Queen Victoria's Personal Spook,
Psychic Legbreakers, Snakes and Catfood:
An Interview with William Gibson
and Tom Maddox
by Darren Wershler-Henry
(source: _Virus 23_ #0 [Fall 1989], 28-36)
A conversation with William Gibson is kind
of like a full-immersion baptism in all of
the weird and disturbing gomi  that
comprises late twentieth century culture
(Arthur Kroker would call it "excremental"
culture,but then again, he's also capable
of calling "the post-Einsteinian individual"
a "hyper-Hobbesian energy pack." Screw that
noise). Japanese Nazi geneticists in white
bathrobes and terrycloth tennis hats, Luddite
death squads, catfish farms, high rollers
drawing voodoo designs in lines of cocaine,
guinea pig-driven flamethrowers, unlicensed
these are a few of his favorite things.
Gibson's writing is, on the most basic level,
a testament to this obsession with the
bizarre and the disturbing: he takes these
random, abandoned fragments of our shattered
society and fuses them together into a
strange and beautiful mosaic of words. The
resulting gestalt, though, is more just than
an artistic curiosity. Out of this odd
assortment of cultural detritus, Gibson
genuinely new ideas, and redefines many old
ones. "Scramble and resequence but, in the
process of borrowing symbolic energy from the
past, new simultaneities and odd juxtapositions,
like dreams, emerge" . Take Gibson's most
famous creation, cyberspace, as a prime example.
The Media Lab (MIT) and Autodesk (California)
are all lathered up about the possibility of
actually building the thing. "Ether, having once
failed as a concept, is in the process of being
reinvented. Information is the ultimate
mediational ether" . As much as he is an
entertainer, Gibson is also vitally important
as a writer of ideas.
Tom Maddox, a long-time friend of Gibson's,
is a professor at Evergreen State College,
an excellent science fiction writer, and an
astute critic. In the short biography of
Gibson he wrote for the ConText 89 program,
he points out that the public's reaction to
Gibson has often been a mixed one: "
[Many SF writers and readers say] Gibson's
work is all 'surface' or 'flash,'
'never passes from ugly to ennobling.'"
In other words, the reasons given by Gibson's
detractors for their (often violent) dislike
of his works rarely varies from typical
conservative distaste for Postmodern writing
techniques . (On the other hand, it could
be jealousy....) The explanation Maddox provides
for this kind of reaction ia a blunt and simple
one: Gibson's writing can be a colossal mindfuck
for those unprepared to deal with the issues
It's a truism of SF criticism that speculative
fiction is more about the author's lifetime than
any hypothetical "future." Reading Neuromancer
is like putting on a pair of the X-ray specs
from John Carpenter's They Live, and seeing
the subliminal underbelly of North American
capitalist culture. A trip through the
lookinglass darkly, a strangely warped
reflection in the left lens of the author's
mirrorshades... it doesn't matter which metaphor
you use, because the upshot of it all is that
Gibson sees a blackness in our society that very
few people are anxious to hear about, much less
do or say anything about. So when someone picks
up a Gibson novel which describes a world where
multinational corporations have more personality
than the people they employ, where the US navy
"recruits" dolphins by hooking them on heroin,
where people would rather live vicariously through
media personalities than cope with their own lives,
a little voice starts up in the back of their head.
Our world isn't like that at all. Oh no.
Bruce Fletcher (Virus 23 staff writer) and I met
Gibson and Maddox in Edmonton, where they were guest
writers at ConText 89 (Gibson was the Guest of Honor),
and persuaded them to talk for several hours about
many of the things that make Gibson's work unique.
My starting place was the Summer 1989 issue of the
Whole Earth Review, "Is the Body Obsolete?" .
In attempting to deal with the question of bodily
obsolescence, Whole Earth lays bare the connections
between most of the important work being done today
in, well, in just about every field you can imagine
(and a few others): cybernetics, theories of the body,
downloading, feminist theory, artificial intelligence...
the list goes on and on. Essentially, this is the
same weird collection of oddities--gomi--that Gibson
is so fond of. Sure, it's intellectualized gomi, but
gomi nonetheless. The section on Gibson himself falls
right in the middle of the magazine, acting
(intentionally or not there are no accidents, right?)
as the point where all the other articles converge.
