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Friday, January 31, 2003

posted
2:38 PM
“A SMALL MESH ZIP POCKET STORES ANYTHING WET"

Yakuza fingers? Tissue samples? A margarita in freefall?

Forget THE NEW YORKER; this is fame.

http://www.athleta.com/product_detail.cfm?product_id=1338

“New from Victoria’s Sprawl, these classic five-pocket jeans in traditional burgundy calfskin sport double-thick knees, plus slender 9” pockets on either thigh, just right for a balisong and a spring-steel cosh…”

MY FAVORITE “WILLIAM GIBSON” NOVELS…

Well, not that I’ve gone back and re-read them recently (or, really, ever) but I seem to be fonder of COUNT ZERO, from the first set, and IDORU from the second. COUNT ZERO because the ace cyberspace cowboy turns out to be, initially at least, a completely hapless teenage dork, and IDORU because I love the idea of a little girl from a Seattle suburb getting on the plane to Tokyo, having crazy adventures there, and coming back without anyone even having noticed.

But THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE is the only book with my name on it that I ever go back to and deliberately read for pleasure. Probably because it feels to me like neither Bruce nor I wrote it, and our Third Man proved to be such a singularly weird dude. There actually are a few (very few) people who shyly confess to never having liked a word I’ve written, aside from TDE, which they love. They tend to be computer scientists or professors of evolutionary theory.

WILL PATTERN RECOGNITION BE PUBLISHED IN SPAIN?

Actually, I don’t know. Ask Minotauro, who currently have my backlist there.

When I was in Barcelona it was explained to me how excruciatingly difficult the job of translation is, not only because of the texts themselves, but because the resulting translation must be able to work simultaneously in Spain, Argentina, Chile, Mexico – all slightly different in terms of certain usages.

PAPA LEGBA

The Archangel Gabriel might possibly cut some ice, but I personally would not want to have either Saint Isadore of Seville or Saint Clare of Assisi standing in for the Lord of the Crossroads.

As my friend Johan says, he's the business.




Thursday, January 30, 2003

posted
10:30 AM
ERRATA: SIGNAL TO NOISE

There was a copy of the actual Putnam hardcover waiting, when I returned from Denmark. I haven't looked at it. The tour-readings are, in some very serious way, both the first and the last time I get to access the text, so I prefer to come to each reading (always a "new" part of the book) as if I were seeing it for the first time (which in a way I am).

Be that as it may: lots of people, not least myself, have tried very hard to reduce the noise for you, the reader. We've all done the best we could, under our particular circumstances, but there will still be some noise. With the fable of the princess and the pea in mind, I advise you to concentrate on the signal.

IT'S NEW ZEALAND DAY HERE IN THE BASEMENT...

I'm waiting for at least one interview call. Tomorrow is Canada.

So I will fob another piece of old speechifying off on you. Actually this isn't a speech but it sure reads like one. My syntax must have twisted, as I got out of bed, the day I wrote this. This originally appeared in FORBES ASAP, which (I think) is a sort of glossy hi-corporate giveaway. Funny how I work things out, in pieces like this, often written for publication where I figure relatively few people will see them.

This was was published as DEAD MAN SPEAKS:

Time moves in one direction, memory in another.

We are that strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting.

I sometimes think that nothing really is new; that the first pixels were particles of ochre clay, the bison rendered in just the resolution required. The bison still function perfectly, all these millennia later, and what screen in the world today shall we say that of in a decade? And yet the bison will be there for us, on whatever screens we have, carried out of the primal dark on some impulse we each have felt, as children, drawing. But carried nonetheless on this thing we have always been creating, this vast unlikely mechanism that carries memory in its interstices; this global, communal, prosthetic memory that we have been building since before we learned to build.

We live in, have lived through, a strange time. I know this because when I was a child the flow of forgetting was relatively unimpeded. I know this because the dead were less of a constant presence, then. Because there was once no rewind button. Because the soldiers dying in the Somme were black and white, and did not run as the living run. Because the world’s attic was still untidy. Because there were old men in the mountain valleys of my Virginia childhood who remembered a time before recorded music.

When we turn on the radio in a New York hotel room and hear Elvis singing “Heartbreak Hotel”, we are seldom struck by the peculiarity of our situation: that a dead man sings.

In the context of the longer life of the species, it is something that only just changed a moment ago. It is something new, and I sometimes feel that, yes, everything has changed. (This perpetual toggling between nothing being new, under the sun, and everything having very recently changed, absolutely, is perhaps the central driving tension of my work.)

Our “now” has become at once more unforgivingly brief and unprecidently elastic. The half-life of media-product grows shorter still, ‘til it threatens to vanish altogether, everting into some weird quantum logic of its own, the Warholian Fifteen Minutes becoming a quark-like blink. Yet once admitted to the culture’s consensus-pantheon, certain things seem destined to be with us for a very long time indeed. This is a function, in large part, of the rewind button. And we would all of us, to some extent, wish to be in heavy rotation.

And as this capacity for recall (and recommodification) grows more universal, history itself is seen to be even more obviously a construct, subject to revision. If it has been our business, as a species, to dam the flow of time through the creation and maintenance of mechanisms of external memory, what will we become when all these mechanisms, as they now seem intended ultimately to do, merge?

The end-point of human culture may well be a single moment of effectively endless duration, an infinite digital Now. But then, again, perhaps there is nothing new, in the end of all our beginnings, and the bison will be there, waiting for us.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

posted
10:29 PM
IN THE VISEGRIPS OF DR. SATAN (WITH VANNEVAR BUSH)

As the Tupperware yawns wider still, and PATTERN RECOGNITION's "pub date" looms (which sounds like having a pint or two down the Hog And Grommet with that nice girl from Accounting, but isn't) I find myself starting to have that I Don't Have A Life feeling. Pre-tour angst. As of next Monday I will be on tour. So, in an effort to cut myself some slack from the few precious civilian days remaining, I 'm opting to post the following talk, which I gave last year at the Vancouver Art Gallery. VAG had mounted an ambitious if oddly titled (The Uncanny) show around the theme of "the cyborg". Since this seemed to be "the cyborg" as academics understand "the cyborg", and not just a cyborg, or cyborgs, as you or I might understand cyborg(s) I took it upon myself to lower the tone of the proceedings with the following. I really couldn't get much of a read on how it was recieved, but I figured these people were used to keeping their cards pretty close to their chests. Meeting some of them did help me, though, later, with the character of Dorotea.

It's long, as blog-entries go, and is probably way too basic for most of you, but maybe someone will find it of some interest. This is the first time it's appeared anywhere (and very likely the last). Meanwhile, I'll have a little extra time to pretend I don't have to go on a book tour. (Don't worry. Once I'm out there, I get all too into it.)

MY TALK ABOUT "THE CYBORG":

The first intimations of the cyborg, for me, were the robots in a 1940 Republic serial called THE MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN. These robots had been recycled from the earlier UNDERSEA KINGDOM, 1936, and would appear again in the brilliantly-titled ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE, 1952. I have those dates and titles not because I’m any sort of expert on Republic serials, or even on science fiction in general, but because I’ve bookmarked Google. But we’ll get back to Google later.

THE MYSTERIOUS DR. SATAN was among my earliest cinematic experiences. I probably saw it in 1952, and I definitely saw it on a television whose cabinet was made out of actual wood, something that strikes me today as wholly fantastic. These Republic cliffhangers, made originally for theatrical release, one episode at a time, were recycled in the Fifties for local broadcast in the after-school slot, after half an hour of black and white Hollywood cartoons.

I can remember being utterly terrified by Dr. Satan’s robots, which had massive tubular bodies, no shoulders, hands like giant Visegrip pliers, and limbs made of some sort of flexible metal tubing. They had been on the job since 1936, which contributed strongly to the weirdness of their design-language, but I had no way of knowing that. I just knew that they were the scariest thing I’d ever seen, ever, and I could barely stand to watch them menace the hero or his girlfriend.

