Friday, August 17, 2007

That Cyberspace Dude (and a whole lotta parentheses)

So I have this gigantic chip on my shoulder about having the coolest wife in the world. For real. She just started skateboarding to work. We play Dungeons and Dragons every weekend with our friends. She reads comic books. I am the winner of the geeks!!!

Yesterday Anna (yeah, coolest wife in the world) and Erik and I went to see William Gibson (you know, that writer guy who coined the term Cyberspace) talk at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He started out by reading most of a chapter from his new book, Spook Country. While I generally hate hearing writers reading their own work, this wasn't the worst thing in the world. It was nice to get a sense of the cadence of Gibson's voice before the Q and A started. For a man who writes such fast paced fiction, he talks very slowly in ridiculously long sentences. Hearing him read first was a good primer.

The half-hour question session was only enough time for three questions (HA!). Gibson used the questions to segue into a bit of a lecture on the role of science/fiction in describing the present. He talked for a bit about how fiction set in the future is limited by the culture and technology of the present. He went on to discuss the actual length of the present - He claims that Wells had three years of "present," he had three months when he started writing in the late seventies, and we are now at three hours - and how this makes writing sci/fi a bit more challenging now. He doesn't have as much time to take everything in and digest it as he used to. Now the world changes drastically in the few months that it takes him to actually write a book. Pretty neat idea.

I also liked that he and the woman who introduced him both mentioned his actual lack of knowledge about the technology that is so central to his books. He claims to get by on learning contemporary language and slang and then letting the reader fill in the blanks on their own. I like the way that "decks" and the devices that connect people to cyberspace (in Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive) are never actually described and yet, as a person somewhat (very somewhat) versed in computer usage, I have an idea of what they must look like. I imagine that, had I read the books when they were first published in the early to mid eighties, I would have a very different view of the look of the technology. This makes the books continue to feel feasible while Arthur C. Clarke's supposedly impressively painstakingly (adverbs, deploy) researched 2001: A Space Odyssey seems pretty dated these days. Believable language over believable science. Also don't ever unambiguously (yeah, more adverbs!) date your stories. Lessons learned with a vengeance (and, BOOM, a cliched adverbial phrase, fools!).

William Gibson has a blog.

William Gibson also has an incomplete bibliography.

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