William Gibson

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The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.

William Ford Gibson (born 17 March 1948) is an American-Canadian speculative fiction writer and essayist widely credited with pioneering the science fiction subgenre known as cyberpunk. Gibson coined the term "cyberspace" in his short story "Burning Chrome" and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984).

Gibson's novels are grouped into four informal trilogies:

Quotes[edit]

Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is innately media-related.
  • On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I'm interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision. When I was writing Neuromancer, it was wonderful to be able to tie a lot of these interests into the computer metaphor. It wasn't until I could finally afford a computer of my own that I found out there's a drive mechanism inside — this little thing that spins around. I'd been expecting an exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I got was a little piece of a Victorian engine that made noises like a scratchy old record player. That noise took away some of the mystique for me; it made computers less sexy. My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.
    • Interview with Larry McCaffery in Storming the Reality Studio : A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press (December 1991)
  • The NET is a waste of time, and that's exactly what's right about it.
    • Name of an article he wrote for New York Times Magazine (14 July 1996)
  • In 1977, facing first-time parenthood and an absolute lack of enthusiasm for anything like "career," I found myself dusting off my twelve-year-old's interest in science fiction. Simultaneously, weird noises were being heard from New York and London. I took Punk to be the detonation of some slow-fused projectile buried deep in society's flank a decade earlier, and I took it to be, somehow, a sign. And I began, then, to write.
    And have been, ever since.
    • "Since 1948," an essay formerly posted on williamgibsonbooks.com (6 November 2002) and subsequently published in Distrust that Particular Flavor.
  • The future is not google-able.
    • Comments at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, San Francisco, California (5 February 2004)
  • There is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is innately media-related.
  • Loss is not without its curious advantages for the artist. Major traumatic breaks are pretty common in the biographies of artists I respect.
    • Interview in The New York Times Magazine (19 August 2007)
  • The most common human act that writing a novel resembles is lying. The working novelist lies daily, very complexly, and at great length. If not for our excessive vanity and our over-active imaginations, novelists might be unusually difficult to deceive.
  • Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.
  • 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.
    • At the Booksmith, reading from Distrust That Particular Flavor. (19 January 2012).

Burning Chrome (short story anthology, 1986)[edit]