I wonder now what I knew about robots. That they were called “robots”, and were “mechanical men”. That these particular robots were the servants of Dr. Satan. Did I believe that they were autonomous, or that Dr. Satan controlled them? Probably the latter, as menacing-robot scenes in serials of this sort often involved a sort of telepresence, and the suggest of remote control. Cut from robot, menacing, to evil scientist in his lab, watching robot menace on television screen. Evil scientist closes giant knife-switch, which causes robot to menace even harder.

Given that I was watching this material in the early Fifties, I would shortly become familiar with the expression “electronic brain”, which like “rocket ship” was there as a marker of something anticipated but not yet here. Actually, it already was here, and had been since World War II, but most people didn’t know it yet. And that is where postwar science fiction, in retrospect, got it most broadly wrong: all eyes were on the rocket ship, relatively few on the electronic brain. We all know, today, which one’s had the greater impact.

An electronic brain. What would you do with one of those, if you had one? In 1940, you’d probably stick it in a machine of some kind. Not one of Dr. Satan’s recycled Atlantean robots, but something practical. Say a machine that could weld leaf-springs in a Milwaukee tractor factory.

This, really, is about what science fiction writers call “Steam Engine Time”. The observable fact that steam, contained, exerts force, has been around since the first lid rattled as the soup came to a boil. The ancient Greeks built toy steam engines that whirled brass globes. But you won’t get a locomotive ‘til it’s Steam Engine Time.

What you wouldn’t do, in 1940, with an electronic brain, would be to stick it on your desk, connect it somehow to a typewriter, and, if you, had one, a television of the sort demonstrated at the 1939 Worlds fair in New York. At which point it would start to resemble… But it’s not Steam Engine Time yet, so you can’t do that. Although you would, or anyway you’d think about it, if you were a man named Vannevar Bush, but we’ll come back to him later. Vannevar Bush almost single-handedly invented what we now think of as the military-industrial complex. He did that for Franklin Roosevelt, but it isn’t what he’ll be remembered for.

I can’t remember a robot ever scaring me that much, after DR. SATAN’s robots. They continued to be part of the cultural baggage of sf, but generally seemed rather neutral, at least to me. Good or bad depending on who was employing them in a given narrative. Isaac Asimov wrote a whole shelf of novels working out a set of hard-wired ethics for intelligent robots, but I never got into them. The tin guys didn’t, by the Sixties, seem to me to be what was interesting in science fiction, and neither did space ships. It was what made Asimov’s robots intelligent in the first place that would have interested me, had I thought of it, but I didn’t.

What interested me most in the sf of the 60s was the investigation of the politics of perception, some of which, I imagine, could now be seen in retrospect as having been approached through various and variously evolving ideas of the cyborg. Stories about intelligent rocket ships and how humans might interact with them, or stories of humans forced through circumstances to become the non-electronic brain in an otherwise traditional robot. A sort of projection was underway, an exploration of boundaries. And meanwhile, out in the world, the cyborg was arriving. Or continuing to arrive.

Though not in science fiction’s sense of the cyborg, which was that of a literal and specific human-machine hybrid. There’s a species of literalism in our civilization that tends to infect science fiction as well: it’s easier to depict the union of human and machine literally, close-up on the cranial jack please, than to describe the true and daily and largely invisible nature of an all-encompassing embrace

The real cyborg, cybernetic organism in the broader sense, had been busy arriving as I watched DR. SATAN on that wooden television in 1952. I was becoming a part of something, in the act of watching that screen. We all were. We are today. The human species was already in process of growing itself an extended communal nervous system, then, and was doing things with it that had previously been impossible: viewing things at a distance, viewing things that had happened in the past, watching dead men talk and hearing their words. What had been absolute limits of the experiential world had in a very real and literal way been profoundly and amazingly altered, extended, changed. And would continue to be. And the real marvel of this was how utterly we took it all for granted.

Science fiction’s cyborg was a literal chimera of meat and machine. The world’s cyborg was an extended human nervous system: film, radio, broadcast television, and a shift in perception so profound that I believe we’re yet to understand it. Watching television, we each became aspects of an electronic brain. We became augmented. In the Eighties, when Virtual Reality was the buzzword, we were presented with images of…television! If the content is sufficiently engrossing, however, you don’t need wraparound deep-immersion goggles to shut out the world. You grow your own. You are there. Watching the content you most want to see, you see nothing else.

The physical union of human and machine, long dreaded and long anticipated, has been an accomplished fact for decades, though we tend not to see it. We tend not to see it because we are it, and because we still employ Newtonian paradigms that tell us that “physical” has only to do with what we can see, or touch. Which of course is not the case. The electrons streaming into a child’s eye from the screen of the wooden television are as physical as anything else. As physical as the neurons subsequently moving along that child’s optic nerves. As physical as the structures and chemicals those neurons will encounter in the human brain. We are implicit, here, all of us, in a vast physical construct of artificially linked nervous systems. Invisible. We cannot touch it.

We are it. We are already the Borg, but we seem to need myth to bring us to that knowledge.

Steam Engine Time. Somewhere in the late Seventies. In garages, in California. Putting the electronic brain on the table. Doing an end run around Dr. Asimov’s ethical robots. The arms and legs, should you require them, are mere peripherals. To any informed contemporary child, a robot is simply a computer being carried around by its peripherals. Actually I think this accounts for the generally poor sales of several recent generations of commercial humanoid robots; they’re all more than a little embarrassing, at some level. Sony’s Aibo, a robot dog, does slightly better in the market. Who today wouldn’t simply prefer to have a faster and more powerful computer, faster internet access? That’s where the action is. That augmentation. Of the user. Of us.

Actually the return of those humanoid robots has disappointed me. I’d thought that everyone had gotten it: that you don’t need to go anthropocentric in order to get work done. That in fact you get less work done, far less bang for your buck, if you do. My idea of an efficient robot today would be an American Predator drone with Hellfire missiles, or one of the fly-sized equivalents allegedly on Pentagon CAD-CAM screens if not already in the field. Though actually those are both cyborgs, or borg-aspects, as they are capable both of autonomous actions and actions via telepresent control. When the human operator uplinks, operator and Predator constitute a cyborg. Bruce Sterling wrote a short story, in the early Eighties, in which the protagonists were the Soviet equivalents of Predator drones, but literal cyborgs: small fighter aircraft controlled by brain-in-bottle on-board pilots, with very little left in the way of bodies. But why, today, bother building those (unless of course to provide the thrill of piloting to someone who might otherwise not experience it, which would be a worthy goal in my view). But for purely military purposes, without that live meat on board, aircraft are capable of executing maneuvers at speeds that would kill a human being. The next generation of US fighter aircraft, for this and other tactical reasons, will almost certainly be physically unmanned.

Martian jet lag. That’s what you get when you operate one of those little Radio Shack wagon/probes from a comfortable seat back at an airbase in California. Literally. Those operators were the first humans to experience Martian jet lag. In my sense of things, we should know their names: first humans on the Red Planet. Robbed of recognition by that same old school of human literalism.

This is the sort of thing that science fiction, traditionally, is neither good at predicting, nor, should we predict it, at describing.

Vannever Bush, who I mentioned earlier, was not a science fiction writer. In World War II he was chief scientific adviser to Franklin Roosevelt, and director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, where he supervised the work that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. He more or less invented the military-industrial complex, as we call it today. In 1945 he published an article in the ATLANTIC MONTHLY titled “As We May Think”. In this article he imagined a system he called the “memex”, short for “memory extender”. If there was a more eerily prescient piece of prose, fiction or otherwise, written in the first half the 20th Century, I don’t know it.

This article is remembered most often, today, for having first envisioned what we call the principle of “hyperlinking”, a means of connecting disparate but conceptually involved units of data. But I’ve never read it that way, myself. I think Vannevar Bush envisioned the cyborg, in the sense I’ve been suggesting we most valuably use that word.

One remarkable thing about this is that he seemed to have no particular idea that electronics would have anything to do with it. He begins by imagining an engineer, a technocrat figure, equipped with a “walnut-sized” (his phrase) camera, which is strapped to the center of his forehead, it’s shutter operated by a hand-held remote. The technocrat’s glasses are engraved with crosshairs. If he can see it, he can photograph it.

