National Public Radio: Fresh Air: February 1989

Terry Gross interviews author William Gibson.

Terry Gross: "In William Gibson's science fiction, the setting is a barren, post-world war three world, where multinationals have taken the place of political systems; computer hackers vie for power in a computer generated zone known as cyberspace. Gibson has consciously put into his science fiction, references to rock n' roll, consumer culture, and modern art. Just the sort of stuff he missed in the science fiction he read growing up. With his first novel, Neuromancer, William Gibson became known as the father of a new wave of science fiction that's been called cyberpunk. William Gibson's new novel is titled Mona Lisa Overdrive and it's set sometime in the future."

Willam Gibson: "Well you know, I deliberately hedged on that, I would guess from internal evidence that it's sort of the mid twenty-first century. So what's that like sixty years?"

TG: "Uh huh."

WG: "It's not very far away, but it's not, while there's a convention in science fiction that one is writing about the future no one can really write about the future and I think that science fiction novels, by and large, reflect the decade that they were created in. You know the fifties SF, you look at it and it's the fifties. And I started doing the kind of work that I'm doing because I wanted something that reflected the seventies and everything I was reading that was being written seemed to me to reflect the sixties."

TG: "Well now it's the eighties, how are you doin'?"

WG: "Well, in a way I've reached the end of the material, like things have changed so much. When I wrote Neuromancer, my first novel, I didn't know about AIDS, nobody had heard of that. I knew vaguely about the greenhouse effect, but I didn't think it was anything to worry about; and nobody told me that the ozone layer was decaying, so in a sense my imaginary future is already obsolete. So the next time around I'm going to have to take all those things into consideration."

TG: "Your book is set after the wars, what wars did you envision and what were they fought over?"

WG: "Well that's a very optimistic little piece of trickery on my part because I wanted to be able to write about a future, and I wanted to be able to say `Well it's there.' So I posited as a piece of background information one very, very brief nuclear exchange that results in the whole world saying `Oh no we've got to get rid of these things' and then it's, you have a future. But we should be so lucky, probably."

TG: "Multinationals play a pretty important role in your books."

WG: "I think I originally may have gotten that from Thomas Pynchon's view of the Royal Dutch Shell Company in Gravity's Rainbow, which is the first time I realized that there were companies that could operate on both sides of the Second World War and merge seamlessly afterwards and still, you know, these are entities that are outside national boundaries and that's always fascinated me. I think multinationals in a sense are like more evolved life forms."

TG: "Describe your cyberspace matrix."

WG: "Oh that's a tough one off the page. I've posited a level of technology in which people can experience media a bit more efficiently than we can today. So that rather than having to look at a television set and put on the earphones, you simply plug yourself into something that makes you feel that you're in the environment that the media producer has generated. So taking that as a given, and that's an old idea from science fiction, in the fifties they called that `feelies' in science fiction. Taking that as a given, I've coupled that with computer technology to try to imagine a world in which computer operators enter into a what I've only ever been able to decribe as a `consensual hallucination.'"

TG: "You've been credited with revitalizing science fiction. When you started writing, did you think of science fiction as needing revitalizing?"

WG: "Yeah well, to answer that in two parts; I've been, I may have been credited with it, would that it were true. I wish science fiction had had been revitalized but I did deliberately set out, in an odd sort of way, I didn't set out to be successful at this, I was, with my early short stories and the first book in a way I was writing things that I thought would bug the science fiction community to no end. And I thought well this book's going to be ignored. Because I was tired of unicorn fantasies and I was tired of this sort of endlessly recycled pseudo-Heinlinean stuff, you know, male power fantasies, and the future is the United States, and so I thought I'm gonna come in here and do the old, put the double-whammy on this stuff but consequently I expected to be roundly ignored."

TG: "What's an example of something you thought would really bug other science fiction writers?"

WG: "Well for instance, the, it's impossible on internal evidence, when you read my novel Neuromancer, to determine whether or not the United States exists as a political entity. You're aware of large corporations, and people have neighborhoods of teenage street gangs, and cities or possibly city-states, and certain cities have merged, you know, Boston, Atlanta and New York are all a part of the same big ugly thing. But you can't tell if the United States exists. And I thought that alone was done in deliberate rection to this overwhelming tendency in American science fiction to see the future as America. And I think at one time the world believed that America was the future, but now the future's gone somewhere else, perhaps to Japan, it's probably on it's way to Singapore soon but I don't think we're `it' anymore."

TG: "You're writing the screenplays to a couple of your own short stories."

WG: "Yeah."

TG: "Are you going to treat technology differently in movies than you do in books once you have the chance to get people to actually build these things that you've only imagined and descibed on paper."

WG: "Oh, no I don't think so. I think I have basically, or for that matter I'm not sure how it is I do treat technology, but it's amazing how quickly this stuff develops. I met some computer special effects people, the last time I was in Hollywood, and they said `Oh we want to do cyberspace for you, this is what it looks like.' And they started showing me things on monitor screens that I couldn't believe, and I said `You can do it! you can do it! it's almost here.' And they said `Oh yeah, definitely, we're gonna be able to do this in a couple years but we just want to fake it right now for the movie so we can do it with this.'"

TG: "You've imagined levels of technology that we have not reached yet. Are you a technologically adept person yourself?"

WG: "No I'm not, I'm a sort of a generalist and I think that..."

TG: "Does that mean you know how to use a toaster, what does that mean?"

WG: "Well I know how to use a toaster and I now know how to use a relatively primtive word processor and I know how to use a telephone but not the really complicated modern ones. But I don't have any specific area of technical expertise and I think in fact that the reason I was able to get away with what I did in Neuromancer is that I knew virtually nothing about computers so I sort of imagined what, not only what computers would be, but I imagined what they are, because I had no hands on experience and I did that through some strange process of decoding what I took to be the rather poetic language of the hackers. And words like interface, sort of leaking into common usage, and you know that's a lovely word and I thought what does that mean so I make up something."

TG: "Do you like words like interface, I mean a lot of people hate words like that cause it's..."

WG: "Oh I think it's the cutting edge of language, really I mean it's one of the points in English where language is evolving, and language is constantly changing."

TG: "Well you're books have added a word to the language in a way you're books have been named `cyberpunk,' what do you think of that new word?"

WG: "Well, that's one I could've done without but that's a very mysterious word, we're still trying to find out who introduced it. It definitley wasn't one of the participants in this alleged literary movement, or phenomena or whatever it is. But I suppose in a way, it's reasonably descriptive, although I don't know what people would think of it when they see it, I mean if I didn't know what it was supposed to mean, I would think it would mean some guy in a mohawk, it's like modems and mohawks, or something. A guy with a mohawk and a mac. A mac II, and though, I don't know, that wasn't what I had in mind I just thought, when I started out doing this stuff I thought I was trying to do what I thought of as being a slightly hipper kind of science fiction."

TG: "Well listen I want to thank you very much for talking with us."

WG: "Well, thank you."

TG: "William Gibson's latest novel Mona Lisa Overdrive is published by Bantam Books. His next book will be a collaboration with science fiction writer Bruce Sterling."

[picture of William Gibson]

Above is a picture of William Gibson at a signing/reading. Found in the newsgroup alt.cyberpunk (I think) in early 1999 or late 1998.

Transcribed by ArtLung: Find out about ArtLung at

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