It's impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information.
"Johnny Mnemonic"
  • I put the shotgun in an Adidas bag and padded it out with four pairs of tennis socks, not my style at all, but that was what I was aiming for: If they think you're crude, go technical; if they think you're technical, go crude. I'm a very technical boy.
  • We're an information economy. They teach you that in school. What they don't tell you is that it's impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information. Fragments that can be retrieved, amplified...
    • "Johnny Mnemonic"
  • “As broker, I'm usually very careful as to sources.”
    “You buy only from those who steal the best. Got it.”
    • "Johnny Mnemonic"
  • "Last week I was in Virginia. Grayson County," Kihn said. "I interviewed a sixteen-year-old girl who'd been assaulted 'bya bar hade.'"
    "A what?"
    "A bear head. The severed head of a bear. This bar hade, see, was floating around on its own little flying saucer…Now that is the…straight goods from the mass unconscious. That little girl is a witch. There's just no place for her to function in this society. She'd have seen the devil, if she hadn't been brought up on 'The Bionic Man' and all those Star Trek reruns. She is clued into the main vein."
I could buy aliens, but not aliens that look like Fifties' comic art.
"The Gernsbach Continuum"
  • "If you want a classier explanation, I'd say you saw a semiotic ghost," Kihn said. "All these contactee stories, for instance, are framed in a kind of sci-fi imagery that permeates our culture. I could buy aliens, but not aliens that look like Fifties' comic art."
    • "The Gernsbach Continuum"
  • "Hell of a world we live in…"
    "That's right," I said, "or even worse, it could be perfect."
    • "The Gernsbach Continuum"
  • Parker saw his first ASP unit in a Texas shantytown called Judy's Jungle. It was a massive console cased in cheap plastic chrome. A ten-dollar bill fed into the slot bought you five minutes of free-fall gymnastics in a Swiss orbital spa, trampolining through twenty-meter perihelions with a sixteen-year-old Vogue model, heady stuff for the Jungle, where it was simpler to buy a gun than a hot bath.
  • She swam through the submarine half-life of bottles and glassware and the slow swirl of cigarette smoke...she moved through her natural element, one bar after another.
  • Coretti didn't know how to dress. Clothing was a language and Coretti a kind of sartorial stutterer, unable to make the kind of basic coherent fashion statement that would put strangers at their ease.
    • "The Belonging Kind"
  • The part of Coretti that was dialectologist stirred uneasily; too perfect a shift in phrasing and inflection. An actress? A talented mimic? The word mimetic rose suddenly in his mind, but he pushed it aside to study her reflection in the mirror; the rows of bottles occluded her breasts like a gown of glass.
    • "The Belonging Kind"
Colonel Korolev twisted slowly in his harness, dreaming of winter and gravity. Young again, a cadet, he whipped his horse across the late November steppes of Kazakhstan into dry red vistas of Martian sunset.
"Red Star, Winter Orbit"
Image: Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan, April 1991
  • They had better luck with the seashell. Exobiology suddenly found itself standing on unnervingly solid ground: one and seven-tenths grams of highly organized biological information, definitely extraterrestrial. Olga's seashell generated an entire subbranch of the science, devoted exclusively to the study of...Olga's seashell.
  • So now it's cargo cult time for the human race. We can pick things up out there that we might not stumble across in research in a thousand years...Charmian says that contact with "superior" civilizations is something you don't wish on your worst enemy.
    • "Hinterlands"
  • Colonel Korolev twisted slowly in his harness, dreaming of winter and gravity. Young again, a cadet, he whipped his horse across the late November steppes of Kazakhstan into dry red vistas of Martian sunset.
  • "The sun balloons!" cried Grishkin, pointing toward the earth.
    Kosmograd was above the coast of California now, clean shorelines, intensely green fields, vast decaying cities whose names rang with a strange magic. High above a fleece of stratocumulus floated five solar balloons, mirrored geodesic spheres tethered by power lines.
    "And they say that people live in those things?"
    • "Red Star, Winter Orbit"
  • For more than three decades the Americans had been gradually sliding into isolationism and industrial decline. Space, he thought ruefully, they should have gone into space. He'd never understood the strange paralysis of will that had seemed to grip their brilliant early efforts. Or perhaps it was simply a failure of imagination, of vision.
