more on gibson and the networked book

While waiting for the bookstore down the street from my Montclair home base to open its doors so I can pick up my copy of William Gibson's latest novel, Spook Country, I decided to read another interview with the cyberpunk author, this time at silicon.com. Here, Gibson discusses how he came to write about the recent past instead of the future and the relationship of his latest work with the Internet.

Here is a brief excerpt:

How has technology changed writing?

The thing that has affected me most directly during Pattern Recognition, and subsequently, is the really strange new sense I have of the Google-ability of the text. It's as though there is a sort of invisible hyperlink theoretical text that extends out of the narrative of my novel in every direction.

Someone has a website going where every single thing mentioned in Spook Country has a blog entry and usually an illustration so, every reference, someone has taken it, researched it and written a sort of little Wikipedia entry for it and all in the format of a website [my note: http://www.spookcountry.co.uk/] that pretends to be from a magazine called Node, which is an imaginary magazine, within Spook Country, and which turns out to be imaginary in the context of the narrative.

I have this sense when I write now that the text doesn't stop at the end of the page and I suppose I could create web pages somewhere and lead people to them through the text which is an interesting concept. I actually played with doing that in Spook Country but I didn't know enough about it. Everything is bending towards hypertext now.

As a collaborator on two networked books (Blue Monday and Networked Publics), this part of the interview interests me greatly. These two books were networked in that they were collaboratively written on-line. I have long dreamed of key sections books being linkable, Wikipedia-style, like this passage here and we began doing that with Blue Monday although it was too time consuming to complete. Sadly, publishers are still not keen on having the entire text of books on the Web so giving networked versions of books something that print copies by definition can't support would be very troubling for them.

In the end, I have only one essay with the degree of links that I feel I'd like my texts to have—Beyond Locative Media*—and it took a long time to manually add the links. Maybe the problem is my markup: I'm using TinyMCE, a WYSIWYG editor with Drupal, and that requires me to open a new window for every link I want to add. Wikitext might be a better strategy, allowing me to cite URLs inline.

But what happens in fifty years, or even five years, when Web pages have changed and the links become obsolete? What then? The networked book, it would seem, is inextricable from its context. Historians who will want to work on such books will be caught exploring only the very recent past.

*Curiously enough, this text was finished in December 2005, the novel is set in February 2006, and, after reading a few chapters, I was suprised to see that locative media artist hackers appear to be featured prominently… Rather than thinking that Gibson might be reading my texts, I think this is evidence of the sort of delirious intertextuality that he is talking about.

(this post draws on my earlier post at http://varnelis.net/blog/william_gibson_interview_amazon)