It seemed to me that a natural place to begin an
examination of Gibson's fiction would be the
exploration of some of these connections. Judging
from the range of the topics we covered in about
2 hours--many of which I've never seen mentioned in
another interview with Gibson--I think it worked
What follows is a sliced, diced (and hopefully coherent
everyone present was nursing a hangover) version of that
* * * * *
Darren Wershler-Henry: (Producing a copy of the Whole
Earth Review, Summer 1989: "Is The Body Obsolete?")
Have you seen this? It's a collection of a whole bunch
of different things that seem to crystallize around your
work: theories of the body, information theory there's
a piece on Survival Research Laboratories ,
a list of the major influences on cyberpunk writers,
and (pointing out the interview entitled "Cyberpunk Era")
they even did a [William] Burroughs-style cut-up of your
William Gibson: No... show it to me.
(To Tom Maddox) Have you seen this? This is really
bizzarre. I wouldn't give them an interview so they cut
up a bunch of old interviews.
Tom Maddox: Who did this?
WG: Kevin Kelly. It's the Whole Earth Review.
TM: Oh--I heard about that, yeah.
DW: For me, one of the most interesting things
in this magazine is when they start talking about
what happens when you download people into machines.
What constitutes personality when the borderline
between people and machines starts to blur? The
Flatline seems to be a personality, but is a ROM
construct, and the Finn, who gets himself made
into some kind of construct...
WG: (Laughing) That's one of my favorite parts
in that book... he's got the high rollers drawing
TM: Do you mean, what is it that's in there?
DW: Yeah. At the end of Mona Lisa Overdrive
you've got Angie, Finn, Colin, and Bobby--
two dead people and two personality constructs,
one modeled after a "real" man and one a complete
fabrication--in the Aleph, heading off into alien
cyberspace, and they seem to have their own
volition. It's not just a machine kind of thing...
they're not programmed to act in certain ways. So
that's what I want to look at: where does the self
go? How much self do any of these characters have?
WG: Yeah, well, that's just a question, you know?
I suppose the book poses that question, but it
doesn't answer it. I can't answer it. As for
that downloading stuff, I think those guys who
seriously consider that stuff are crazier
than a sackful of rats. I think that's monstrous!
It just seems so obvious to me, but people like
those guys at Autodesk who're building cyberspace--
I can't believe it: they've almost got it--they
just don't understand. My hunch is that what I
was doing was trying to come up with some kind
of metaphor that would express my deepest
ambivalence about media in the twentieth century.
And it was my satisfaction that I sort of managed
to do it, and then these boff-its come in and say
"God damn, that's a good idea! Let's plug it all
in!" But, you know, it just leaves me thinking,
"What??" You know, that is actually stranger
than having people do theses about your work,
is to have people build this demented shit
that you dreamed up, when you were trying
to make some sort of point about industrial
society. It's just a strange thing.
DW: Actually, there is an article in here on
NASA's virtual reality project, and Whole
Earth calls it cyberspace.
WG: (looking at the photo of a sensor-lined
glove that controls the movement of the wearer
in "cyberspace") Hey, Tom: you know, if you
turned this thing inside out, you could get
the computer to jerk you off?
TM: (laughing) That's beautiful, Bill. Put
it in your book and someone'll build it.
WG: (laughing) Instead of jacking in,
you'd be jacking off.
DW: It seems to me that what is at the
center of the discussions in this issue
of Whole Earth is the way the "personhood"
of people is jeopardized by new technologies.
What does happen to the concept of self in
a society where downloading, cloning, and
replaceable body parts are commonplace?
In your books, the main characters use
technology to protect what's left of the
self. Molly is a particularly good example.
The mirrors over her eyes, and the
razorblades under her nails seem to me
to be an attempt to protect what's left
of any kind of interiority.
TM: I think the categories you're using
are too traditional. Those are adaptations
those aren't protections of the self.
The self is much more labile than in
previous cultures, if you will...
and in Gibson's stuff, it seems to me
that what the self is is sort of open
to negotiation on a particular day.
WG: Yeah, I'd agree with that.