Bush imagines this as a sort of pre-Polaroid microfilm device, “dry photography” he calls it, and he imagines his technocrat snapping away at project-sites, blueprints, documents, as he works.

He then imagines the memex itself, a desk (oak, he actually suggests, reminding me of my television set in 1952) with frosted glass screens inset in its top, on which the user can call up those images previously snapped with that forehead-walnut. Also in the desk are all of the user’s papers, business records, etc., all stored as instantly retrievable microfiche, plus the contents of whole specialized libraries.

At this point, Bush introduces the idea which earns him his place in conventional histories of computing: the idea of somehow marking “trails” through the data, a way of navigating, of being able to backtrack. The hyperlink idea.

But what I see, when I look at Bush’s engineer, with his Polaroid walnut and his frosted-glass, oak-framed desktop, is the cyborg. In both senses. A creature of Augmented rather than Virtual Reality. He is…us! As close to the reality of being us, today, as anyone in 1945 (or perhaps in 1965, for that matter) ever managed to get! Bush didn’t have the technology to put beneath the desktop, so he made do with what he knew, but he’s describing the personal computer. He’s describing, with an accuracy of prediction that still gives me goose-bumps, how these devices with be used. How the user’s memory with be augmented, and connected to whole Borgesian libraries, searchable and waiting. Google! The memex, awaiting the engineer’s search-string!

But in our future, awaiting the interconnectedness of desktops. Awaiting the net. Bush didn’t see that, that we’d link memex’s, and create libraries in common. Steam Engine Time: he couldn’t go there, though he got closer than anyone else, in his day, to getting it.

There’s my cybernetic organism: the internet. If you accept that “physical” isn’t only the things we can touch, it’s the largest man-made object on the planet, or will be, soon: it’s outstripping the telephone system, or ingesting it, as I speak. And we who participate in it are physically a part of it. The Borg we are becoming.

So for me the sci-fi cyborg, the meat/metal hybrid, is already another of those symbols, somewhat in the way that Dr. Satan’s robots had their origin, as symbols, in a Czech satirist’s view of alienated labor. The real deal is that which we already participate in daily, meld with, grow into.

The big news in biology this week was the announcement that we’ve stopped evolving, in the biological sense. I’ll buy that. Technology has stopped us, and technology will take us on, into a new evolution, one Mr. Bush never dreamed of, and neither, I’m sure, have I.

Interface evolves toward transparency. The one you have to devote the least conscious effort to, survives, prospers. This is true for interface hardware as well, so that the cranial jacks and brain inserts and bolts in the neck, all the transitional sci-fi hardware of the sci-fi cyborg, already looks slightly quaint. The real cyborg, the global organism, is so splendidly invasive that these things already seem medieval. They fascinate, much as torture instruments do, or reveal erotic possibilities to the adventurous, or beckon as stages or canvasses for the artist, but I doubt that very many of us will ever go there. The real cyborg will be deeper and more subtle and exist increasingly at the particle level, in a humanity where unaugmented reality will eventually be a hypothetical construct, something we can only try, with great difficulty, to imagine -- as we might try, today, to imagine a world without electronic media.






posted
6:28 AM
THE MATRIX: FAIR COP

I was, as you can probably imagine, prepared not to like THE MATRIX. A friend finally dragged me to see it in Santa Monica, when I was taping NO MAPS FOR THESE TERRITORIES.

I liked it a lot. I even went back to see it a second time in theatrical release, which is unusual for me.

I thought it was more like Dick’s work than mine, though more coherent, saner, than I generally take Dick to have been. A Dickian universe with fewer moving parts (for Dick, I suspect, all of the parts were, always, moving parts). A Dickian universe with a solid bottom (or for the one film at least, as there’s no way of knowing yet where the franchise is headed). It’s thematically gnostic, something NEUROMANCER isn’t.

Whatever of my work may be there, it seems to me to have gotten there by exactly the kind of creative cultural osmosis I’ve always depended on myself. If there’s NEUROMANCER in THE MATRIX, there’s THE STARS MY DESTINATION and DHALGREN in NEUROMANCER, and much else besides, down to and including actual bits of embarrassingly undigested gristle. And while I was drawing directly from those originals, and many others, the makers of THE MATRIX were drawing through a pre-existing “cyberpunk” esthetic, which constituted as much of a found object, for them, as “science fiction” did for me. From where they were, they had the added luxury of choosing bits from, say, Billy Idol’s “Neuromancer” as well.

When I began to write NEUROMANCER, there was no “cyberpunk”. THE MATRIX is arguably the ultimate “cyberpunk” artifact. Or will be, if the sequels don’t blow. I hope they don’t, and somehow have a hunch they won’t, but I’m glad I’m not the one who has to worry about it.

The other thing I’m glad of is that a film of NEUROMANCER, whatever else I might want it to be, definitely doesn’t, now, have to be THE MATRIX, or even anything very much like it.

AN END TO CYBERPUNK?

Someone asks if I might please put an end to it.

Would that I could, but it just doesn't work that way. "Cyberpunk", which you'll note I put in quotes or not, as the irony level in my bloodstream fluctuates, has a life of its own. Has in fact been possessed of a stubborn vitality since it first hove into view circa 1981. At this late stage of the game, though, my belief is that, outside of a certain narrow discourse in literary history, its best use today is as an indicator of a particular generic flavor in pop culture. In the way that "cowboy" functions in "cowboy boots", which generally has nothing to do with anyone, particularly the wearer of the boots in question, being any kind of cowboy. "That's kind of a cyberpunk video." We all know what the speaker means.

Monday, January 27, 2003

posted
6:40 PM
A NOVEL OF THE RECENT PAST

PATTERN RECOGNITION is set in the summer of 2002.

Please remember that those are uncorrected proofs you’re reading, and that that is not just a matter of typographical errors. The text of the ARC is the text of the manuscript I turned in last year, in the first week of April. It has since been quite substantially revised, top to bottom, twice; Material has been added, material has been subtracted, and much busy tweaking undertaken generally.

The text of the ARC should not be regarded as the text of the novel. Ever. Some of the current discussions hinge on details that have since been removed, or altered.

THE YAWNING OF THE TUPPERWARE

Douglas Coupland likens the touring novelist to what was once a rather nice salad, but has now been shut up too long in Tupperware.

Maybe it’s just the Danish jetlag, but today I feel the Tupperware yawn wide.

WHERE TO GET FORTEAN TIMES IN VANCOUVER

Actually, there aren’t that many places.

Magpie, on Commercial.

The magazine store at the T-intersection of McKenzie and West Broadway, more or less opposite the Starbuck’s.

The magazine store on Granville, just north of Broadway, east side of the street, opposite the galleries.

Does Your Mother Know? on West Fourth.

Those are the only four places in town that carry it, as far as I know. (BIZARRE, which I don’t often buy, is more widely distributed.)










Sunday, January 26, 2003

posted
7:06 AM
YEP, IT’S NIRVANA

Starring Christopher Lambert and a cast of dozens. And I suppose it is a bad film, in the ordinary sense of “a bad film”, but I would value it over innumerable conventionally better films on the basis of a mere handful of “moments”. Or perhaps because it somehow suggests a better film, perhaps even a better, or more purely “cyberpunk” film than we’ve yet seen. Or because, watching it repeatedly, I actually felt my own imagination come alive, something that seldom happens as I watch a really “good” film.

I wasn’t entirely alone in my reaction to NIRVANA, but don’t go to it expecting BLADERUNNER. You’ll either find it a very bad film indeed or a somewhat magical (if minor) experience. For me the really interesting ones are always like that.

STEPPIN’ LOCUST WRITES

“By stacking his cyberspace atop the oldest VR in the Book, readers recognize that we have always been living and operating in multiple virtual worlds simultaneously. When Mamoru Oshii takes hold of this trope, and torques its compounded strata to implicate the slightly more broad-band 'literacy' of the cinema, we recoil, stunned, that indubitably there are agencies of affect molding our layered presumptions as to the contemporaniety of reality.”

