the footage, or at least for its creators, what's your view on the art vs advertising: can advertising be art and vice versa? Or is this a swipe at advertisers who cynically use artists to promote their products? The David Lynch Playstation2 ads come to mind...

Bigend would probably tell you that advertising and *consciousness* are exactly the same thing, globally. He'd regard the distinction between art and advertising as almost perversely naive. But would you want to listen to Hubertus Bigend?

The word-of-mouth subversive marketing you write about, does it generate a particularly visceral reaction in you?

When I wrote the book, I assumed stories of this were urban legend, but after I'd turned in the manuscript, I saw a couple of accounts of it actually being done, in the United States. What was evident was that people in general had proven to have a very visceral, indeed violently negative reaction to it, and that it was being rethought by the ad companies. In one new model, a cute young Japanese couple stand outside the Empire State Building, recording one another with some utterly novel, to-die-for gadget. You see them, you ask about it, they show it to you, *but they can't speak English*.

Proof copies of Pattern Recognition are now apparently fetching over US$100 on e-bay -(don't worry, I wrote my name in my copy, like a geek, so it's staying on my shelf) - does it ever weird you out, being the generator of such passion, or at least willingness to part with good money, not to mention fans' websites etc? Flattering, unnerving, or both?

One of the nice things about being a novelist today is that the dose of celebrity is relatively homeopathic. I remember sitting on a restaurant terrace with Billy Idol in West Hollywood, being stunned by the extent to which the job of representing "Billy Idol" followed him around. (He said that in his view it was a lot like wearing one of those character-costumes at Disneyland.) We don't really get that, novelists. (My novel IDORU is about the mediation of personality, or vice versa.)

I've got quite a few concerns about what the internet and other technological developments are doing to the English language. Do you have similar concerns - do you find it paradoxical to be writing, in a literate manner and fluently, in and about an environment which seems to be doing a huge amount of damage to our language?

Living languages change. That's how you know they're living languages. I don't think they really become "damaged". (Telegraphy, interestingly, was often said to be damaging Victorian English.) What I find rather miraculous is that the Internet, and texting, have actually revived the practise of written communication. The power inherent in fluent and forceful communication assures that some people will invariable acquire it.

If we do lose some of the nuances of our language (not to mention now seemingly archaic concepts like "A collected book of the letters of William Gibson"), is it a worthwhile trade for the benefits we get from the Web?

What do you think your great-grandparents would think of the world today? Would they think that the "trade-off" had been worth it? I imagine it will be rather like that, in terms of what we might think of our great-grandchildren's world, but that they would be very uncomfortable at the thought of having to return to various aspects of ours. Actually, I doubt they'll think of us as entirely human, rather as some precursor-species.

Given the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of writing on the Web (although it's amazing how long some things lurk there), do you find an output made of paper and glue a more reassuring? If you could earn $$$ writing solely in an electronic medium, would you consider it?

I don't see writing for the Web as differing that much from print journalism, in terms of longevity of impact. Twenty years ago, daily newspapers were utterly ephemeral, aside from microfiche and file-copies, and magazines only a little less so. Books won't go away, although eventually we'll each own a single book able to be whichever book we require it to be at that particular moment. I doubt we're twenty years from that, actually.

Unlike so many of the authors I've read/interviewed recently, Pattern Recognition has a "happy ending". Is this important to you, or just the best way to end this particular story?

I didn't have much say in the matter. I really do believe that if I'm doing the most demanding part of my job, the outcome of the narrative is, in a sense, none of my business.

The sub-plot with Cayce's father and 9/11. Was that a comment on the ubiquity of those events, or were you giving the book an historical context? (or neither!)

I began writing Pattern Recognition prior to 9/11, with the conscious intention that it be set in 2002. After 9/11, Cayce's backstory, her life in New York, became part of an alternate timetrack, a dead end. I went back, began again, and it all started to come together in a very different way. Easily my strangest experience as a novelist: as I was attempting, for the first time, to write a novel that arguably wasn't sf, contemporary reality, my subject, seemed to abruptly and with utmost violence demonstrate that it *was* sf.

We seem to be heading towards a war or two: you worried? As someone who exiled himself from the US (albeit some time ago now), do you have concerns about the current US administration?

I don't think it has all that much to do with this particular administration. Something is going to be played out here that is larger, and will take longer, than any administration. As someone from the CIA recently said to a colleague of mine, expect the United States to be "very, very *mean*" for about the next fifteen years.

What would your average day consist of? Between writing and surfing, do you get out much?

When I'm writing a novel, I get out less, but getting out is essential. I try to at least have lunch with someone, or, failing that, to lunch where I can observe live, unimaginary humans.

Cheers to Pavement for allowing me to reproduce this :)