DW: Something else that comes up over
and over is the position that women characters
end up occupying in your books, and in
Postmodern literature in general. There's a
book written by a feminist theorist at Yale
named Alice Jardine called Gynesis, and she
talks about the way in Postmodern fiction that
women's bodies become a map for Postmodern
Man to follow--the only the only remaining
guide to the unknown. Angie in Count Zero,
with the vvs written on her brain, or the
messages Wintermute sends Case through Molly's
eyes in Neuromancer, could be textbook
examples of this phenomenon.
TM: No I don't know I just don't...
WG: I find it kind of poetically appealing.
TM: Yeah. I can't imagine it being true or
false, right? (laughing). It's a nice way of
looking at this stuff.
WG: Yeah (laughing). It's a good come-on line
try that next time.
TM: (laughing) Right: "Let's explore the unknown."
WG: I don't think it's necessarily women's bodies
why not men's bodies? You know, it's a two-way
street. The closest I ever come to saying anything
about that is the scene in Neuromancer where Case
fucks the construct of Linda Lee in the construct
on the beach. He has some kind of rather too self-
consciously Lawrencian experience. He connects
with the meat and it's like he gets Lawrencian
blood-knowledge (and that's a little too much
the English major there), but I was sincere about
that on some level I guess I believe it. But
I think it works both ways.... Am I shooting
myself in the foot, Tom? Should I be saying
these things and have people come back in 20
years and cite this guy's thesis to me?
TM: There's a fundamental separation of
categories that you have to understand here.
Asking Bill if this thesis about women's
bodies is true to his work is asking him
to be the interpreter of his own text,
in which case he's just another interpreter.
Now if you what he meant by something,
well, that's legit, but he can't validate
or invalidate a particular interpretation,
and in fact, to ask him to validate or
invalidate a particular interpretation
is like asking him to betray the
possibilities of his own work. Umberto Eco
wrote a book called A Postscript to The
Name of the Rose, in which he said that
in writing his postscript he was betraying
the novel. He said, if I wanted to write an
interpretation, I wouldn't have written a
novel , which is a machine for generating
WG: Well, the thing that I would question
in that theory as you paraphrased it is
that women's bodies are the map I think
bodies are the map, and if, for instance,
you looked at the sequence in Mona Lisa
Overdrive where what's-her-name, the
little thing... I forget her name...
Mona! yeah, Mona.
TM: (laughing) Your title character, remember?
WG: Jesus, I can't remember the character's
names... I never think about this shit.
(laughing) That's what I think you gotta
TM: Nobody who ever writes a book thinks
about this shit.
WG: Yeah, the eponymous Mona, where she
remembers her stud showing up for the
first time, when she's working in a catfish
farm. All that really sexual stuff happens
there before he takes her away. Think about
the way she's looking at him, the way she's
reading his body. Or look at the art girl,
Marly. Marly follows the map in that book.
She's the only one who can receive the
true map and she goes to the heart of it.
She gets an audience with God, essentially,
and she does it through her own intellectual
capacity and her ability to understand the art.
TM: She, in a way, for me is the most
important one of those three characters
[in Count Zero].
WG: If I was doing a thesis on my work,
I would try to figure out what the fuck
that Joseph Cornell stuff means in the
middle of Count Zero. That's the key to
the whole fucking thing, how the books
are put together and everything. But
people won't see it. I think it actually
needs someone with a pretty serious art
background to understand it. You know,
Robert Longo understood that immediately.
I was in New York--I've got a lot of fans
who are fairly heavy New York artists,
sort of "fine art guys", and they got
it right away. They read those books
around that core. I was actually trying
to tell people what I was doing while I
was trying to discover it myself.
DW: It goes back to Postmodernism, to
pieces again, and to making new wholes
from fragments, doesn't it?
WG: Yeah. It's sort of like there's nothing
there in the beginning, and you're going to
make something, and you don't have anything
in you to make it out of, particularly, so
you start just grabbing little hunks of kipple,
and fitting them together, and... I don't know,
it seemed profound at the time, but this
morning it's like I can't even remember how
it works (laughs).
DW: But it seems to me that the body is still
more important to your female characters than
to your male characters. You start out with
Case, and the whole thing about how "the body
is meat." It's like it's just not important to
him it doesn't matter.