Well, shit, yes. What she/he said. I could actually recognize something like my best guess, in that post, at what it might be that I actually do when I write. Or part of what I do, anyway. But the closest I ever get to knowing that is when someone says something like this (and it’s truly remarkable, how seldom academics ever do). However, it’s probably best for me to avoid thinking in these terms, else I become self-conscious about torqueing my tropes in public.

WITH BORGES IN BARCELONA

Several weeks ago I attended Kosmopolis, a new literary festival in Barcelona, and explored, with Pat Cadigan, an extraordinary exhibition of Borgesiana entitled Borges And Buenos Aires. The most memorable (and disturbing) aspect of this exhibition was the technology employed in the display of manuscripts, photographs and first editions: they were arranged beneath glass treated in such a way that the viewer’s experience of the object duplicated the condition of Borges’ encroaching blindness. The field of vision narrowed radically; each artifact was visually available in utmost clarity, but tightly framed in a pale and featureless fog, each visitor becoming “the blind librarian”.

I had forgotten Borges, though one never does, really. As the English gloss of the exhibition’s program has it, “There is a place we all know, no less, which we will never reach, and there is a place that tends to be forgotten, where we always are.”

Honk if you love Borges.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

posted
5:42 AM
SOUL-DELAY CENTRAL

Mine’s only now being tugged out of the holding-pattern over Frankfurt airport, I think.

Four in the morning, the faithful Italian oil-filled electric heater in my basement office making quizzical ticking sounds at being turned on at such an odd hour.

Close my eyes and I see wide, cobbled squares in a sort of bluish-gray light, cyclists dressed for the office pedaling along in their own lane, a different disposition of electric light and candles (candles everywhere, relatively). It was a lot of fun. My thanks to Karsten, my publisher, and Adelaide, my publicist, and everyone else at People’s Press!

Here, kindly translated by Adelaide, are a few bits of the Danish press response (I wouldn’t ordinarily quote my own reviews here, but I usually don’t have any opportunity to read the non-English ones):

This is the book one needs when introducing the genre of science fiction to women.
--Børsen

A sensitive cultural and technological seismograph.
--Information

A sort of literary counterpart to Naomi Kleins’ NO LOGO, without the moral hangovers.
--Ekstrabladet

So: Are is his books neo-crap? Nope!
Are we not meeting the sarcastic and irreplaceable person that has always been behind the brand: William Gibson.
--Berlingske

I'd like stickers for the English-language editions, please, that say "NEO-CRAP? NOPE!"

Actually I can't have a NO LOGO hangover because I haven't read NO LOGO. This is indicative of my method, though: I saw the title NO LOGO, and literalized it into Cayce's logo-allergy. High-speed low-drag minimalism of sourcing, or sheer ideological laziness? ("Just say nope!")

My sensitive cultural and technological seismograph is telling me that it's time for breakfast, but it's still two hours 'til the good places open.

There really was an articulated human skeleton in the Business Center of the hotel in Copenhagen. Though I was made more uneasy by the Olivetti PC I was using. Somehow its drive was connected in some very nasty way to the speakers, which must have been set for max volume, so that the room was constantly filled with sounds of the drive doing its business. When I entered the room, in the dark, it was doing that, loudly, and it was doing that when I left.

I do, as someone pointed out, keep an eye on the discussions, and enjoy them, but there's already enough going on there that I can't hope to keep up with everything, at least in terms of responding to individual queries.

I'm particularly enjoying the thread on obscure cyberpunkoid cinema. In light of that, does anyone know the name of that wonderfully low-budget Italian effort about the superstar game-designer who gets dramatically involved with the sad-ass SuperMario-like character in the game he's designed? The game segments are like Pixelvision, and look to have had an even lower budget than the film itself. I had a copy of this a few years ago and loved it. Moments of wonderfully unpretentious brilliance, particularly in the throwaway bits of comically ultraviolent street-culture.

My favorite moments of c-punkish filmmaking tend to be exactly that, moments, and often to be isolated in really exceptionally bad films.

My goal for JOHNNY MNEMONIC, from the start, was that it should feel something like that but consist of nothing but those moments. A tricky act to pull it off, it turns out, but one sees these things so much more clearly in retrospect. (Among the many things I find charming about the Danes is that, uniquely among all the peoples of the world, they seem to have viewed JOHNNY MNEMONIC as having been made with a certain sense of broad irony. Which it was, though Sony's final cut did everything it could to cancel that.)

GUTTER HISTORY OF LONDON

Someone asked for a good one. Kellow Chesney's THE VICTORIAN UNDERWORLD (1970) is my bible there, and one of my all-time favorite books. I went back to it repeatedly for THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, but before that it was the major influence on the criminal milleau of NEUROMANCER and the sequels, which I always saw as being quite Victorian (my other source for that having been the original GANGS OF NEW YORK, which I'd read at about the same time).






Tuesday, January 21, 2003

posted
10:48 PM
MØNSTER GENKENDELSE

That's PATTERN RECOGNITION in Danish, apparently! "Pattern" is "mønster"? If "poison" is "gift" in German, I suppose it could be...

I'm posting this from the decidedly odd business center of my hotel. I say decidedly odd because it has an articulated human skeleton (real, I think). Why? These are the mysteries of soul-delay and transit...

I'll be signing tomorrow, Thursday, at Politikens bookstore. Henrik Palle will interview me from 5-6pm, then I'll sign from 6-7pm. Y'all come.




Sunday, January 19, 2003

posted
6:00 PM
THE HERMITAGE AT HAWKSTONE

“Hermits were obtained by advertisement, and it never seems to have been difficult to get one; indeed one young man, Mr. Laurence from Plymouth, did not merely answer advertisements but himself advertised in 1810 that he wished to retire as a hermit (to a convenient spot) and was willing to engage (for a gratuity) to any nobleman or gentleman who was desirous of having one. One advertisement demanded a hermit who would live underground invisible, silent, unshaven and unclipped for seven years, in a comfortable room with books, an organ and delicious food. The reward was to be a pension for life of fifty pounds a year, and a hermit accepted, but lasted for only four years. Mr. Hamilton’s terms at Pain’s Hill were similar, again the mystic seven years, again no cutting of hair, nails or beard, again food from the house and no speech. But he could walk in the grounds, and was provided with a Bible, optical glasses, a mat, a hassock, and an hourglass. The recompense was to be seven hundred pounds, but the chosen hermit was caught at the end of three weeks going down to the pub.

So what with hermits who were invisible, and hermits who gave notice, and doubtless hermits who were rude to visitors, or posed badly, we must commend the gentleman said to have used a clockwork hermit and also Sir Richard Hill, who built at Hawkstone a very dimly-lit hermitage and solved all employment problems by having his hermit stuffed.”

--Barbara Jones, FOLLIES & GROTTOES

CANADIAN SIGNINGS

There will definitely be some. Dates to be posted soon.

The UK tour (England, Scotland, Ireland) will be in April.

OFF TO DENMARK

“Things are much different here than Norway:
Not so cold.”

–-John Cale

If I post from Copenhagen, expect me to be unable to spell, and to complain tediously about non-Mac Euro-keyboards.


Saturday, January 18, 2003

posted
10:24 AM
HORSES, BANANAS, AND THE SUPERIOR STRANGENESS OF THE REAL

In NEUROMANCER, a single passing comment about a moth-eaten stuffed horse clues the reader that horses are extinct (the victims, apparently, of some unspecified equine pandemic).

I can’t remember whether there are any bananas in NEUROMANCER, but it now looks as though bananas rather than horses are more likely to become extinct, and possibly within a decade of this writing. Bananas are sterile mutants, clones as it were of the one original, and as such are unable to evolve, making them sitting ducks for a black fungal rot that evolves like a house on fire, mutating its way around every next generation of pesticides we throw at it.

“SERIOUS” ARCHITECTURE INFLUENCED BY BLADERUNNER

“Serious”, put next to “architecture”, is probably never a good idea. The part of me (the majority of me, probably) that wallows in vernacular imprecision likes to speak of, for instance, “a serious hamburger”. I meant serious in that sense. There’s a fair bit of decidedly non-serious (i.e. not Famous Name) Eighties architecture around that feels almost comically Bladerunnerish to me. Though the most extreme examples are all in Japan, which for some people probably doesn’t count.

