william gibson interview on amazon

One of the basic principles of Network Culture is that fiction is being replaced by reality. Recently I thoroughly enjoyed reading (albeit a couple of years late), William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and am on the list at my local bookstore to get Spook Country when it comes into the store on Monday.

In this interview at Amazon, Gibson reflects on why, in these two novels, he has abandoned writing science fiction set in the far future:

Well, I thought that writing about the world today as I perceive it would probably be more challenging, in the real sense of science fiction, than continuing just to make things up. And I found that to absolutely be the case. If I’m going to write fiction set in an imaginary future now, I’m going to need a yardstick that gives me some accurate sense of how weird things are now. ‘Cause I’m going to have to go beyond that. And I think definitely over the course of these last two books–I don’t think I’m done yet–I’ve been getting a yardstick together. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make up an imaginary future in the same way. In the ’80s and ’90s, as strange as it may seem to say this, we had such luxury of stability. Things weren’t changing quite so quickly in the ’80s and ’90s. And when things are changing too quickly, as one of the characters in Pattern Recognition says, you don’t have any place to stand from which to imagine a very elaborate future.

I found the link to the interview via Nicolas Nova’s great blog Pasta & Vinegar where Nicolas noted the following section:

Amazon.com: How do you research? If you want to write about, say, GPS, like you do in your new book, do you actively research it and seek out experts, or do you just perceive what’s out there and make it your own?

Gibson: Well, I google it and get it wrong [laughter]. Or if I’m lucky, Cory Doctorow tells me I’m wrong but gives me a good fix for it. One of the things I discovered while I was writing Pattern Recognition is that I now think that any contemporary novel today has a kind of Google novel aura around it, where somebody’s going to google everything in the text. So people–and this happened to me with Pattern Recognition–would find my footprints so to speak: well, he got this from here, and this information is on this site.

Amazon.com: You’re annotated out there.

Gibson: Yeah it’s sort of like there’s this nebulous extended text. Everything is hyperlinked now. Some of it you actually have to type it in to get it, but it’s all hyperlinked. It really changes things. I’m sure a lot of writers haven’t yet realized how it changes things, but I find myself googling everything that goes into the text, and sometimes being led off in a completely different direction.

What interests me about these snippets of interview is first, how the radical present has thoroughly overcome any future we can conceive and second, how even fiction comes already hyperlinked—thoroughly inextricable from contemporary network culture. Gibson’s comment suggests to me that we are at a point of singularity—not the full blown Vernor Vinge version, but still, at a point in which we cannot imagine the future. In part, this is not only because of the radical instability of the world, but I would argue, also due to our exhaustion with the modernist tradition of futurism. Given this condition, however, what about Utopia? I have to admit that I haven’t cracked the new Jameson tome on this, but since many of my colleagues are advocates of reimaginging Utopia, I wonder how these two points can be resolved or if they can.

As a historian, another question arises…what will future scholars do when these links no longer exist? In researching Ulysses you could look through various records about Dublin in the early twentieth century, but the Web is unstable enough that the world Gibson describes will be gone within a couple of years. To some degree, I think this is moot in his case as—especially now that he has made the suggestion—chapter-by-chapter if not line-by-line guides to Gibson’s text may well appear rapidly. But what if the author in question was less well known when his or her book was written? What then?

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While at the bookstore yesterday, I spied a new edition of science historian's James Burke's classic book, Connections. This book, and the accompanying ten episode television series of the same name, is a vivid example of the power of seemingly minor events to change history.

Each episode centers around a small breakthrough that almost inevitably leads to a radical transformation in contemporary life. Initially, these changes appear to have nothing to do with what they lead to (e.g. an innovation in Dutch ships allows plastics to be produced). Although this might seem to be an exercise in a historiography of the accident, it is far from it. Burke's goal is to underscore how the world we live in is not the product of either a single, inexorable march forward or from happy accidents and little guys made good (the Paul Harvey approach) but rather from a complex, network of connections, of individual moments of agency linking together into a larger whole.

Since I bought my iPhone, I have found myself watching more videos on the train to and from the Studio-X space from our Montclair, New Jersey apartment. Today I had the opportunity to watch the Trigger Effect, episode 1 of the series. I don't want to give much away, but you'll soon find out that the series begins at the foot of the World Trade Center. Burke is at his best here and watching this video after 9/11 only underscores the validity of his thesis. I haven't watched Burke's look back at Connections, Re-Connections, but I hope to do so on another ride today or tomorrow. It's worth noting as well that Burke is creating a new project called the Knowledge Web which intends to use the Internet to network Burke's research.



I enjoyed watching Connections when it was first broadcast on PBS in the 1970s. The show sparked an interest in history and the role of networks in history for me and Robert Sumrell, my partner in AUDC, was similarly struck by the show. Although we should have credited Burke in the acknowledgments, he's on the long list of individuals that we should have credited but didn't. Consciously or not, Blue Monday is very much a product of Burke's method.

This is something important to realize as some readers of Blue Monday have suggested that it is a book about three (or seven) quirky moments and our research into these marginal conditions. Far from it. Much like Burke—or our mentors at the Museum of Jurassic Technology and the Center for Land Use Interpretation—Blue Monday sets out to uncover the complexity and richness of the world from the incidents around us.

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