Addicted To Noise 10/96:
Junk Collage, Nodal Points & Cognitive Dissonance:
William Gibson Takes The Pulse Of The Late 20th Century
William Gibson on Neuromancer, crack, the Net, rock 'n' roll and his latest
book, Idoru, in which he investigates the mechanisms of celebrity in the modern
By Michael Goldberg
The voice at the other end of the phone was all charm, from the South by way of
Vancouver, B.C.. I took a seat in the lobby of the posh Clift Hotel. I drank
coffee, a tall Starbucks' Misto, from a cardboard cup. And I thought about the
man I was about to meet...
Gibson. William Gibson. Celebrated novelist. The man who coined the term
"cyberspace." Treated like a rock star by Wired. Sent to interview U2 some years
back by Details. Recently asked to write about the Net by the New York Times.
GIVE ME FIFTEEN MINUTES
At 48, Gibson has just published his fifth novel, Idoru (the Japanese word for
idol). And so he is here, in San Francisco for a few days before heading on to
the next city. Traveling the book promotion circuit, moving from one first class
hotel to another, picked up by a limo and driven from interview to book store,
book store to interview. Gibson is not the first to benefit from the '90s
concept of author-as-celebrity, but he is, 12 years after the publication of
Neuromancer, the novel that made him a star, certainly accustomed to the fine
art of late '90s book promotion. "Writers are people who work away in the
basement by themselves," he'll tell me shortly. But this, this book promotion
thing, "is like being a rock star, only without the parties."
He'll also tell me, before the actual interview starts, about his first real
brush with selling books--his books--over the Net. Just yesterday, Gibson showed
up for an in-store appearance at a book store. Not many people were there. He
inquired as to what kind of publicity had been done. Not much out in the real
world, so to speak. But plenty online. He was then shown a pile of books that
had been ordered over the Net, which he had to sign. More books than he had ever
had to sign at any in-store appearance before.
After Neuromancer, Gibson wrote two more books that were loosely related to his
first one: Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Then he made a somewhat abrupt
shirt away from the exaggerated cartoon-style of those first three and, in 1993,
published Virtual Light. It's clear that Gibson is intent on evolving his art;
he has no interest in being pigeon-holed as a Sci-Fi genre writer, and with both
Virtual Light and Idoru, he has demonstrated that he shouldn't be.
I looked at my watch. I was due upstairs in five minutes. I headed for the
One thing Gibson's brilliant new book is about is a rock star named Rez (half of
the group Lo/Rez), based in Japan who has come up with the seemingly crazy idea
of wanting to marry a virtual idoru, a female computer generated media star.
Colin Laney, a man with the peculiar talent of being able to sift through info
and create a dead-on portrait of the emotional state of the person who generated
that data, is hired to find out what, or who, has gotten to Rez. Meanwhile Chia
Pet McKenzie, age 14, a big Lo/Rez fan, heads for Japan on behalf of her Lo-Rez
fan club friends to see if those rumors on the Net of the Rez/idoru marriage are
fact or fiction.
Gibson is tall (6-foot-6) and skinny, dressed in black jeans and a dark blue
shirt, his curly hair slightly on the shaggy side. He wore glasses and was even
more charming in person than he was on the phone. He spoke with a Southern
drawl, offered his hand as he invited me in.
His unfinished breakfast sat on a tray on a table next to the window in the
suite. He takes his interviews seriously. As we began to talk, his fax machine
started whirring. There was a laptop of some sort. Gibson doesn't use email, as
he's told many an interviewer. It is the fax machine, that is his piece of
technology of choice, although he now surfs the net infrequently. He laughed at
the absurdities of modern day life as they came up in conversation.
I must confess this: interviewing William Gibson felt very strange. I was
running a Mini-Disc recorder with a microphone aimed at his face. I was holding
a Hi-8 video camera, pointed at Gibson, with it's own, large microphone sticking
out at him. Half-way through the interview, ATN chief photographer Jay
Blakesberg and his assistant arrived. And as the interview continued, Blakesberg
clicked away, before eventually taking the author out into the hallway where he
had set up a makeshift studio complete with spotlights and strobes.
It's not just an interview, it's a multimedia event.
It felt like we were documenting his every move. How strange for the man who has
just written a book about the weirdness of celebrity.
I spent an hour and a half with William Gibson. Here is what I found out:
Addicted To Noise: One of the things your new book, Idoru, is about is a rock
star who wants to marry a virtual star. Where did that idea come from?