In the other sense? Well, how about the work of the LA-based team Morphosis? I met those guys. I think they even gleefully declared that Bladerunner had been a big influence. I liked them.

INFLUENCES GENERALLY

Influences are things to have, and then to get over. The latter being a lot harder than the former. (I, for example, couldn’t even begin to write until I got over J.G. Ballard.)

But influential impact often has little to do with how well a writer or book might be known. Phil Dick’s entire corpus has had almost no impact on me, but a single reading of Thomas M. Disch’s ON WINGS OF SONG, I know for a fact, influenced me mightly.

Has ON WINGS OF SONG turned up here in anyone’s list of “other books”? If not, let me add it. Stunningly original.

VOICE OF THE FIRE

While I’m recommending fiction you may not have read: VOICE OF THE FIRE by Alan Moore, 1996.

You probably know Alan Moore, but most people seemed to miss this. I know I did. Probably because it would likely have been reviewed (in the US at least) as “fantasy”. Actually it’s some kind of psychogeographical Magickal Operation (about which, I suspect, the less we know the better) and a lot like repeatedly sticking your head into a shoebox full of sharp, cunningly-wrought instruments.

Friday, January 17, 2003

posted
11:51 AM
ANY POST TO THE DISCUSSIONS ATTRIBUTED TO ME, EVER, IS FAKE

I won’t be posting to the discussions. Neither will I post there under any assumed persona(e).

OH WELL, WHILE I’M HERE: BLADERUNNER

BLADERUNNER came out while I was still writing Neuromancer. I was about a third of the way into the manuscript. When I saw (the first twenty minutes of) BLADERUNNER, I figured my unfinished first novel was sunk, done for. Everyone would assume I’d copped my visual texture from this astonishingly fine-looking film. But that didn’t happen. Mainly I think because BLADERUNNER seriously bombed in theatrical release, and films didn’t pop right back out on DVD in those days. The general audience didn’t seem to get it, relatively few people saw it, and it simply vanished, leaving nary a ripple. Where it went, though, was straight through the collective membrane to Memetown, where it silently went nova, irradiating everything from clothing-design to serious architecture. What other movie has left actual office-buildings in its stylistic wake? Some of this was alrteady starting to happen in the gap between my submission of the manuscript and the novel’s eventual publication; I noted with interest, for instance, the fact of a London club called Replicants.

Years later I had lunch with Ridley Scott at The Ivy and we discussed mutual influences. French comics, bigtime! METAL HURLANT.


posted
7:19 AM
THE HEARTBREAK OF MEMESIS

Psoriasis, that was, in those small ads in the back of POPULAR MECHANICS, next to “Men! Why Wear A Truss?” (Or, as one Texas wag later had it, “Boys! Raise Giant Sperm In Your Rain-Gutters!”.)

Literary memisis, the imitation of reality, always holds the potential for authorial heartbreak. You always get something wrong, no matter how hard you try. Yesterday, I was sent this (rather brilliant) link:
http://www.streetsensation.co.uk/camden/hs1_west.htm
And instantly saw, to my amazed chagrin, that, throughout PATTERN RECOGNITION, I have called Inverness Street, Camden Town, “Aberdeen Street”.

Sometimes one can only say “Arrrrgh!”.

O well. When people ask you where the science fiction is, in PATTERN RECOGNITION, lower your voice and explain that it’s set in an alternate reality in which Inverness Street is called Aberdeen Street.

WHY I DON’T WRITE SHORT STORIES

Good ones are to novels as bonsai are to trees.

Might as well go ahead and grow the tree.

It’s easier to pay the rent with trees.


Thursday, January 16, 2003

posted
9:12 AM
DO WHAT THY, LIKE, WILT

Else I be any further mistaken for the Pyschotropic Temperance League, let me stress that I’m not telling anyone not to do drugs. I’ve only said that I don't believe that drugs actually make you more creative. I believe that if drugs seem to you to make you more creative, you’re already creative, and might want to look at why you believe you need to pay someone in order to access it. (In that light, you might also want to consider the agenda of whoever is telling you that you need to buy a ticket first.)

Those pygmy Grays, though, the ones who keep trying to lasso you with piano-wire whenever you do ketamine? Those little guys are bad mojo.

THAT NEUROMANCER SCRIPT

I did not write that. (I’m assuming there is still only the one, which as far as I know is by Chuck Russell.) I had absolutely nothing to do with that. The problem is that shabby Dickensian script-floggers throw away the original title-page, forge one with my name on it, then charge more. This is an item I refuse to sign. (Though I have signed a few, bleeding heart that I am, when some poor sucker has stood in line for an hour or more; I sign them “I didn’t write a word of this – WG.”)

The only other screenplay of mine you are likely to run across is JOHNNY MNEMONIC, which has been published in its entirety in both hard and soft covers. And which differs substantially, I still like to point out, from the film as released.

CHOCOLATE DOG REPORT

She’s fine now. (Someone asked.)

SOON, COPENHAGEN

On Monday I’m off to launch the Danish translation of PATTERN RECOGNITION, which is in effect a world first. (I make it a point to publish each of my books in a Scandinavian translation first. The language chosen for each one, prior to composition, is the single most crucial factor in my creative process. Had I chosen to first publish PATTERN RECOGNITION in Norwegian, for instance, it would have become a very different book indeed.)

Not really. It just worked out that way, this time.

Civilian mission in Copenhagen: a new pair of G-Star shrink-to-fit jeans. It furthers morale to have one non-book-related goal, for these flying visits. Designed in Holland, made in Tunisia from Japanese denim, a pair of classic five-pocket G-Star’s is the Buzz Rickman’s of 21st-century blue jeans. Stiff as Formica, reeking of raw indigo, dark as a moonless night, they are the two-legged equivalent of Proust’s madelaine. Their other great draw is that, apparently because every fifth Dutchman is now at least as tall as I am, they make them in my size.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

posted
7:40 AM
RETURN OF THE REFORGOTTEN

That’s a phrase that pops up in the work of Iain Sinclair, my favorite writer of the past decade or so. I think it was originally the title of a poetry series at the Royal Albert Hall. I have no idea what it means but I like it a lot, and felt like seeing it again this morning.

I owe Iain Sinclair an apology. His publisher sent his last novel, LANDOR’S TOWER, for comment (a blurb, in the trade). I started reading it, and couldn’t stop. I think I read it for four months straight: forward, backward, then chapters in random order -- then, finally, individual pages randomly. Hobbs Baranov, the defrocked NSA mathematician in PATTERN RECOGNITION, is related to that experience in some way. But LANDOR’S TOWER was so intensely peculiar (in all of the best ways) that I never got around to writing the blurb. It's like that, sometimes.

I was in John Clute’s living room, one morning, toward the start of a book tour, looking out at Camden High Street, when Clute pointed to a passing figure on the pavement opposite, and said that that was Iain Sinclair, the poet and bookseller. Clute took down a slim volume titled LUD HEAT. I read the first two pages, broke into a sweat, and immediately went up the street to Compendium and bought my own copy.

There’ s a new Iain Sinclair novel, but I’m going to hold off for the pleasure of reading it in England, in April, on the UK tour (no dates yet). You don’t need to be in England to read Sinclair, but it does crank the intensity in interesting ways. Genuis loci.

READYMADES

Someone used this wonderfully apt expression in asking about the “industrial” candy described toward the end of ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES: did I make it up, or did I find it somewhere and import it into the text? I found it, or rather a description of something very like it, I think in GIANT ROBOT, one of my favorite magazines. It’s a Japanese candy, of course. I looked for it in Tokyo last year, but couldn’t find it. Fashions in candy change very quickly, in Japan.

Fashions in Japan… I gave my daughter the latest issue of GOTHIC & LOLITA BIBLE for Christmas. Until you’ve had a leaf through that, you have no idea where cognitive dissonance can take you.

FAVORITE MAGAZINE?

