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William Gibson's Novels: A Fractured Delight

Supernova brilliance, sealed and delivered

The quintessential force behind cyberpunk, as well as an inspiration to countless other "name-your-punk-preference" literary movements, William Gibson is one of the true stylists of English language, molding and injecting it with his own edgy brand of "noir".

His fiction can be cold and detached in tone, but his cocktail of tech and pop-culture references laced with darkly poetic imagery - an intoxicating mix if there ever was one - proves irresistible to many readers, an addiction that's almost impossible to shake off.

Little known facts about William Gibson:

- At the age of twelve, he "wanted nothing more than to be a science fiction writer"
- dodged the draft during the Vietnam War by emigrating to Canada in 1968
- his father choked to death in a restaurant while on a business trip
- considered writing a thesis on the topic of hard science fiction novels as fascist literature
- explaining his recent turn to realist writing, he notes: "Explore the present. Earth is the alien planet now."
- rejects any notion of prophecy, even after coining terms "cyberspace", "matrix", etc.
- never really been very interested in computers themselves. "I don't watch them; I watch how people behave around them."


"Pattern Recognition" (nv)
© 2003, Putnam
--shortlist : 2004 Clarke
--novel : 2004 British SF

--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ idea award

Review by Avi Abrams
London, Tokyo, Moscow (all present time), graphic design, branding (or the absence of branding), bits of geekology and tech-fetishes at every turn, introspective, splintered tone (emotions shattered by September 11 events, pulled together by cynicism, and fractured again by the inevitability of change)... the jumping, neurotic pace of the story and Gibson's trademark layered writing... All this makes it a complex candy, a book to chew on, a bit tiring at times. You would not want to swallow it in one sitting (which is a good thing, of course).

Subliminal angst diluted with brilliant observations, commentaries on symbolism, advertising, internet culture and shorter attention spans, viral ideas born and discarded with a stroke of a pen... streams of details that seem to curve onto themselves like Mandelbrot elements.... Economic and political doomsdays are sampled and considered, crazy commas and grammar are introduced, characters evolve only to fall back into their older selves. The book never really ends, but do you want it to, really?

And then there is the character of Hubertus Bigend - at first seen as the charismatic founder of the "viral advertising" agency Blue Ant, but then getting more sinister - even compared at one point to actor Tom Cruise "on a diet of virgins' blood and truffled chocolates". It is Hubertus Bigend that is so "larger than life, heaven and hell combined" (at least in his own eyes) that sticks in memory long after the book is finished. William Gibson brings him back in a sequel "Spook Country", and it's only proper that his character lives on, sort of like Heinlein's Lazarus Long, or Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius. We might see him again, in other novels, by other writers - a sort of "Deus ex machina" for various opinions and rants. Perhaps an improbable character, but as irresistible to watch as a train wreck.

In my mind, this book more easily classifies as hipster poetry and /or non-fiction essay than a cohesive thriller - in any way, it is a contemplation. A glue to piece together your fractured erratic self - which may fall apart again, but this is what sequels are for, aren't they?


"Neuromancer" (nv)
(Neuromancer / Sprawl #1)
© 1984, Ace SF Special / Gollancz
--novel : 1985 Hugo W
--novel : 1985 Nebula W
--third place : 1985 Campbell Award
--winner : 1985 Philip K. Dick W
--first novel : 1985 Locus /2
--sf novel : 1985 Locus /8
--outstanding work : 1985 Aurora
--novel : 1985 British SF
--international fiction : 1985 Ditmar W
--novel : 1985 SF Chronicle W
--foreign novel : 1987 Seiun W
--sf novel : 1998 Locus /15

--/ FIRST place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ idea award
--/ adventure award
--/ emotion award

Review by Sunday Williams
In 1984 the general reading public got the first view of Gibson’s world, where crossed men get magnificent revenge, where evil AIs manipulate humanity, where women throw more punches than the men (and wear skintight vinyl while doing it), and where questions of morality arise again and again – because there are no good answers.