William Gibson: Well, I have run across somewhere the story, apparently true
story, of a real idoru in Japan who hadn't existed, hadn't existed at all. The
idorus as they are manufactured in Japan today, are these young girls who are
kind of turned out on an assembly line with a super high Milli Vanilli factor.
They wouldn't pass muster over here at all but it's part of the music industry
in Japan. And they're all cute and eminently forgettable. I ran across mention
of one where they hadn't even bothered to have a girl. And because of that, she
had actually gotten a very special kind of cult following. A lot of people were
really hot for her because she didn't exist. And I found that idea deeply
resonant in terms of mounting a kind of investigation of the mechanisms of
celebrity in the late 20th century, which is one of the things I'm trying to do
in this book.
ATN: So, you had that idea. How does the process work for you?
Gibson: Oh, it's a painful thing. If you've ever wanted to make a great big ball
of rubber bands...the really hard part is getting that first rubber band to tie
it into a sufficiently tight knot that you can start snapping the other rubber
bands around it. So there's a very agonizing three or four month period where
I'm sort of pushing this idea around and rubbing other things against it and
trying to get things to stick to it and it's really a very random process
initially, at least for me. It isn't as though I have a vision or dream of what
the book is going to be or even what it's supposed to be about.
It's a process of assemblage and it's sort of junk collage. And it's also
something like what Laney does in Idoru. It's a matter of looking for the nodal
points, whatever that means and whatever they are. I look at a big flow of
mostly print media when I'm doing that and go through hundreds of dollars worth
of magazines a week, looking for things that pop out at me as potentially part
of this thing I'm putting together. Then I just sort of pop them in and move
them around. And when I have enough material, I have something that I can start
shaping into narrative or the narrative starts to emerge from it.
ATN: Have you always written that way?
Gibson: Yep. Absolutely. That's one of the many reasons I find it very difficult
to work in Hollywood. Film producers want to know how the story ends and what it
consists of. That's not my optimal working environment because I either have to
lie and tell them I know what I'm doing or I tell them the truth and they think
I'm crazy. I say, "Be cool. In a month we'll have a story and I'll know how it
ends." And that's not what they're used to dealing with. But it really is an
assemblage of found objects initially and that's the only way it works for me.
OVERLAPPING SCIENCE FICTION SCENARIOS
ATN: It's a cliche that rock stars go out with models and that the rock star has
become aware of the model long before he ever met her and vice versa. So, in a
way, that aspect of this book is not even that far-fetched.
Gibson: Well no. I'm really not in the business of inventing imaginary futures.
Well I am ostensibly because I'm marketed as a science fiction writer, but what
I really do is look at what passes for contemporary reality and select the bits
that are most useful to me in terms of inducing cognitive dissonance. I have
this fantasy that someday in the future, I will be written about as a
naturalistic author. Somebody who was actually trying to take the pulse of the
late 20th century and going at it in a kind of unconventional way. But I
sometimes think going at it in the only way it can be gotten at this far into
We're living in a kind of conjury of overlapping science fiction scenarios.
There are things in our world that are like pure science fiction. AIDS is pure
science fiction. What's happening in Moscow today is like some kind of farcical
alternate reality. It often feels like that to me. The Soviet Union is gone. The
Russians are doing capitalism with the brakes off. Give them five years and what
they've got over there is going to be like pure sci-fi. It already is but when
they get it up to speed, it's just going to blow our minds.
ATN: In a way, you're in the role that at least some traditional science fiction
writers have always been in which is writing about what's going on right now and
commenting on what's going on right now and parodying it or taking it to its
Gibson: In a sense. 1984 is called 1984 because it was written in 1948. But a
lot of the mainstream traditional science fiction writers, particularly in the
United States, I don't think they were conscious that they were writing about
the era in which they lived. I think they actually thought they were writing
about the future. I'm different in that from the very beginning I was self aware
and I was aware of that so there's a level of irony there that isn't present in
a lot of stuff. And I think that's because I come from the first generation of
people writing something like science fiction who conceivably could have
discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and William Burroughs in the same week. Prior to
us, that wasn't possible.
ATN: There's a new album coming out by the Counting Crows and in it, there are
the lines: "We only stay in orbit for a moment in time / And then you're
everybody's satellite." The guy who wrote the song, Adam Duritz, who is a rock
star, had a brief relationship with a TV star. When I was listening to that song
I thought about the rock star in your book, Rez, and the idoru...