GIANT ROBOT is wonderful, but the one magazine I still buy with keen and absolute regularity, and read almost immediately, literally cover to cover, is FORTEAN TIMES. Nothing like it.

Another, very different sort of British magazine I’m starting to like a lot is TATE, the magazines of the Tate Modern. Art magazines generally give me hives, but TATE, recently under new editorship, has become the exception. I recently published an essay there on those eerie little spheres of exquisitely polished mud that Japanese pre-schoolers generate.

Monday, January 13, 2003

posted
5:28 PM
PHILIP K. DICK

I usually skip the “influence” questions, on grounds that if you know your own influences, your digestion’s pretty sluggish. I’ll make an exception, though, when someone suggests an influence I know I haven’t had, and PKD is definitely one of those.

I read THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE when I was twelve or so, and a proud new member of the Science Fiction Book Club. The concept of American vintage collectibles in a Japanese universe stuck with me, and not much else. Thereafter, I read virtually no PKD. Why? My guess is that my MDR of paranoia was satisfied by reading Pynchon instead, and my regular nature-of-reality workout provided by the ever-limber Jorge Luis Borges. Dick just never found a niche in my ecology of favorite writers.

While I’m at this, I’ve never read much Chandler either, another frequently supposed influence. The real deal, in that particular rainslick modality, for me, is Dashiell Hammett. Invented the vehicle, as far as I know, though Chandler brought a classier chassis to it.


JOSEPH CORNELL

Deborah Solomon’s wonderful life of Cornell, UTOPIA PARKWAY, hadn’t been written when I wrote COUNT ZERO, so at that point I knew almost nothing about the man himself. I didn’t actually see a Cornell box in person until years after CZ, but I had been fascinated, since 1969, with the small black and white photographs of his boxes that I’d find in histories of Surrealism.

He was believed, in the New York art world of the Forties, to possess complete and perfect recall of the entire contents of certain Manhattan junk-shops, shelf by shelf, drawer by drawer. I came to the conclusion, after reading Solomon, that, whatever else he had going on, he may well have been autistic.


ALIEN III SCRIPT

I did indeed write that, my first foray into screenwriting, though most net versions seem to have been condensed. Mine was about 130 pages. It was written under the ludicrous disadvantage of having to write Ripley out of the story, as Sigourney Weaver at that point seemed not to be getting along with the producers. (For a remarkably detailed and accurate account of how ALIEN III came to be the film you saw, see THE ALIEN QUARTET by David Thompson.)
1/12/03





Sunday, January 12, 2003

posted
2:42 PM
WHEN THE TWEAKING HAD TO STOP

In case you’re wondering, it’s alive and well,
That little habit that you left with me,
Here in the suburbs where it’s hard to tell,
If I got bear, or the bear got me.
--Walter Becker, “Down In The Bottom”

Timothy Leary was indeed fond of NEUROMANCER, and I never felt it necessary to point out to him that drugs in my books didn’t do what drugs in his books did.

In my entire corpus there is never a moment, as far as I can recall, in which a character actually gets anything out of taking a drug other than being on that particular drug at that particular moment. At no point do I imply, for instance, that the Rastafarians of Zion Cluster are any wiser, or more perceptive, for all that ganja they smoke. I think a survey (students take note) would reveal that drug use, in my fiction, is usually depicted as being somewhat problematic, however much it might be a part of a given culture. (Mimesis, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.}

One exception to this might seem to be Case’s Beta-P experience in Freeside, but isn’t. Beta-P is actually a substance our brains secrete when we fall in love. Make of that what you will, but I’d argue that that is not a drug experience, at least not as intended in the context of the narrative and Case’s character.

Leary once told me that he thought that the best single piece of advice he could give to a writer was to either write stoned and edit sober, or vice versa. For me, functionally and organically, composition and revision are aspects of one process, territories on a continuum. The need to chemically define two individual states seems anything but a shortcut. The journey out from baseline and back seems a waste of time, when, if you accept that one cannot step twice into the same Heracletian river, simply waiting a while will have the same effect. The Heracletian “you” that returns to the task is not the “you” that put it down earlier. That, to me, is the easier shortcut. Of course, if one were really inducing that state only because one enjoyed it, and wished to repeat it, that would be something else.

And then there is the matter of “state-specific learning”, wherein skills acquired in an altered state prove difficult, even impossible, to import to an unaltered state. This can be a problem, should one find oneself for some reason unable (or perhaps, eventually, unwilling) to alter state. I suspect that this, more than anything else, accounts for much of the (Western) mythology of drugs and creativity. If you learn to write on drugs, you might find that you feel you need drugs in order to write.

As to drugs facilitating creativity, I think I’ve seen a lot of paintings, most often stacked along the walls of thrift shops, that argue against this. (Amphetamines, however, can definitely facilitate macramé.) Where are our great novels of the Sixties drug experience? Somehow, it seems, they didn’t get written, in spite of all that major facilitation. (Is my Boomer cohort holding out on us? Are they writing them even now? Scary.)

Leary and I had a few telephone conversations, during his final month, that I won’t easily forget. In one of these, he told me that the experience of accepting that he was dying had brought him an appreciation of the life he had lived, and the people he had lived it with, that otherwise would have been unattainable. I’m not sure he said “appreciation”, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t say “understanding”. Whatever words he used, I think he meant he’d been able to apprehend something, finally, in a way he couldn’t have, otherwise.

His very last call consisted of him inviting me to his wake, and assuring me that I’d be “on the A-list”. I told him I’d be there, though I knew I wouldn’t. I had an abscessed tooth, was scheduled for a root canal, and, besides, I knew he wasn’t going to be there. He wouldn’t miss me, and I didn’t want to go all the way down there just to miss him even more.
1/12/03




Saturday, January 11, 2003

posted
8:20 AM
FROM MY BEDSIDE TABLE

ALBION by Peter Ackroyd
“The Origins of the English Imagination”. I’m a fan.

THE GREAT DISMAL by Bland Simpson
When I was a very small boy we lived for a couple of years not far from the Great Dismal Swamp. A wonderful book. A gift from my wife.

HOKKAIDO POPSICLE by Isaac Adamson
Recommended, along with its precursor, TOKYO SUCKERPUNCH, by the alarmingly hip French guys at my local Franco-Japanese bookstore. Faux-Chandleresque pomo-picaresque and sort of engagingly, stubbornly goofy, these are novels written by someone young enough to never have thought in terms of “genre” in the first place.

THE TURK by Tom Standage
“The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-century Chess-playing Machine”. Another good one from the author of the excellent THE VICTORIAN INTERNET.

THE INVENTION THAT CHANGED THE WORLD by Robert Buderi
Radar. History of. Amazing. A gift from Bruce Sterling.

FOLLIES & GROTTOES by Barbara Jones
A Christmas gift from my daughter, and currently, for me, The Book. 1979 revised edition of the 1953 classic. Really, really difficult to discribe. Ostensibly a survey of those oddball large-scale British garden-decorations, but there’s something else coded here, some urgent subcutaneous message about landscape and genius loci; a vision akin to Arthur Machen’s. Still reading it, but so far I’ve discovered one of the three or four spookiest passages of English prose I’ve ever read (a description of a garden I’m not sure I’d be willing to visit) and much else besides. Copiously illustrated, both with photographs and the author’s wonderful drawings.



A STORE CAYCE WOULD BE ENTIRELY COMFORTABLE IN
Huf, 808 Sutter Street, at Jones, San Francisco
One of those places where skate culture has gone so far into design that the skate part vanishes in a stinging mist of Milano-Japanese minimalism, leaving you in a cool white Cornell box with an array of pharmaceutically perfect sneakers.
1/11/03


Friday, January 10, 2003

posted
7:16 AM
CHOCOLATE DOGS
Got up at 4AM today to try to squirt utterly black liquid charcoal into our geriatric dog, which at midnight had sneakily devoured three-quarters of a bar of Belgian chocolate. Eating chocolate, at least in terms of heart rate, is the doggie equivalent of eating a golf-ball made of crack, so my wife and daughter had to take her off to the 24-hour emergency vet, where your credit card makes that $150 sound as you open the door. Last time I was there, one of our cats had Kitty Ebola, but they pulled her through for roughly the cost of a new iBook.