WG: He's denying it.
TM: There's that key line "He fell into the
prison of his own flesh," which is the whole
point, in a way. I don't know--if you want
some real ammunition for this that's not
just bullshit Postmodernist criticism,
there's a guy at Berkeley named Lakoff,
George Lakoff. He's a cognitive psychologist,
and he's testing a whole set of theories
based on the notion that all knowledge is
a "body" of knowledge, and that every single
intellectual structure in the world is
ultimately a piece of embodied spatial
knowledge translated by metaphor into
TM: Very heavy shit. This guy's really
something. He's got a book called Women,
Fire and Dangerous Things that's about
how we categorize the world. And, as a
matter of fact, I'll set him loose on
Neuromancer some time because he'll come
really back with like four hundred
explanations about why this is the way
that Bill's books work. But it fits very
nicely with Bill's thoughts, because
in the worlds he creates, knowledge
is perceived knowledge, which means
embodied knowledge, and the people who
deny that, like Case, maybe they have
to be taught by women about that denial,
taught that the prison of our own flesh
is the only place there is.
WG: The thing is, I'm very labile,
especially this morning (laughs). I could
sit here with 20 different people and 20
different theories and say, "Yeah, that's
what it is." I like Chip Delany's reaction
to anybody who comes on him with anything
like this. He listens really intently and
then he says, "That's an interesting thesis."
And that's all. (laughs)
TM: It's very easy to make this stuff stand
up and dance to whatever tune you want it to.
If you're Julia Kristeva and you've got some
well worked out critical act that you want
to work on something, fine. But here's what
I'm really objecting to in this stuff. The
categories that you're applying to this stuff
are not categories that are integral to the
books. Things like the map on the woman's
body and the "self". The interesting thing
about Bill's stuff is that it's creating new
categories. Cyberspace is not an analogue of
something. It's not the self, it's not sex,
it's cyberspace. that's what's really
interesting. Look at the new categories.
There's sort of ongoing discussion groups
where people who work at universities and
corporations all around the world are
thinking about what they call cognitive
engineering The most valid literary
criticism that I know of is archaic by
comparison. It's got all these categories
it's trying to drag kicking and screaming
into the twentieth century. It's like J.G.
Ballard says about Margaret Atwood and those
people: "Yeah, it's the psychology of the
individual--who gives a fuck, you know?
It's all been done." Right, it's been done
as well as it's ever going to be done. And
why people get excited about Bill's stuff,
is that it's not what's been done. And the
categories are genuinely emergent. Maybe
there's not a body. Maybe the idea of the
body or self is entirely irrelevant. Maybe
the question of the self becomes infinitely
complex. Literary critics love to talk about
consciousness. You know what Marvin Minsky
says about consciousness? It's a debugging
trace. It's like a little piece of froth on
the top of this larger thing. I think Bill
believes that. Consciousness is just part
of the act (laughs). All this other shit
that goes on is equally important.
WG: Yeah. The snake wanted catfood , yeah.
TM: (laughing) Yeah, the snake wanted catfood,
right, yeah, right.
WG: And, you know, sometimes you're just
running on brain stem. I was running on
brain stem last night. Look where it got
TM: This is what Bill's work is in fact
about. Bill has been an obsessive afficionado
of late twentieth century experience, which
for most people is just too unnerving.
They don't want it, so they screen
themselves off from it. But Bill actively
seeks it out, and this has always been
true. I mean most people don't want it.
It fucks their minds up and they don't
want to be part of it.
WG: What I do is I give it to them in
these books and they're able to open up
to it a little bit because it's
TM: Right. But in science fiction itself,
which is enormously conservative in these
matters, his stuff generates a lot of
resentment because they don't want to know,
and they don't want to experience what the
late twentieth century is like, they want
to experience what some fifties version of
the future is like. Most of the stuff he
thinks about, in terms of structure and all
that, the visual artist immediately gets,
bang bang bang. Whereas people who do
straightforward literary criticism wheel
out these creaky old novelistic categories
that don't apply worth a fuck.