Gibson: Yeah. The conclusion I came to in the course of writing about Rez trying
to marry the Idoru and finally in a sense succeeding....as I was trying to solve
the puzzle of how that would go, what I realized was that he--and this is
something that the other people in the book, the other characters in the book
never quite realize--is that he is already much more like her, he has more in
common with her than he does with the other characters in the book. He's already
virtual to a very large extent. The part of him that's the physical guy walking
around is not the biggest part of him.
ATN: And that comes through. Here you have Chia, this 14-year-old girl and all
the other fans and their perception of this band is through images of the band
from before they were born.
Gibson: I was also interested in that weird aspect in which pop is kind of
outside of time, in which the Beatles are always in their Abbey Road phase and
will be, perhaps, as long as we have media. So that they're always there for
children to access. I think it's an interesting thing.
It's almost as though these industries are kind of shooting themselves in the
foot. It's harder and harder to sell something on the basis of, "OK, it's now.
This is today's hot number. You should buy it, kids." Kids have this a
chronological mass of material that they can access. We didn't have that before.
Although its advent has been very, very gradual. If you wake up in the morning,
turn on the radio and hear Elvis Presley singing "Heartbreak Hotel," you don't
think, "I heard a dead man sing." But in fact that's what you did. That is
strange and new, our capacity to do that. People can be multiplied
images...stars can be multiplied and put out everywhere. But there's a kind of
immortality there. They become outside of time.
ATN: And radio, of course, by creating classic rock stations, oldies stations,
Gibson: Oh yeah, I did that last night. I was so tired. I had this book signing
chore to do and I was so exhausted that I was tuning around on the radio in my
hotel room and I got this total time-warp classic rock station that was just
completely slotted to some kind of cellular demographic that I'd actually
forgotten that I was carrying around. So I was sort of humming along to the
Eagles and they actually played a couple of songs I hadn't thought about in 20
years. I thought, "This is a strange thing."
ATN: Yeah. It's much easier to hear music from the past than it is to hear
something going on right now.
Gibson: I'm like a classic boomer in terms of when I was born, and I think that
will pass with us. [laughs] I hope so. I hope people aren't sitting around
listening to the Eagles in 2035. Why should they? I hope that's just a function
of trying to satisfy a bunch of rich old people and give them what makes them
feel good. It's like Benny Goodman was for my parents, you know.
ATN: Except that then you have enormous numbers of kids into Led Zeppelin or the
Gibson: Yeah, that's true. But that's quality stuff in a way. It doesn't bother
me if it's the cult of a particular band or performer. Where I live in
Vancouver, it's actually very hard to hear new music. You're driving along
and...Joe Walsh. No, no, no! Give me something new. I want to hear something
I've never heard before. We don't have enough of that in Vancouver.
ATN: Do you listen to music while you write?
Gibson: Yeah, I do but in a way that would be grounds for divorce if anyone else
was in the room. Like often, I will listen to the same...if I'm stuck writing
something, I can listen to the same cut 50 times in a row. I don't know why but
it seems to help.
ATN: In the writing of this book, were there particular songs that you did
listen to like that?
Gibson: Let me see. I'm trying to come up with something. Yeah, there were
things I listened to when I was writing this but you would never be able to put
it together with the text. I listened to a song by Iris DeMent called "Easy's
Gettin' Harder Everyday," which is like this tear-jerking, country-folk
masterpiece but I don't think you could find the point where it interfaces the
text. Or I was the point where it interfaced the text so I don't think it's
really reflected in the way the book feels, not in the way that Neuromancer, I
know for a fact was fueled by Joy Division, old Velvet Underground records, Lou
Reed, lots of Steely Dan and there's actually textual evidence scattered all
through it and Patti Smith too. It had a soundtrack for me.
Idoru didn't have a soundtrack for me in the same way maybe because I was sort
of writing about music or there was an aspect of it where I was writing about
the medium of pop music. I don't know what the band Lo Rez sounds like. I kind
of stayed away from that in the book except to imply maddeningly that they had
emerged from the Hong Kong Kento-Pop scene after the Chinese took over. And if
you've ever heard any Kento-Pop, it's hard to imagine. I kind of imagine they
would sound kind of like a cross between Kento-Pop and late U2.