Strange, how differently substances affect different mammals. The physiology of catnip, though only in cats, is such that if it worked that way on humans it would be one of the most widely abused substances in the world. The concentrated essence of one particularly potent Japanese species will cause classic nipped-out kitty-cat reactions in wild, fully-grown African lions. Something I’d love to see.

At the animal emergency clinic, they speak of Chocolate Dogs, and there was already another one there when ours arrived.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU MEET ME
Someone was wondering about this.

Well, you might try keeping mind that behind whatever mediated projection of “William Gibson” we’re both, in our different ways, complicit in, there’s a guy who once sat on the cold kitchen floor in his bathrobe, trying rather unsuccessfully to squirt disturbingly black fluid down the throat of a small, intensely uncooperative dog.

Every once in a while, at a signing, someone will come through who’s so anxious, at the prospect of actually meeting “the author”, that they’re visibly trembling. This is always deeply weird for me, as my self-image is such that I am myself the one who’s supposed to be nervous at the prospect of meeting heavily-mediated humans.

But when I read a post by someone who first read Neuromancer at age nine (and is older now, one supposes, than, say, twelve) I start worriedly backing into the perception that for some people I’ve had the sort of impact that my own early favorite authors had on me, and that they can be as unnerved at the prospect of meeting me as I used to be, as a reader, in that same situation.

What I now believe, though, and what has largely eased this anxiety for me, at the prospect of meeting a favorite writer, is that it’s never really possible to meet “the author”. You meet, as it were, the personality through which the entity you’ve enjoyed interfacing with is sometimes, and usually only at a keyboard, able to manifest. If you haven’t figured this out, you generally set yourself up for disappointment. (The great exception to this, for me, was William Burroughs, who actually did seem, in every way, to be “the author” -- perhaps, paradoxically, because of the consciously mediumistic nature of his work.)

I myself am lucky to greet my own “author” on anything like a regular basis, and my fear (to touch on another recent thread) is mainly that the feckless, procrastinating, profoundly unreliable bastard will one day fail permanently to show up, leaving me having to pretend that I know how to write fiction.
1/10/03




Thursday, January 09, 2003

posted
7:17 AM
NEUROMANCER AND DRUGS
Yes, I did, rather textually obviously, take some of those, most notably LSD of the old (and I gather rather different) variety, though that now seems a lifetime prior to the writing of Neuromancer. My drug of choice during the composition of Neuromancer, for the record, was O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock Lager, a central nervous system depressant, employed primarily to manage the anxiety of composition, and not a practice I’d particularly recommend to anyone considering taking up writing. In retrospect, I’m of the opinion that writers who imagine they “use drugs to write” really only manage to write in spite of the drugs they use. There may be a few truly remarkable exceptions to this. Naked Lunch comes to mind (but not, for me, that much of its author’s later output).

The most extraordinary thing, for me, about reading William Burroughs’ LAST WORDS, was seeing that WSB apparently never considered himself to be an addict. Rather he seemed to suppose that he was repeatedly invaded by one individual “habit” after another, in the face of all evidence that this had in fact been a single lifelong ride.

Today I am of the opinion, experientially, that the supposedly visionary aspects of any drug experience, regardless of how marvelous-seeming at the time (or how cocktail-lounge banal) represent no more than a tweaking of incoming stimuli. “But you’re drowning in the waters the mystics walked on,” said a saddened theologian to Leary and Alpert, early on, when they had explained the import of Dr. Hoffman’s benison. When I first read that, I assumed that this guy was just some sour-faced killjoy. In long retrospect, now, I think he may actually have been trying to tell them something.

MANNY FARBER AND DIVINE BIT-ROT
Someone posts that, just as I imagined I might be doing, I’ve recalled Farber’s idea completely incorrectly. There, you see: that is the wonderful thing that is higher education! I have been navigating all these years, in part, on the basis of my own distortion of Farber’s idea. But I do know that when I first read it, I must have done so with at least a degree of comprehension, and that I felt both enlightened and emboldened. Perhaps I had it right, then, but it’s become encrusted in memory, overgrown with jewels and barnacles…

If I can do that with Manny Farber’s theory of film, what mightn’t I have done to my own past?

EVER FEEL THE NEED
to peer at me through pinhole video surveillance cameras while I smoke way too many cigarettes and muse cryptically on my past, the future of technology, or just about anything else you can think of?
If you find yourself sitting bolt upright in bed, at three in the morning, bug-eyed and trembling with the desire for exactly that, then you need the DVD that one London critic likened to a very long ride with a loquacious but highly peculiar cabbie: NO MAPS FOR THESE TERRITORIES. Someone brought it up in the fora yesterday, so I feel I should weigh in now with my seal of approval.

Directed by Mark Neale, who had to think very laterally indeed to get around my innate sloth, bashfulness, and an ingrained distaste for cameras, NO MAPS is, among other things, probably as close to autobiography as you’re likely get from this particular writer. Mark kept me gaffer-taped into the back of his Lexus Q45 until Stockholm Syndrome set in, endlessly cruising downtown LA and the quasi-industrial fringes of Greater Vancouver, and I started talking. And talking.

You couldn’t pay me to sit through it again, mind you, but I have watched it, eyes wide open, in its rather lengthy entirety. Aside from the fact that I don’t like looking at myself at all, or hearing the sound of my own voice, I signed off on it 100%. And as no portion of its perhaps largely theoretical and entirely indie-prod cash-flow heads this way, ever, I feel my hands are clean in recommending it to you:
http://www.nomaps.com/indexmain.html
Aside, I mean, from the fact that it’s about me, which, being me, I find sort of embarrassing in the first place.
But I regard my being me, ultimately, as a sort of cosmic accident.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

posted
1:26 PM
Someone else wonders what I think of pirated copies of my work available as free downloads on the net.

Downloading a novel from the net is not something I’d ever likely do myself, but mainly because reading novels on the screen of a PDA is something I might get into only if I were incarcerated, with no alternative. And I’m sufficiently (and with good reason) aware of the book > royalty > author chain to want to feed those authors whose work feeds me creatively. I make it a point to buy the books of writers whose work and presence I value.

As for other people downloading pirated copies, that’s their business. The business part of my business, currently, is about publishers producing legitimate editions of my work, which they then distribute for sale, a certain predetermined portion of the price returning to me as royalties (against the publisher’s cash advance).

But I think that that has to be looked at in a broader context, today, so I suggest you read this piece by Tim O'Reilly, recommended to me yesterday by Kevin KellY:
http://www.openp2p.com/pub/a/p2p/2002/12/11/piracy.html

You could have sex relatively comfortably on a platform of books, but not on a platform of PDA’s. Hardcover books. Paperbacks might start sliding around. Though I’d still prefer paperbacks to a pile of PDA’s.

I was in a bar in Barcelona, on the Rambla, with Alberto Manguel, just before Christmas, talking, as it happened, about why books, the paper kind, are such a good thing. Neither of us suggested building beds from them, but Alberto did say that he thought the book, like the wheel and the knife, was one of those perfectly and completely evolved inventions, an idea what wasn’t really going to be improved upon.

Alberto, who was once Jorge Luis Borges' personal secretary, is among other things a great anthologist, and, by virtue of that, a sort of meta-librarian, which is a very Borgesian thing to be.

Afterward, walking back to my hotel along one of the safer thoroughfares crossing the heroin-drifted maze of the Barrio Chino (you can tell them because they have lights, Christmas decorations, and policemen) I wished that I had been able to more clearly describe, for Alberto, the level of technology that this book/PDA/download business has always conjured up for me.

The Borgesian meta-library contains a copy of every book ever written, but my dream-artifact is already, and always, every book every written, on demand -- yet feels, looks, and even smells exactly like an ordinary hardcover book. Only the content is protean. That simple. The end of the world as we know it, and a good read every single night.

Shelve the PDA, thanks. I’m holding out for Borges’ library of Babel in one volume, Strindberg or Spillane as the heart desires.