    • "Red Star, Winter Orbit"
"The sun balloons!" cried Grishkin, pointing toward the earth.
"Red Star, Winter Orbit"
  • When the knocking came, he knew that it must be a dream as well.
    The hatch wheeled open.
    He saw that the woman was black. Long corkscrews of matted hair rose like cobras around her head.
    "Andy," she said in English, "you better come see this!"
    "Is he alive?"
    "Of course I am alive." said Korolev in slightly accented English.
    The man called Andy sailed in over her head. "You okay, Jack?" His right bicep was tattooed with a geodesic balloon above crossed lightning bolts and bore the legend SUNSPARK 15, UTAH. "We weren't expecting anybody."
    "Neither was I," said Korolev, blinking.
    • "Red Star, Winter Orbit"
  • Korolev stared at the man, who had the blundering, careless look of someone drunk on freedom since birth.
    • "Red Star, Winter Orbit"
But then there are days when it's like they whip aside a curtain to flash you three minutes of sunlit, suspended mountain, the trademark at the start of God's own movie.
"The Winter Market"
Image: Vancouver, North Shore Mountains.
  • "But why?" Korolev shook his head, deeply confused. "Why have you come?"
    "We told you. To live here…Who'd want to live out here for the sake of some government, some army brass, a bunch of pen pushers? You have to want a frontier—want it in your bones, right?"
    Korolev smiled. Andy grinned back.
    • "Red Star, Winter Orbit"
  • Kosmograd's hull rang again...
    "East Los Angeles," the woman said. "That's the one with the kids in it." She took off her goggles, and Korolev saw her eyes brimming over with a wonderful lunacy.
    • "Red Star, Winter Orbit"
  • We strolled past bales of raw wool and plastic tubs of Chinese microchips. I hinted that my employers planned to manufacture synthetic beta-endorphin. Always try to give them something they understand.
    • "New Rose Hotel" (set in the Sprawl universe, first appearing in Omni, July 1984)
  • But then there are days when it's like they whip aside a curtain to flash you three minutes of sunlit, suspended mountain, the trademark at the start of God's own movie. It was like that the day her agents phoned, from deep in the heart of their mirrored pyramid on Beverly Boulevard, to tell me she'd merged with the net, crossed over for good...
The Long Hum people were so oblique that they made my idea of a subtle approach look like a tactical nuke-out.
"Burning Chrome"
  • Got my jacket and took the stairs three at a time, straight out to the nearest bar and an eight-hour blackout that ended on a concrete ledge two meters above midnight.
    • "The Winter Market"
  • I stood there for a long time before I took that first step back. Because she was dead, and I'd let her go. Because, now, she was immortal, and I'd helped her get that way. And because I knew she'd phone me, in the morning.
    • "The Winter Market"
  • Bets were being made, being covered. The kickers were producing the hard stuff, the old stuff, liberty-headed dollars and Roosevelt dimes from the stamp-and-coin stores, while more cautious bettors slapped down antique paper dollars laminated in clear plastic. Through the haze came a trio of red planes, flying in formation. Fokker D.VIIs. The room fell silent.
  • Deke looked at her through a wash of tears. Student. That fed look, the oversize sweatshirt, teeth so straight and white they could be used as a credit reference.
    • "Dogfight"
  • Vasopressin makes you remember, I mean really remember. Clinically they use the stuff to counter senile amnesia, but the street finds its own uses for things.
    • "Burning Chrome" (The Burning Chrome anthology was named after this short story, originally published in Omni, 1982)
  • We were looking for the world's heaviest fence, for a non-aligned money laundry capable of dry-cleaning a megabuck online cash transfer and then forgetting about it...It was the Finn who put me on to what we needed. He even had the number. You want a fence, ask another fence.
    • "Burning Chrome" (The Finn appears in four of Gibson's fictional works, possibly the most of any of his characters. "Burning Chrome" contains the first of his appearances, which continue throughout the Sprawl trilogy.)
Oklahoma City: Something bad had happened in Middle America. Whenever something like this happens, it ups the ante on being a science fiction writer.
No Maps for These Territories
  • "Macao," the Finn said.
    "Macao?"
    "The Long Hum family. Stockbrokers."
    The Long Hum people were so oblique that they made my idea of a subtle approach look like a tactical nuke-out.
    • "Burning Chrome"

