William Gibson (1948- ) is a science fiction writer, famous for giving us the word “cyberspace”. His first book “Neuromancer” (1984) is still his best. It was the beginning of a new sort of science fiction called cyberpunk, which gave us, among other things, “The Matrix”. Many of the ideas in that film come from Gibson. One of his own stories was made into a film: “Johnny Mnemonic”.
In the 1980s he was a sort of dark prophet of the coming Internet age, writing about evil hackers and virtual reality when those things were still science fiction, not yet the stuff of newspaper articles.
He now writes fiction that takes place in the present day, but it is the world that has changed, not him. The present has caught up to his future.
As a boy Gibson discovered William S Burroughs (beat author) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (science fiction author) in the same week. His own fiction is a marriage of the two: science fiction with a beat or punk rock sense of the world. Thus the name “cyberpunk”. It is more Orwell than Asimov; more “Blade Runner” than “Star Trek”. Not a golden age of spaceships, but a troubled age of computers. Like ours.
His prose can be a bit hard-going, but he has a fertile mind. Reading Gibson helps you to understand the world we live in because he saw it coming.
Gibson’s father helped to build Oak Ridge, where the first atom bomb was made. He died suddenly when Gibson was six.
His mother moved them back to south-western Virginia where she was from. Gibson said it was like going back in time. He withdrew from the world into books: mainly science fiction (Dick, Zelazny, Bradbury, Burroughs) and the beat writers (Kerouac, Ginsberg and the other Burroughs).
His mother had the rare presence of mind to send him to a boys’ school in Arizona. This helped to bring him out of himself. But when he was there the other shoe dropped: out of the blue his mother died.
He left school and joined what became known as the counterculture. To avoid fighting in the Vietnam war he fled to Canada when he was 19, first to Toronto, then to Vancouver, where he lives to this day.
He had always dreamed of becoming a science fiction writer, but not till he had a family to feed did he get serious about writing for a living. He was not suited for anything else. This was 1977 when punk rock was in the air and he saw it as the next big thing. It guided his science fiction. His first stories appeared mainly in Omni magazine.
He comes out with a new book every three years or so. His latest is “Spook Country” (2007). It takes place in the same world as “Pattern Recognition” (2003), probably his best book after “Neuromancer”.
Gibson likes Borges.
He has written two so-so television shows for the “X-Files”. That they were not very good is no surprise: Gibson himself rarely watches television. He prefers to write instead.
Cyberspace: Although he credits Bradbury, Gibson was one of the first to understand that hooking computers together into a worldwide network was creating a new kind of world, a new space. Thus “cyberspace”.