And even a rather bland and limited sort of nanotech, on par with the “paint” now being developed for American combat vehicles, gets us closer…




posted
8:48 AM
Someone wonders whether or not Pattern Recognition might be the start of a new “trilogy”… Someone else allows as how I don’t so much write trilogies as explore the same territory and characters, from different directions, over the course of several books.


There’s an essay entitled “Termite Art”, in Manny Farber’s Negative Space, a book of film criticism. I discovered this essay around the time I was starting to write short fiction, and, though Farber was talking about film, and particularly about films by a certain kind of American director, I found it hugely encouraging. The following, please note, is not Farber’s theory, but what I’ve always remembered it to be. Which is all you need to know for present purposes, as I’m trying to explain something about how I write, and why.


Farber says (in my recollection, anyway) that European (or classical) art, including film, is culturally assumed to be like a monumental slab. It’s about that slab, and how it’s been shaped, or what’s been carved on it. In “termite art”, though, your slab has been wormholed countless times, and its meaning is really taking place in the resulting interstices. The actual art of the piece, in other words, and your enjoyment of it, is taking place in the cracks, and the shape of the slab is coincidental and ultimately meaningless.


That encouraged me, in 1977, because that felt to me like what I actually did when I attempted fiction. And my slabs were truly pathetic, particularly my earliest tries, but I could bore a mean and twisty wormhole from the very start. In another sense, Farber provided an crucial angle of attack, a working attitude: I’d called my slab “science fiction”, but the art I’d cultivate would be the art of interstice, burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface, through the waiting wealth of weirdness I sensed between those surfaces.


But your true trilogy is the epitome of monumental slab: a classical triune form, each third in perfect balance. (As to whether anyone other the Tolkien ever actually managed one, I don’t know; my own favorite three-book fantasy sequence, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, is as termitically gnawed a creation as you could hope to find.)


A secret: that line toward the end of Neuromancer, “He never saw Molly again,” forever sundering Case from the razorgirl, was added very last thing, in a deliberate attempt to prevent myself from ever writing a sequel. And was, I think, a well-intentioned but ultimately pointless gesture, because I must have somehow been under the false assumption, then, that Neuromancer was a slab.


The next book I planned, at that point, would have been, believe it or not, a species of space opera. That was not to be, but not, as some might imagine, because Neuromancer won a bunch of prizes. In real time, that was mighty slow to happen. What really happened was that I started burrowing into the world of Neuromancer from a surface inhabited by a nasty little character who liked to call himself Count Zero. I was discovering my own literary nature: termite. I couldn’t help myself.
The same thing happened with Virtual Light: no intention to write a trilogy, thank you.

Oops.

With Pattern Recognition… Well, I hope not. Not that I don’t like it. (Though actually, if you want to get into that, my attitude to every book I’ve written was probably best expressed by Vaughan Williams when someone asked him if he liked the symphony he’d just completed; he said that he wasn’t sure, but that it was what he’d intended it to be.) The thing I liked most, and hated most, about writing Pattern Recognition, was the extent to which it required me to stretch.
Were I to bore back into it, tunneling after Win’s childhood in Virginia, say, or Voytek’s life as an artist, or… Well, the stretch factor wouldn’t be quite the same. I seem to have arrived at a place where the one-off stand-alone novel, something I aspired to from the very beginning, is the no-net wire-walk required to keep me entirely (if sometimes resentfully) awake.


Tuesday, January 07, 2003

posted
12:12 PM
Someone posts to complain of the wealth of grammatical errors in my fiction… I would have to say that some are errata, some are nonstandard grammatical choices on the part of a character (and these can be part of the text, as interior monologue or an aspect of “POV”) and the rest are, for the most part, conscious and deliberate stylistic choices involving nonstandard usage.
I suppose the idea that a writer would deliberately choose to “break the rules” would puzzle some people, and annoy others, though it’s a bit of a stretch for me to imagine what it would feel like to be in that particular relationship to prose fiction.
There may well be people who abandon Neuromancer on the grounds that it’s riddled with sentence-fragments, but, in a sense, the sentence-fragments are there to scare off readers who aren’t ready for that, and to encourage those who want to see the envelope of language pushed even further, the pedal taken even closer to the metal… I do know how to write formal standard English without making a great many mistakes. But a character like Rydell doesn’t think in formal standard English, so when I’m interfacing with the narrative through the lens of that character, you don’t get formal standard English. Though that shouldn’t lead you to assume that the more general narrative voice of a given book is “me”. If I’m doing my job, it never is.
But this brings up a much more important point, re those advance reading copies (ARCs) of Pattern Recognition that have been popping up on eBay for the last little while.
Those are “uncorrected proof copies”, which means that they are (1) absolutely riddled with errata, and (2) in the case of this book, to some extent a variant text. There is, in particular, a completely annoying failure on the typesetter’s part to keep the email sections in the font allotted to email. This has (I hope) been thoroughly corrected in the actual book, though too late to impress any of the reviewers who had to struggle through the ARC. Why does this happen? Well, novels, these days, have to be scheduled long in advance, as to production and date of initial sale, and you could say that it all springs from that. Publishing today encourages a certain lamentable “hurry up and wait” factor. The ARC’s were gotten out before I would have wanted them to, before I’d had sufficient time to “sit with” the manuscript, and then I was able to make another pass (actually two more) taking whatever time I needed. I won’t go into the changes, else I enter spoiler territory, but you can take my word for it that the ARC is not at all the finished text.
Actually I had hoped to have the final corrected galley sheets independently proofread by my friend John Berry, but, to my disappointment, scheduling did not allow. One day I will manage to do that, and then there will be no errata, and no non-deliberate grammatical errors whatever, but he won’t mess with my sentence fragments at all.


Monday, January 06, 2003

posted
11:21 AM
The thread about the bridge in Virtual Light had me remembering where that all came from: a random glance out a window in The Clift, where I was staying during the tour for the previous book. Up early, on one of the upper floors, I happened to look out into thick, classic San Francisco fog and see, magically, just the top of that first cable-tower, suspended/isolated there in a field of gray. I suppose it became for me, at that point, a place.

But if you wanted it to be a place where you could be, where you could sleep, you’d need a floor and walls and a roof… Tree-houses, the forts that children build, secret places of childhood… Somehow, before I’d turned away from that window, I had the floor: it was made of two-by-fours, set on edge, making the deck a comfortingly solid four inches thick.

So, really, the world below, the bridge and its culture, all grew down from that, called into literary being to support what would become Skinner’s room, Chevette’s home, and the core of three novels.

***

My friend John Clute, the only critical historian of science fiction I pay any attention to, thought that the bridge was the ultimate elaboration of the Cornell boxes in Count Zero. I started understanding that he saw these environments throughout my work, and that he regarded them as claustrophobic, or rather agoraphobic. I didn’t like that, but gradually, at some deeper level, I guess I started to agree with him. Which is ultimately why I wound up torching the bridge in All Tomorrow’s Parties, and perhaps why Laney dies alone in his cardboard box at the end of that book.

In Pattern Recognition, the only physical environments I can think of that evoke Cornell boxes are the basement arcade off Portobello Road, where Cayce sees the book’s first Michelin Man, and Boone’s ex-girlfriend’s rather too perfect apartment in Hongo, and, possibly, Baranov’s fetid caravan. None of these are felt as sympatico environments for Cayce.

But there may be another sort of Cornell box there, in the form of F:F:F, the website where Cayce and her friends have been discussing the footage, in the months before the book begins. I think that’s an improvement, though, as a website can become a Cornell box full of friends. Having seen that happen elsewhere, and been a part of it myself, my best hope for this site would be that, for some of you at least, that will happen for you here. (If it does, it won’t have much to do with me, and everything to do with you.)

So welcome, and special thanks to those of you who arrived early and started colonizing the place before it was even completed. That really cheered me up, a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have to feel I’m moving into an empty (and dishearteningly brand-new) structure. There is already some human space here, the start of that sense of duration and habitation, and soon there’ll be, I hope, more.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) my reputation as a reclusive quasi-Pynchonian luddite shunning the net (or word-processors, depending on what you Google) I hope to be here on a more or less daily basis.