Saturday, August 18, 2007
I let this one sneak on me. Ever since I discovered William Gibson in the mid-eighties, I've scooped up each of his books as soon as it hit the shelves; I knew this book, occuring in the world of Pattern Recognition (his last novel, which came out in 2002!) was coming out, but by the time it jumped out at me on Amazon.com, it I'd become so busy I hadn't even begun to think about reading a novel in weeks, months... but then I saw it, ordered it, counted the days til it came, and when it arrived last weekend, immediately devoured it. I spent last weekend in a fictional world created by the greatest living American writer, and I want to go back.
Gibson's main body of work today consists of two, what he calls "non-trilogies." The first, beginning with Neuromancer (1984), wherein he introduced the world to what he named "cyberspace" was set in the future, filled with technology unthought-of in the eighties. In fact, most of what he wrote has come to pass, and it's a tough call whether he foresaw the future or created it; the early pioneers of the modern internet all admit that it was his vision that inspired him to make cyberspace a reality. The second trilogy, beginning with Virtual Light (1993) was set in a much-nearer future, in which his pop icons and street people begin to realize those we see in our own lives. Pattern Recognition and Spook Country are set in today's world. When Gibson introduces technology we haven't heard of, we realize that not a bit of it is not doable with the tools we have right now, and we have to wonder if it's just that we haven't heard of it. It's not that Gibson has stopped creating his own world; it's just that we've finally come to live in the world he's been creating all along.
Gibson has transcended his genre in a way few writers have or ever will. In fact, I can't think of many science fiction writers whose work qualifies as great literature in every way, as Gibson's does. If you're truly a Gibson fan, find and rent the movie William Gibson: No Maps for these Territories, Mark Neale's documentary/interview with Gibson, in which Gibson admits that his characters in the first trilogy were a wooden, and that a lot of the phasing between the real world and cyberspace in the novels came from his inability as a fledgling writer to move his characters from place to place, physically. Those characters certainly don't have the depth of the ones in the second trilogy, yet they are immortal in the pantheons of science fiction; Molly the razorgirl was the model for the hard-edged heroines of modern sci-fi, and Case gave birth to most of its modern antiheroes.
Gibson, when asked by fans, in what order to read his fiction, basically says start with Burning Chrome) (1996), the compilation of earlier work which introduced cyberspace, the world of Neuromancer, and gave birth to "Johnny Mnemonic." But if you're just a fan of great writing, I'd say start with Pattern Recognition, then this book, then go back and enjoy the prior series as classics. Although technology is always a character in Gibson's work - he makes you want to go out and find new uses for your computer - the real characters here are real, beautifully drawn, and live in your fascination as do any great characters. Gibson's trilogies are non-trilogies are that they are the stories of different characters set in the same world, with some characters re-occuring to your delight; in this one, look for the reappearance of Humbertus Bigend and his Blue Ant company. But I think what brings me back to Gibson's latest fictional world, apparent even more upon re-reading when the plot is secondary, is the texture of his world, the way in which even the fictional becomes enlarged and textured in a new and fascination way; he reminds us that to truly appreciate the world we live in, we need to look at the details. I can't recreate the fabric of his fiction, but I can tell you that if you haven't, you need to go experience it for yourself. If you're already a Gibson fan, and haven't read this book, don' worry about being disappointed, go get it now. It's worth the wait.