No Maps for These Territories (documentary, 2000)[edit]

On the mediated world
  • I think the last time I had one of those "CNN moments," where I was slammed right up against the windshield of the present, would have been seeing that federal building in Oklahoma City lying there in its own crater...and getting the idea that something bad had happened in Middle America. Whenever something like this happens, it ups the ante on being a science-fiction writer. It changes the nature of the game.
  • Another example — maybe a better one, in a way — was when it was confirmed that Michael Jackson was going to marry Elvis Presley's daughter. A good friend of mine in the States faxed me, and he simply said, "This makes your job more difficult." And I knew exactly what he meant. Because something — a scenario — that seemed to belong to the universe of the late Terry Southern, was suddenly real. It's that truth-is-stranger-than-fiction factor keeps getting jacked up on us on a fairly regular, maybe even exponential, basis. I think that's something peculiar to our time. I don't think our grandparents had to live with that.
On his youth
  • It had much more to do with my wanting to be with hippie girls and have lots of hashish than it did with my sympathy for the plight of the North Vietnamese people under US imperialism. Much more, much more to do with hippy girls and hashish.
    • On dodging the draft and moving to Toronto
  • Consequently, when I got to Toronto, much to my chagrin, I really couldn't handle hanging out with the American draft dodgers. There was too much clinical depression. Too much suicide. Too much hardcore substance abuse. They were a traumatized lot, those boys. And I just felt frivolous.
  • The straight world didn't end. The straight world and the other world had bled into one another and produced the world that we live in today.
That truth-is-stranger-than-fiction factor keeps getting jacked up on us on a fairly regular, maybe even exponential, basis.
  • Drugs were absolutely central to that experience, but they weren't essential. I only know that in retrospect. At the time I'm sure I would have said that they were.
  • All any drug amounts to is tweaking the incoming data. You have to be incredibly self-centered or pathetic to be satisfied with simply tweaking the incoming data.
On humanity and religion
  • Acceptance. Acceptance of the impermanence of being. And acceptance of the imperfect nature of being, or possibly the perfect nature of being, depending on how one looks at it. Acceptance that this is not a rehearsal. That this is it.
    • When asked what will save humanity.
  • I think of religions as franchise operations. Like chicken franchise operations. But that doesn't mean there's no chicken, right?
    • Referring to his belief that it's possible for religions to help people.
On writing
  • Seated each afternoon in the darkened screening room, Halliday came to recognize the targeted numerals of the Academy leader as sigils preceding the dream state of a film.
    • A sentence that he worked on for years earlier in his career, which eventually went nowhere. Troubled by inexperience in "actually getting the characters to move," he spent so much time on it that he can still remember every word more than 20 years later.
[The Internet] will bring about the extinction of the nation-state as we know it...I think it will be as big a deal as the creation of cities.
  • I became so frustrated with my inability to physically move the characters through the imaginary narrative space, that I actually developed an early form of imaginary VR technology that sort of covered my ass ... all they had to do was switch tapes and be in a different place, and I was spared the embarrassment of demonstrating that I didn't know how to get them up and down the stairs.
"Cyberspace" and the Internet
  • All I knew about the word "cyberspace" when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page.
  • It will bring about the extinction of the nation-state as we know it... I think it will be as big a deal as the creation of cities.
    • Referring to the Internet
  • I didn't imagine that art girls in the Midwest would be flashing their tits in cyberspace...but I'm glad that they're doing it.
    • Asked whether the Internet is how he imagined it would be

Note: Gibson's comments about Neuromancer from this documentary can be found on the Sprawl trilogy Wikiquote page.

Distrust That Particular Flavor (2012)[edit]

