Joshua Rothman speaks with William Gibson about science fiction, his new novel Agency and the present. This lengthy profile provides an insight into the mind of the writer.
Gibson doesn’t have a name for his method; he knows only that it isn’t about prediction. It proceeds, instead, from a deep engagement with the present.
Most science fiction takes place in a world in which “the future” has definitively arrived; the locomotive filmed by the Lumière brothers has finally burst through the screen. But in “Neuromancer” there was only a continuous arrival—an ongoing, alarming present. “Things aren’t different. Things are things,” an A.I. reports, after achieving a new level of consciousness. “You can’t let the little pricks generation-gap you,” one protagonist tells another, after an unnerving encounter with a teen-ager. In its uncertain sense of temporality—are we living in the future, or not?—“Neuromancer” was science fiction for the modern age. The novel’s influence has increased with time, establishing Gibson as an authority on the world to come.
Gibson’s strategy of extreme presentness reflects his belief that the current moment is itself science-fictional.
“The future is already here,” he has said. “It’s just not very evenly distributed.”The further Gibson developed his present-tense sci-fi, the more mysterious and resonant his novels became.
Gibson has a bemused, gentle, curious vibe. He is not a dystopian writer; he aims to see change in a flat, even light. “Every so often—and I bet a lot of people do this but don’t mention it—I have an experience unique in my life, of going, ‘This is so bad—could this possibly be real?’ ” he said, laughing. “Because it really looks very dire. If we were merely looking at the possible collapse of democracy in the United States of America—that’s pretty fucked. But if we’re looking at the collapse of democracy in the United States of America within the context of our failure to do anything that means shit about global warming over the next decade . . . I don’t know.”
Some speculative writers are architects: they build orderly worlds. But Gibson has a collagist’s mind. He has depicted himself as “burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface.”
His plots are Tetris-like, their components snapping together at the last possible moment until the space of the novel is filled.