High-technology, pre-internet networks, ass-kickery, drugs, space stations, mean guns and meaner chicks - dirty, violent and tightly written, this is the writing that changed popular space-ship political fiction into something personal, young, and rude. While it helps to remember the political climate of the Eighties when reading “Neuromancer,” I’m surprised at every fresh reading how timeless and sleek it is; it’s no wonder that it won nearly as many awards are there are to win. “Neuromancer” also has my favorite opening line of all time: “The sky over the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.” Much to my surprise, it’s the term “dead channel” that may soon mark “Neuromancer”’s age.

Inevitably it is brought up as the “first” cyberpunk novel, a fact that is neither true, nor, as the decades pass, particularly relevant. What is relevant is that 20-plus years later, popular culture is just now starting to catch on to what Gibson was dishing out.

Perhaps most famously, Gibson wrote “Neuromancer” without the aid of a computer, and indeed, without knowing much about computers at all. This ignorance led to a lesson that every scifi writer, fan and everybody else should learn: your knowledge might be crippling your imagination. Gibson was free to imagine virtual social networks and complex visual interfaces primarily because he had no reason to think otherwise. “Neuromancer” quietly managed to transcend the segregation of genre and become the kind of novel that influences the mind of a generation, and that, friends, is no dog-and-pony show.

It should also be made clear that it is not the futurism of “Neuromancer” that inspires such passion, it is in seeing the execution of such perfect balance. Many of us nerds imagine being able to write the next Great American (er, Canadian) Science Fiction Novel, but can anyone ever do it again? A man, a girl, a bad guy – sounds easy, right? Or clichéd? How about a web junky cut off from the net forever, a razorgirl named Molly Millions and a psychopathic Green Beret? Gibson assembles it all with heartbreaking ease while paying homage to Philip K. Dick, Samuel R. Delaney, Roger Zelazny and who knows who else.

Even if you’ve already read it, it’s imperative that you stop what ever you’re doing right now – don’t even put the toothbrush down – and begin reading. It is still that good.


William Gibson
"Count Zero" (nv)

(Neuromancer #2)
© IASFM, Jan 1986
Arbor House / Gollancz, 1986
--novel : 1987 Hugo
--novel : 1987 Nebula
--sf novel : 1987 Locus /3
--novel : 1987 British SF
--novel : 1987 SF Chronicle /2

--/ third place sf novel
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ adventure award

Review by Baz Anderson
If Neuromancer planted the seed of cyberpunk, Count Zero sees it begin to flower into something fractal and immense. It builds well on its predecessor; taking mind-blowing ideas and concepts of the previous book and developing them in unexpected, yet entirely natural, ways.

From a narrative standpoint the book is chancier with three protagonists, each enmeshed in their own lushly described Gibson-esque world (all taking place in familiar "Sprawl" setting). They start on quite dissimilar paths only to find their stories weaving together into essentially one crime epic, seen from three points of view.

Gibson continues sprinkle his prose with small, sharp insights that cut through veneer ("sci-fi is just a wet-dream for nerds") and become profound predictions for some 50 years ahead. More than two decades after the original publication it remains an intense and cool-minded examination of humanity’s foibles, for example, our seemingly insatiable desire for maddeningly intrusive and loud media.

Hacker sub-culture, religious idealists, art investors and businessmen seem quite happy to navigate through the grey areas of the law, motivated by greed and notions of "creative destruction". Victims are led to believe they are the ones who call the shots, and vice versa. Corporate espionage provides ubiquitous set of thrills. Voodoo easily mixes with artificial intelligence, wild architecture and street culture - all presented in newly minted tech jargon and ideas which already may feel familiar, but only because we were so eager to adopt them.

If the book seems cold, it is not for lack of strong characters. Almost documentary-like, reminiscent perhaps of Truman Capote's mainstream classic "In Cold Blood", Count Zero revels in detached observation rather than heart-wrenching melodrama. Somebody compared reading cyberpunk to listening to virtuoso jazz performance, and indeed, this book is brimming with disciplined improvisation and stylized burst of sheer orgasmic exuberance.


Also read our reviews of William Gibson's "Burning Chrome" collection.

("Burning Chrome" cover art by Chris Moore)

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