Collected essays and articles 1989-2010. Gibson's comments from this collection about Neuromancer, Virtual Light, Pattern Recognition and Zero History can be found in those books' respective quote collections.
  • Later attempts sometimes involved outer space...I don't remember them. My wife parodied them all, not unkindly, as “His long green ears quivering, Fimo slipped from the rig.”...there was always something akin to “the rig.” Some unimagined (by me), hence unnamed, element of technology. But already I sensed that even if I had somehow come to know what the rig was, what it was for, it was better not to tell the reader just then. “Javnaker slipped from the quantum universe-splitter that wasn’t actually a time machine” would not be good for the reader.
    • Introduction: "African Thumb Piano"
Initially there was nothing on [television] but “snow,” and then the nightly advent of a targetlike device called “the test pattern,” which people actually gathered to watch.
  • This newfound state of No Future is, in my opinion, a very good thing. It indicates a kind of maturity, an understanding that every future is someone else's past, every present someone else's future. Upon arriving in the capital-F Future, we discover it, invariably, to be the lower-case now.
    The best science fiction has always known that, but it was a sort of cultural secret. When I began to write fiction, at the very end of the Seventies, I was fortunate to have been taught, as an undergraduate, that imaginary futures are always, regardless of what the authors might think, about the day in which they're written. Orwell knew it, writing Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948, and I knew it writing Neuromancer, my first novel, which was published in 1984.
  • Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
    We are that strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting.
    • "Dead Man Sings," published in Forbes ASAP, November 30, 1998.
  • My first impulse, when presented with any spanking-new piece of computer hardware, is to imagine how it will look in ten years' time, gathering dust under a card table in a thrift shop. And it probably will.
    • "My Obsession," Wired, issue 7.01. 1999.
  • I was born in 1948. I can't recall a world before television...Initially there was nothing on it but “snow,” and then the nightly advent of a targetlike device called “the test pattern,” which people actually gathered to watch.
    I imagine that the World Wide Web and its modest wonders are no more than the test pattern for whatever the twenty-first century will regard as its equivalent medium.
    • "The Net Is a Waste of Time," The New York Times Magazine, July 14, 1996.
If not for our excessive vanity and our over-active imaginations, novelists might be unusually difficult to deceive.
  • In the age of wooden television in the South where I grew up, leisure involved sitting on screened porches, smoking cigarettes, drinking iced tea, engaging in conversation, and staring into space. It might also involve fishing.
    Sometimes the Web does remind me of fishing.
    • "The Net Is a Waste of Time," The New York Times Magazine, July 14, 1996.
  • “Surfing the Web” (as dubious a metaphor as “the information highway”) is, as a friend of mine has it, “like reading magazines with the pages stuck together.” My wife shakes her head in dismay as I patiently await the downloading of some Japanese Beatles fan's personal catalog of bootlegs. “But it’s from Japan!” She isn't moved. She goes out to enjoy the flowers in her garden.
    • "The Net Is a Waste of Time," The New York Times Magazine, July 14, 1996.
  • As new technologies search out and lace over every interstice in the net of global communication, we find ourselves with increasingly less excuse for...slack. And that, I would argue, is what the World Wide Web, the test pattern for whatever will become the dominant global medium, offers us. Today, in its clumsy, larval, curiously innocent way, it offers us the opportunity to waste time...It will probably evolve into something considerably less random, and less fun — we seem to have a knack for that — but in the meantime, in its gloriously unsorted Global Ham Television Postcard Universes phase, surfing the Web is a procrastinator's dream. And people who see you doing it might even imagine you're working.
    • "The Net Is a Waste of Time," The New York Times Magazine, July 14, 1996.
  • Maybe.
    • "Will We Have Computer Chips in Our Heads?" Time, June 19, 2000.
  • Rather than plug a piece of hardware into our gray matter, how much more elegant to extract some brain cells, plop them into a Petri dish, and graft on various sorts of gelatinous computing goo. Slug it all back into the skull and watch it run on blood sugar, the way a human brain's supposed to.
    • "Will We Have Computer Chips in Our Heads?" Time, June 19, 2000.
  • I thought of the Garage Kubrick when I went to Sundance for the first time and saw young filmmakers doing what young filmmakers apparently must do to get attention for their work — the public part of which seemed to involve shuffling in a tense sort of lemming-lockstep up and down the main drag of Park City, talking on two cell phones at once and looking near-fatally stressed. The private part, the deal-making part, I assumed (based on experiences of my own) would be worse. Or simply wouldn't happen.
    • "William Gibson's Filmless Festival," Wired, issue 7.10, 1999.


Misattributed[edit]

  • "Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes." — thought to be Gibson's words as a result of Twitter attribution decay, despite repeated disavowals. [1] [2] [3] [4]. The source, according to Gibson, is Steven Winterburn [5] [6]. However, Steven Winterburn is NOT the original creator of that quote. The original quote is the creation of Twitter account holder "@debihope" [7]. See research by quoteinvestigator [8].

External links[edit]

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