- GIBSON, William (Ford)
- (1948-)US-born writer, in Canada since 1968, when he moved north after being rejected by his draft-board. After some time in Toronto - where a significant proportion of his fellow expatriates had come to Canada in protest against the Vietnam War - he moved in 1972 to Vancouver, a Pacific Rim city where attention was uneasily focused upon increasingly dominantJapan across the waters. (It could be argued that the Vancouver attitude toward imperial Japan, and to its Hong Kong "sidekick", provides a model for the numb, colonized acquiescence to a new world order so characteristic of occidentals in the Neuromancer trilogy which made WG famous.) WG began publishing sf with "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" for Unearth in 1977, and by 1983 had produced most of the fiction laterassembled in BURNING CHROME (coll 1986 US); some of these tales, like "Johnny Mnemonic" (1981) and the 1982 title story, were set in theNeuromancer universe, and were, therefore, early examples of what would soon become known as CYBERPUNK (which see for detailed examination of the movement).WG did not invent cyberpunk, nor has he ever claimed to have done so. Bruce BETHKE's "Cyberpunk" (1983) supplied the name, and Gardner DOZOIS, in a 1983 article, defined the movement by applying the term toworks set in COMPUTER-driven, high-tech NEAR FUTURE venues inhabited by a slum-bound streetwise citizenry for whom the new world is an environment, not a project. In terms of traditional US sf, this was heresy, and WG's enormous success as an sf writer must have seemed an ominous harbinger of the death of traditional sf. His novels treat traditional sf instruments and themes as unforegrounded figures in the complex mosaic of urban life; he shifts the grounds of sf displacement inwards from cyber (as it were) to punk; the world his novels describe is old, and whether or not it can be understood - in WG's work it generally cannot - its inhabitants are consumers, not makers. The essential displacement from which they suffer - like so many protagonists of Modernist and POSTMODERNIST literature - is the loss of an integrated self. For the inhabitants of WG's world, selfhood has emptied itself into the instruments of the world, and in book after book - like cases of flesh - his characters are found hacking the wilderness for Cargo.Canadian sf - from A.E. VAN VOGT down through Gordon R. DICKSON and beyond - has always tended to lock its protagonists intogrey wilderness environments impenetrable to CONCEPTUAL BREAKTHROUGH, where they survive as displaced souls, longing for transcendence. As a Canadian writer, therefore - through his own displacing act of emigration- WG was well placed to write the definitive cyberpunk book. All he needed to add to the new territory he had embraced was - in his remarkably fluent and attentive prose - gear, brand-names, Japanese corporations and mean streets. But in the end the void of the wilderness interpenetrates the things of the world, and generates a sense that they are ultimately vain. The Neuromancer trilogy - NEUROMANCER (1984 US), Count Zero (1986 UK) andMona Lisa Overdrive (1988 UK) - is all about escaping the flesh.The protagonist of NEUROMANCER - which won the HUGO, NEBULA, and PHILIP K. DICK AWARDS - is a matrix cowboy or outlaw hired to link a digital versionof his mind into CYBERSPACE itself (cyberspace being a worldwide computer matrix of information experienced by any plugged-in sentience as an infinitely complex and chambered VIRTUAL-REALITY labyrinth) and, once "inside", to steal data. The "outside" world of the book is a near-futureUSA (although never named as such) dominated by Japanese corporations, one of which may be his employer. The plot itself harks back, as does much of the imagery, to the classic mean-streets California thrillers of Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) and Ross Macdonald (pseudonym of Kenneth Millar (1915-1983)); and, true to those models - and to what might be called WG's Canadian pessimism about changing the world - none of the characters of NEUROMANCER have anything but an eavesdropping relationship to the true roots of power. The story eventually moves from Earth into near space, where complex orbiting arcologies house the AIs which, perhaps, secretly run the world; but the protagonist does not covertly long to run the world in their stead. His longing is to transcend the flesh which pulls him back from the bliss of cyberspace. The second and third volumes of the sequence, though more sophisticated as novels, inevitably fail to advance much further - in traditional sf terms-towards working out the implications of the Neuromancer world, which remains a wilderness. The AIs of the first volume have suffered a traumatized, cataclysmic coming to self-awareness, and now haunt cyberspace in the guise of voodoo godlings. A wide range of characters appears throughout Count Zero and Mona LisaOverdrive, but they share an underlying paralysis; and, as a novelist burdened with the task of creating new tales, WG inevitably pays a price for his refusal to countenance any normal sf sorting-out of the world. Hints given at the end of the last volume of a sudden interstellar growthof perspective singularly fail to convince.Cyberpunk in WG's hands, then, was an assault on future HISTORY. Neuromancer in particular was treated by much of its huge readership as a manual for surviving in style. That WG is uncannily sensitive to manners and idioms may have, for many of his readers, obscured the underlying bleakness of his vision. After spending some time writing filmscripts in Hollywood, however, he allowed that bleakness to come unmistakably to the fore in THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE (1990 UK) with Bruce STERLING. The book is a sustained work of RECURSIVE SF -Benjamin DISRAELI and characters from his work appear throughout - a STEAMPUNK evocation of an ALTERNATE WORLD 19th-century UK dominated by the supposition that in about 1820 Charles BABBAGE succeeded in his attempt to construct the title's COMPUTER. The world that explodes into reality as a consequence of Babbage's triumph is, in THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, a cruel and polluted DYSTOPIA, a land dominated by calculation, measurement and severely "practical" reason. Vast arterial roads ransack a choking London; huge masonical edifices house the new totalitarian bureaucracy which operates the Engines; and a conscious AI is a-borning. Though the book is at points unduly narrow in conception, and congested as a tale, its ultimate effect is very considerable.Virtual Light (1993), though entirely competent, is a markedly less ambitious portrait of NEAR FUTURE California, viewed through the lens of a thriller plot complete withMCGUFFIN; the vision of the Oakland Bay Bridge transformed into a niche colony for social rejects and rebels is, however, enthralling. In the sense that he tells tales involving human choices within world-encompassing frameworks overwhelming beyond their capacity to transform, WG could plausibly be seen as a paradigm moralist for the new age of sf.JC
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.