THE INNER TEENAGER
ATN: How old are you?
ATN: So when you wrote Neuromancer you were 35? It came out in...
Gibson: '84. Actually, I wrote it in '82 and '83. Yeah, it was kind of like a
thirtysomething effort for me but I think what I was doing with that was I was
accessing my inner adolescent in a rather deliberate way.
I was giving voice to my inner teenager. He's kind of gone now. [laughs] I can't
channel him anymore so if people say, why don't you write another book like
Neuromancer I really like that one. I just say, "I can't, I'm too old." It's not
there for me anymore and I think I was lucky to pull it off when I was 30.
ATN: You just mentioned a lot of music that you listened to while writing
Neuromancer. Was that music that you had listened to when you were a teenager
and in your early 20s?
Gibson: Some of it was. But even in 1982, the Velvet Underground had not accrued
the sort of recognition. I'm very proud to say I was like an ardent Velvet
Underground freak from the release of their first album. And I figured I was
pretty much the only one in the world. Right through the '70s people would come
over to my house and I'd say, "Have you heard this?" and I'd put it on and
they'd look at me with horror. And I'd say Andy Warhol produced these guys...
Nobody was listening to Steely Dan.
Actually, in terms of musical recognition, one of the things that was most
gratifying for me was when [Steely Dan's] Donald Fagen brought out Kamakiriad
[Fagen's second solo album.] He did one interview where he said, one of the
reasons I did this was I was reading these books by this guy named William
Gibson and there are all these Steely Dan references and he said, I always kind
of wanted to be a science fiction writer so I thought I'd do this album. I love
that. And the other thing I love about Steely Dan and I think this does make
them probably the most deeply...I just lost the word...subversive. That's a
scary word to lose.
Steely Dan is the most deeply subversive of all pop groups because sometimes now
in 1996 I'll be shopping in the supermarket and they'll be playing Steely Dan in
the background. Everybody will be buying their cereal and this guy's singing a
song about doing drugs and feeling depressed because you're 35 years old
sleeping with an 18-year-old girl. If anybody knew what they were saying, they
would never play it in a supermarket. It's perfect elevator music and then you
listen to the words and it continues to be cutting stuff. I loved it...whoever
did the what passes for the liner notes in that Steely Dan box that came out a
couple of years ago. It said, somehow these guys produced the perfect soundtrack
to the '90s. [laughs]
DARKNESS IS RELATIVE
ATN: The world in your books is a pretty dark place.
Gibson: I think it's a dark place viewed from a sweet and fancy hotel in San
Francisco. If you're being shelled by ethnic separatists in Bosnia, you'd
emigrate there in a flash. If you lived in Somalia, you'd want to move to any of
the places described in Idoru instantly. The world is a really dark place for a
whole lot of people all the time. I don't think of the world of Idoru, for
instance, as a distopia. I don't think it's particularly more distopian than the
world we live in. It's certainly not a utopia but neither is this.
ATN: That's what I wanted to get at. If you have concerns and I would imagine
you have lots of concerns about what's going on right now, whether it's in North
America, whether it's in....
Gibson: I do have concerns about the real future. I have children. I have a
stake in it. My daughter's 14 and if I try to imagine the world she's going to
have to live in, I get deeply and personally frightened. But that's not the
space that I write these books from. And I think what I'm doing when I write
these books is I'm using this tool kit that I inherited from genre SF and some
other tools that I picked up from the bohemian wing of American literature, to
push back at that fear. I can sort of get a handle on it when I'm writing these
books. But I don't think of them particularly even as cautionary tale. I think
of them as explorations of occluded aspects of contemporary reality, things we
can't afford to think about. We're all walking around pretending it's like 1986.
If it was 1986, we could cope. I think we have like a 10 year buffer and the
buffer gets telescoped occasionally in one of those horrendous CNN moments. Like
you turn on the TV and there's a building blown to shit. And it says Oklahoma
City. And you can feel your brain stretch around this and the world's never
going to be the same. That's now. But when we hit now, we get slammed into it
like bugs on a windshield. Then we pull back and we see things are just
proceeding in a normal fashion. "I can understand the world. I'm not going to
freak out." I think we have to do that to survive.
So I think probably what I do as an artist is I mess with that. I mess with that
buffer and bring people right up close to the windshield and then pull them back
and keep doing that. I suspect that's the real pleasure of the text in the sort
of thing I do. I suspect that's what the people are actually paying for is
having that experience. If they think they're paying for a hot ticket glimpse of
the future, then they're kind of naive.
