Sunday, August 12, 2007


Posted by goatchurch at 7:49 AM
Today's english newspaper has an interview with William Gibson, who has just written a new book.

There are some good quotes, which can be read with a Mundane-SF interpretation -- that the SF genre is being left behind by events and circumstances of the present day.

That's the diagnosis. The treatment is to either abandon the genre somewhat and simply report things as they are happening, because they are so ridiculous you cannot make them up. Or you can hypothesize that the problem is due to the pernicious weeds that have grown up within the genre, such as faster than light travel, aliens, brain downloads, etc. which strangle all other development. Gibson, below, mentions that he dropped the space travel and aliens in order to make his seminal book, Neuromancer. Mundane-SF suggests getting rid of the rest of the non-existent clutter and seeing how that works.

There is no one right answer. All approaches to the problem should be tried out. Mundane-SF is only one of them.

The interview. Boldface added:
[Gibson's] latest novel, Spook Country, is a dystopian thriller set in presentday New York, LA and London. I ask him first why he has stopped prophesying and started simply observing.

"It's been a gradual thing for me... I don't think it was deliberate. For Neuromancer, I think it is virtually impossible to date the action of the text, though I assumed it was about 2030 when I was writing it. I did that for a simple reason: though I never imagined anyone would be reading it after a year, I wanted to give it its longest possible shelf life.

"When I wrote my fourth novel, Virtual Light, I set it in a very near future - probably about now - to punk things up a bit, not honour the sci-fi rules and write a book that would date terribly. But for my last two books, I have become convinced that it is silly to try to imagine futures these days."


Things, technologies, now happen too fast and in unpredictable locations. "What I grew up with as science fiction is now a historical category. Previous practitioners, HP Lovecraft, say, or HG Wells, had these huge, leisurely 'here and nows' from which to contemplate what might happen. Wells knew exactly where he was and knew he was at the centre of things."


These days, 'now' is wherever the new new thing is taking shape, and 'here' is where you are logged on. What he has learnt is that the tools of the science fiction writer are perfectly applicable to describing the jump-cut present. He does exactly this with characteristic black comedy and inventive edge in Spook Country, which involves trademark riffs on such diverse subjects as the ethics of viral marketing, the whereabouts of the billions of dollars of banknotes sent by the Bush administration to Iraq, the elegant scam of boutique hotels, and the potential for the use of satellite global positioning in art (to recreate, in this case, virtual celebrity deaths - River Phoenix, John Lennon - on the exact spot they took place).

"I'm really conscious, when I'm writing now, how Google-able the world is. You can no longer make up what some street in Moscow looks like because all your readers can have a look at it if they want to. That is an odd feeling. It is a genuine way that cyberspace is, to use a word from Spook Country, everting the world. It is turning itself - and us - inside out. It's where we transact so much of who we are these days."


Gibson started writing when he married and had his first child in his late twenties. He had stopped reading science fiction, but went back to it to discover it had ceased to be 'cool'. It was still all about space travel and little green men. "I remember thinking: what can I do that is alien without aliens? That is where Neuromancer came from."

Was he a prophet? "Not a very good one: there are no cellphones in Neuromancer. A 12-year-old would spot that straight away. There's no email either, no websites, no internet really. But there is a lot of heightened language about the possibility of computers to transport us out of ourselves."
What have we come to when one of the leading SF writers of our generation says: "it's silly to try to imagine the future" ? It's completely outrageous. If our leading scientists are expected to do their job of imagining the future (though many people don't like results, and so tell us that the future will be exactly like the present), it is a derogation of duty if the Science Fiction writers abandon them at this time.


Anonymous James Nicoll said...

Or you can hypothesize that the problem is due to the pernicious weeds that have grown up within the genre, such as faster than light travel, aliens, brain downloads, etc. which strangle all other development. Gibson, below, mentions that he dropped the space travel and aliens in order to make his seminal book, Neuromancer.

I don't know which Neuromancer you read but the one I read had commercial space flight, orbital facilities numerous enough to be refered to as the L5 archipeligo, mind-mapping (both fixed and updatable) and messages from Alpha Centauri.

8/12/2007 12:31:00 PM  
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