WG: Most of the stuff that I'm seeing,
even the stuff in The Mississippi Review,
it's like a bunch of guys from the
English Department being forced to
write rock criticism (laughs).
DW: So what do you consider some of
the better work that's been done on your
WG: Well, one of the things that's really
amazing about the British reception of my
work, and this has just been consistent
all the way through, is they think I'm a
humorist. By and large, they think of me
as being largely a humorist, and they think
the stuff's funny as hell. It's 'cause
they're Brits. They understand--it's more
like their sense of humor. The kind of
sense of humor I've got is still considered
sort of suspect to North America, it's
considered just a little too bleak. See,
a lot of it was written because I thought
it was funny.
Bruce Fletcher: That kind of backhanded
humor really came out in the reading
[excerpts from The Difference Engine ]
WG: Well, there's kind of two levels to
that thing. Actually, the world we're
depicting there is infinitely grimmer
than the world of Neuromancer, and it
needs that humor. I mean, when you get
to the third section of the book, you
realize that they've invented the art
of making people disappear. And they're
doing this with death squads (chuckles).
There are death squads working in London
to take these Luddites out, or anyone
who interferes with the system. They
just arrest you and take you to Highgate
and hang you in the middle of the night,
and drop your body into a pit of quicklime,
and that's it. One of the viewpoint
characters is this tortured British
spook diplomat named Laurence Oliphant--
he was a real historical figure--
he was Queen Victoria's personal spook:
"Oliphant of the Tokyo legation."
He was a hero he was in this crazed
samurai uprising, in Tokyo. Anyway,
Oliphaunt's manservant was an avid
lepidopterist. In the middle of one
night, these black-clothed barefoot
ninjas with samurai swords were sneaking
toward Oliphant's bedroom and they
stepped on this fucker's pinned
butterflies which he'd put into the tatami.
WG: That's true, that's a true story.
Oliphant got his wrist slashed, and one
of the lines in the book, which is actually
lifted from a recorded conversation with
Oliphaunt, is, "Strange how a Japanese"--
and this scar is right on his wrist,
so when he shakes hands you can see it--
"Strange how a Japanese sword when you're
concerned is quite adequate carte de visite."
TM: Oh Jesus Christ (laughs).
WG: In our book, Oliphant is the man who
dreams up disappearing people he believes
in the All-Seeing Eye. He just dreams it
up to solve one terrible problem that
they have, and then it takes over.
And so he's sort of tortured by knowing
he's the guy that discovered the principle
of this, because he knows it's wrong.
It's gonna be a crazy book I hope we can
finish it. We've got the whole plot together
it's really twisted.
BF: What are the mechanics involved with
collaborating with someone on a book?
WG: It's impossible to explain. It's like
telling somebody how you "be married."
You "be married" the only way you can
be married to the person you're married to,
and that's all there is to it.
BF: Since we're on the topic of writing,
I'd like to talk a bit about influences.
I find the Cyberpunk 101 reading list 
interesting in terms of what it says about
the formation of canons. As soon as people
accept and validate a category like
"Cyberpunk," it becomes a retroactive
thing. All of a sudden everyone like
J. G. Ballard and William Burroughs
becomes a proto-cyberpunk writer.
There are works on this list written
as long ago as 1937.
WG: (looking at list, laughing) Last
and First Men??! ...and Chandler...
I don't like that, you know? I'd like
to go on record as saying that I don't
like Raymond Chandler. I think he's kind
of an interesting stylist but I just
found him to be this creepy puritanical
DW: That would explain the way you
handle Turner in Count Zero.
WG: Yeah, Turner is a kind of detective,
a deconstructed [literally and figuratively:
ed.] thriller guy. I wanted to get one of
those macho thriller guys, a real he-man
straight out of the kit, and just kind of
push him apart. I never was quite able to
do it. The scene that works for me the most
is when he kills the wrong man. There's a
slow build and he blows the shit out of
somebody and someone says to him, so-and-so's
the agent here, you asshole.
TM: (laughing) Yeah, why'd you kill him?
WG: (back to the list) Alfred Bester, yeah.
Bester I'll go for. [William Burroughs']
Naked Lunch, yes. Philip K. Dick, though,
had almost no influence.