ATN: One of the things that's interesting is the backdrop of the books and each
one has a different backdrop. This is the world as it is, and then this story's
unfolding before you and everything is just sort of taken for granted that
that's how it is. Gibson: Yeah. It's what we do. That's the way the world works.
You don't ordinarily think about all the technology underpinning what we do. You
don't think about the way in which the world differs from what the world was in
say 1965. If we could get a long- distance call from 1965.... If we could get a
long-distance call from me, from myself in 1965, I'd be saying, "Wow, did we win
this sexual revolution? Have we gone to the moon or Mars?" What am I going to
tell myself? I'm going to say, well, we did but we've got this contagious sexual
cancer and you can't really have sex with people you don't know unless you're
wearing a really heavy duty condom. Yeah, we went to the moon for about five
minutes but nothing ever came of it. And by the way, the Soviet Union doesn't
exist. We had this really ugly civil war in Europe but nobody's much doing
anything about it although it seems to have calmed down now. What would that kid
think? That's what I'm dealing with. It's an interesting time to write
something, even try to write something that passes for thoughtful science
ATN: Your books always have individuals who do heroic things. There are heroes
in the books who when the particular story's over, they're at least doing OK. In
real life things are a lot more messy.
Gibson: Stories have endings. Real life...you don't get closure. You're in
trouble in your life I think if you walk around looking for closure. All right,
that chapter has ended. It doesn't happen that way. You're gonna know that
person for the rest of your life or whatever. People spend a fortune on
therapists and whatnot to get a feeling of closure but in a book... These books
I'm doing now are sort of structured like thrillers. They sort of mess with that
I think, in terms of what they actually give, what they're actually providing
In a sense, they don't do a very good job of being a thriller but they're not
really thrillers. There's something else. They have different agendas. Like at
the end of Virtual Light, Rydell and Chevette seem like...some people have said
this is like a goofily happy ending and I thought, "No, man, they're owned by
this television network. They're kind of owned by a tabloid TV network now.
They're not going to be happy." Indeed, in Idoru, you have to wonder why Rydell
is the night security man at the Chateau Marmont. What happened to his
television career? By the end of the book, he's the night security man at 7
Eleven on Sunset.
1,000 WHACKED OUT JAPANESE INVENTIONS
ATN: There's this club in Idoru where solidified urine has become part of the
decor. What's that about?
Gibson: I had a wonderful book five or six years ago. I couldn't find it when I
was writing this book to verify this but it was a book of 1,000 whacked out
Japanese inventions. And one of the inventions was a product, some kind of
enzyme that you could add to urine that would turn it into a harmless green
solid. And this was sold to mothers so if you were in some kind of crowded
situation and your child has to pee, he pees in a coffee cup and you throw in a
teaspoon of this stuff and it goes pffff and you can just toss it in the trash.
And it won't smell. And it won't be a problem. I just loved the idea of people
throwing great pods of that stuff around the very messy impromptu urinals of
this nightclub. That club is named for a Steely Dan song, by the way. There's a
Steely Dan song called "Here At the Western World."
ATN: Right. It wasn't on a regular album.
Gibson: I think it was probably one of the first things they ever wrote. At the
end of the book when Chia is thinking about her new life hanging out in the
walled city, there's mention of Klaus and the Rooster, who are two friends of
the Etruscan who's actually a Burroughs character I appropriated but Klaus and
the Rooster are from that song too.
ATN: How do you feel now about the impact that your first novel has had? Is it
Gibson: Well, it's weird in the sense that I think it's always kind of
frustrating if your first shot has the biggest impact. [laughs] But on the other
hand, it's like having a grown child. It's out in the world meeting people and
doing things to and/or with them. I'll never see that. So I think Neuromancer
has its career and I have mine.
ATN: You're one of a very small number of people who have written something that
have had that kind of an impact.
Gibson: I don't know how much impact it's actually had. The perception of its
so-called impact is, to my mind, like Sunday supplement journalism. And I've
never much bought into it. I've actually spent a lot of the energy that I've
expended doing interviews over the past 15 years has been in saying, now look
Neuromancer doesn't actually predict the Internet. What cyberspace apparently is
in Neuromancer is nothing like what we're doing today really. It really isn't. I
don't think that I failed particularly in that.
