We Are Living In the Cyberpunk Future of 1984: William Gibson at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

“This is William Gibson… he coined the word cyberspace.”
“And they won’t let me forget it.”
– from Wild Palms, 1993 TV Mini-Series

The Pandora Society took to the road Wednesday evening on a mission to meet William Gibson. Best known for the book, Neuromancer, and a key member of the Cyberpunk pantheon, Gibson is doing a book tour for the paperback release of his 2014 New York Times Bestseller, The Peripheral. As luck would have it, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, KY, was on his itinerary and when one of your favorite writers is that close you have to make the pilgrimage. So it was that Aloysius Fox, Guy Dillon, and I headed south to meet the Hugo and Philip K. Dick Award-winning author.

Hanging event banner.

This would be my second time seeing William Gibson. In 1993, I saw him speak at the Cincinnati Mercantile Library during the book tour for Virtual Light, the first in his three Bridge novels. I was eager to see him again, especially since The Peripheral was his first futuristic novel since that trilogy ended fifteen years ago.1

After a brief introduction, Gibson took the podium and thanked everyone for coming out. A tall, lanky man, Gibson read several excerpts from his latest book, though he was careful to not read passages that he felt were too, in his words, “spoilery.” For the next 20 minutes, an audience of thirty fans listened as he read in his soft, Southern drawl while, outside, the sun set and the windows behind him turned from a purplish sunset to a nighttime hue.

Following the reading, Gibson opened the floor to questions from audience. Asked about his most recent book and its characters’ ambiguity, he stated that The Peripheral was written the way that he always wanted to read a science fiction novel. He said that he preferred novels where he feels totally lost in the first few chapters. “Glorious novels,” he added, “have a ‘what the fuck?’ experience.” The Peripheral was intentionally written to be read more than once, he said, and that it’s a different read when you know who the characters are.

William Gibson reading excerpts from The Peripheral.

William Gibson reading excerpts from The Peripheral.

Gibson often downplays the visionary label he has been given through the years, admitting that he couldn’t know about things such as 3D printing or mobile technology. “In 1984[the year Neuromancer was released], nobody knew shit about the future, including myself.” Instead, he feels that Cyberpunk as a genre and his work in that genre are documents of how life was in 1984 and how he and other felt about that.

“When I wrote Neuromancer, I didn’t think that science fiction books set in imaginary futures could ever be about anything except the moment in which they were written,” he said. “We are living in the Cyberpunk future of 1984.”

Gibson also talked about the Cyberpunk’s beginning as a label (“Bruce [Sterling] decided it was a movement.”), his text for the art book, Agrippa2 (“I’m glad I wrote it… I didn’t get paid a nickel.”), and whether any part of his script for ALIENS 3 survived to the final film (“The barcode.”).

Gibson signed copies of his work.

Gibson signed copies of his work.

Afterwards, Gibson signed for copies of his books. Always a very friendly guy, he said that he would sign any books that people brought with them as well as books purchases that evening. He suggested, however, to ask him to sign only works done by him as, in the past, people have asked for signatures on works by other authors, including a playwright by the same name. We got our books signed and each politely chatted with Gibson. Sadly, since none of us owned a copy of the aformentioned Agrippa, plans to have him sign it in disappearing ink were immediately scuttled3.

Naturally, since Pandoracon 2016’s theme is Cyberpunk, the chance couldn’t go by without inviting him to be a Guest of Honor at the convention. I can’t tell too much about details but cards were exchanged and information traded. So let’s just say that the seeds have been planted.

1. It was also my birthday, so that made the event extra special.

2. An art book for which Gibson provided a 300-line poem. For the electronic version, the poem was stored on a floppy disk that would encrypt the text as you read it, so that it could only be read once. For the book version, the words would slowly fade as the print was exposed to light.

3. This joke’s funny if you read the previous footnote.


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