TM: Right, you've really never much
WG: I never really read Dick because I
read Pynchon. You don't need Dick if
you've read Pynchon. I mean Dick was
the guy who couldn't quite do it.
TM: Ah, I think that's different,
but you haven't read Dick, Bill (laughs).
WG: That's true. I read a little Dick,
but I didn't like it. [Michael Moorcock's]
The Cornelius Chronicles? Well,
[Samuel R. Delany's] Nova, yeah, I could
see Nova. But The Cornelius Chronicles,
well.... I never read [Alvin Toffler's]
Future Shock. [J. G. Ballard's]
The Atrocity Exhibition, yeah.
[Robert Stone's] Dog Soldiers, yeah.
DW: Do you know Richard Kadrey,
the guy who made this list?
WG: Yeah. You know, I think Richard
Kadrey's first short story was my first
short story cut up into individual blocks
of one or two words and rearranged. It was
published in Interzone, and it's really
weird. I talked to him about it, and he
just wouldn't cop to it. It's weird,
it's indescribably weird, you should
actually read it. Ther are sentences
in there that are out of "Fragments of
A Hologram Rose," but they've been
dicked with in some mysterious way.
And you couldn't really say it's
plagiarism. I actually thought it was
TM: Yeah. he's a good guy, a smart guy.
Richard's the only one I know who's really,
Metrophage is really and truly a Gibson
hommage. He's not derivative at all.
WG: Yeah, it's really good. This guy
published his book and everybody's saying,
"God, this really a rip-off of you.
You should be offended!" I thought that
it was a dynamite book and that it
really stands out. What he'd gotten
in there and done was he'd gone in
there and played riffs on the instrument
that I'd never dreamed of. And he's one
of the hipper people in the field, that's
for sure. He knows about drugs, too.
DW: What about the "punk" in cyberpunk?
Do you see any real connections between
what you write and punk rock?
WG: I read something recently where
they described me as the dark godfather
of an outlaw subculture (laughs).
I mean, when I was fifteen, that was my
wildest dream, but now...
TM: (laughing) It's a case of being
careful what you wish for, Bill, because
sometimes you get it.
WG: There was a while, at the start of all
this cyberpunk stuff, when I contemplated
dressing up like that, getting a foot tall
blue mohawk or something. When people go
to a reading to see a cyberpunk author,
they expect to see him come running in
out of the rain and whip the sweat out of
his mohawk and start signing books.
(laughter) Actually, one time I was in
New York signing books, there was this
godawful huge roar outside the bookstore,
and these two huge motorcycles screeched
up to the curb, and these two huge guys
covered in leather and studs and chains
and shit got off, and came into the store.
When they got a good look at me in my
loafers and buttondown shirt their faces
just fell, you know? One of them pulled
out this copy of one of my books and said,
"Well, I guess you can sign it anyway."
DW: Some of the characters you describe
in your books sound a lot like various
types of punks: the Gothicks and
Jack Draculas, for example.
WG: Yeah, I hung out with some of them
[Goths] in London. You know, they pierce
their genitals? And they won't fuck anyone
who doesn't have a hunk of steel shoved
through there. It's weird, 'cause they
hang little bells & shit on them. You can
hear them jingle when they move (laughs).
BF: Are there other people who've
influenced you that you talk to regularly?
Do you correspond with Timothy Leary at all?
WG: I exchange letters with Mark Pauline
the stuff in Mona Lisa Overdrive is supposed
to be a homage to SRL, but I don't think I
quite got it. Leary? I talk to him on the
phone, yeah. We don't really correspond,
because he doesn't write...
TM: I was going to say he's probably post-
literate at this point (laughs).
BF: I like his new book, he's redone Neuro-
Politics, he calls it Neuro-Politique
[check titles]. It's dedicated...
WG: Oh God, finding that out was the
weirdest experience. I was in L.A. working
on screenplays, and I got into this limo
in L.A.X. to go to a meeting in this fancy
Chinese place on Sunset. I got this crazy
little Yugoslavian limo driver--you have
to be very careful with limo drivers
because every limo driver's an out-of-work
screen writer or something--I get in and
he sort of looks at me and he says,
"Are you the William Gibson?" and I said,
"Well, I'm the William Gibson that's sitting
in your car" (laughs). And he says, "I haven't
read your books, but I'm the greatest admirer
of Dr. Timothy Leary," and he whips Leary's
book out and it's dedicated to me and Bob Dylan.
I mean, if you want weird, I thought, you know,
total cognitive dissonance there. And he got
talking so much that he made me late for the
meeting: he overshot the restaurant.
BF: Yeah, that's the book, all right (laughs).
WG: Yeah, he overshot the restaurant, and
then he told me this really sad story about
how he'd been a TV producer. It was a
heartbreaking fucking story I believe it too.
He got his ass out of Yugoslavia, and he got
over to Hollywood, and he thought, you know,
he could work in the TV or film business,
and he just realized that he'd been around
and nobody would touch him with a ten foot
pole. So there he was, mooking around and
driving this limo. Anyway, I went into the
meeting, and somewhere between realizing
that I didn't want to write another version
of Alien III and getting back into the car,
when we were sort of doing small talk,
I said, "This is such an amazing town.
The guy driving my limo used to be a
television producer in Yugoslavia,"
and I told them this story that had
really affected me. One of the people
who's there is this woman who's
The Bitch Woman from the studio--
she's there to hurt me if I get out of line--
they've always got an edge, you know. She
keeps her mouth shut until I'm finished,
and then she sort of drew on her pity look,
and she says to me, "Huh. Don't they all
have a story."
TM: Yeah, right. All the little people
WG: Oh, man. But they do--they have
people who're like psychic leg-breakers
that they bring along. There's always one.
1 "Kumiko stared as Sally drew her past
arrays of of Coronation plate and jowled
Churchill teapots. "This is gomi," Kumiko
ventured, when they paused at an
intersection. Rubbish. In Tokyo, worn and
useless things were landfill. Sally grinned
wolfishly. "This is England. Gomi's a major
natural resource. Gomi and talent."
Mona Lisa Overdrive. (p.30)
Gibson's writing is testament to what talent
can do with gomi.
2 Sol Yurick, Behold Metatron, the Recording
Angel. New York: Semiotext(e), 1985, 6.
The Semiotext(e) series is published at
Columbia University, and, despite some
embarrassing editing problems, is a valuable
source of texts by influential Postmodern
theorists like Baudrillard, Lyotard,
and Deleuze and Guattari.
3 Sol Yurick again: page 9.
4 One of the few really good studies
that has been done to date on Gibson's
merits and faults as a writer is
Lucy Sussex's "Falling Off the Fence:
Reviewing William Gibson's Neuromancer and
Count Zero," The Metaphysical Review,
November 1987. If you can't find it
(The Metaphysical Review is an
Australian journal), send me a
SASE c/o this magazine, and I'll
mail you a copy.
5 I have to admit a vested interest
here. A discussion of the space the body
occupies in Gibson's writing will form
the core of my Master's thesis.
6 A sorta-kinda performance art group
from California (where else) that builds
big machines that destroy each other.
SRL was one of Gibson's major influences
in the writing of Mona Lisa Overdrive
(see the article elsewhere in this magazine).
7 A quotation from Tom Maddox's short story
"Snake-Eyes," which can be found in
Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology,
ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor House,
1986. At the risk of bowdlerizing the piece,
I'll just mention that it's about this guy
whose higher thought processes become
involved in a conflict of interest with
his brainstem. And you thought
hangovers were bad...
8 The Difference Engine is an alternate
world novel Gibson is writing with Bruce
Sterling. It is set in a nineteenth
century England where Charles Babbage's
steam-driven computer actually gets built,
and all sorts of weird shit happens as a
result (including Lord Byron becoming
Prime Minister). Gibson read excerpts
from the manuscript at several points
during ConText 89.
9 Another product of The Whole Earth Review,
the Cyberpunk 101 reading list can be found
in the Summer 89 issue, or, in an earlier
form, in Signal: Communication Tools for
the Information Age. New York:
Harmony Books, 1988.
(Signal is a whole Earth catalog). It
makes for some interesting reading, but it
should come with a warning sticker that
reads "WARNING! CANON FORMATION IN PROGRESS!"
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