In all of science fiction, the entire body of science fiction prior to the
advent of broadcast television, I only know of one piece that predicts anything
like broadcast television even though television was like a known technology and
television is in every science fiction story from the '20s on but it's nothing
like broadcast television. They use it like the video phone which is a
technology that we've had for years and don't even bother using. Nobody wants
video phones. They're in the museum of unwanted technology. And the only guy who
ever wrote a story predicting anything like broadcast television was E. M.
Forster, who was not exactly a genre guy. He wrote a novella called The Machine
Stops, that does predict something very close to broadcast TV. There are very,
very few things you can point to in the science fiction of the last 50 years
that predict anything like the world we live in.
ATN: I was thinking about the character, Case, in Neuromancer. This sort of
street guy who's plugged in. I know all kinds of people like that. Black leather
jacket and hair down to here, plays in a band. He's so deep in terms of the
scripts he writes for us and code and everything. You wrote about that way back
Gibson: Well, yeah. I'll cop to that. I did anticipate that, that it wasn't
necessarily gonna be guys in short sleeve polyester white shirts with lots of
felt pens tucked into their pocket protector. To bring it back to rock 'n roll
influences, when I was writing Neuromancer, I'm pretty sure I was listening to
Springsteen's Nebraska and thinking "OK, it's not hotrods, it's computers." And
I think that was probably one of the hippest moves, one of the best moves I ever
made as a writer of fiction because I think all over the world there were people
who were passionately involved with the beginnings of ubiquitous computation.
And yet, they could not assume the postures until a kind of fiction or something
came along that said, "Yeah, you can do that, but you can be James Dean too."
They needed that.
I don't think that I alone provided that. I think it came from a lot of
different places at once but I think that there were people passionately writing
code in garages who when they stepped out of the garage, needed permission to
put on that black leather jacket and kind of rock with it. And now, that's sort
of taken for granted that you can do that.
I think what I might have glimpsed early on without knowing it is that
computation was going to become truly ubiquitous. Computers were going to be
everywhere and pretty much everybody was going to be doing it. So any scene you
could look at in the world, you could kind of rejig, you could wire it. So what
would that be like if it was wired? And what would drug dealing be like if it
was wired? Well, it is wired. Cellular phones and beepers completely changed the
illicit drug dealing delivery industry in the United States. It changed American
neighborhoods. It literally changed cities just because they gave these guys
cellular phones. Things changed.
While we're on that, crack is a technology too. Why was that invented when it
was? I'm really curious about that. Who did that? Who did that? How did cocaine
suddenly appear in a form where you could sell like a $2 hit? They could have
made crack cocaine in 1890 in New York but they didn't. Never heard of it. It's
not there in history. Where the hell did that come from? That's a technology.
That's real interesting. I wonder if we'll ever know where that came from.
That's like a marketing move but it'll take a chemist to figure it out. That's a
real interesting question, I think.
ATN: Yeah, given the horrendous destruction and havoc.
Gibson: You know that thing happening in South Central L. A. now where the
people are saying that the contras set up. Have you heard about that? It's very
interesting. It's kind of a breaking thing. A lot of people in South Central are
saying that the C.I.A. and the contras put that together and that the contras
were selling coke to L. A. Big stuff in the L. A. Times about that. I'm not a
conspiracy theory guy usually but that one's really interesting.
WHERE IS THE NET'S EISENSTEIN?
ATN: You recently wrote a piece about the Net for the New York Times. Did I
catch this right earlier? Do you now have Web access?
Gibson: Yeah, I've got Web access but I don't do email. I don't use it to
communicate. I just look at stuff.
ATN: Have you spent a lot of time looking around at what's out there?
Gibson: No. I probably watch less television than most people my age and I
probably spend more time watching television than I do poking around on the Net.
But I do occasionally do it and I find it really fascinating. And also, it's
changing so quickly that if you don't check it out all the time and you let it
sit for a month, you go back to it, you can actually see it's different. It's an
ATN: What do you think are the most interesting kinds of things that are going
Gibson: In a general sense, I think the most interesting thing that's happening
is the overall attempt to discover what this thing is good for. Given that I
haven't checked out Addicted To Noise but something like Salon I think is the
equivalent, which is well-intentioned and well-written and everything but I
think it's the equivalent of...just after the invention of the movie camera, the
guys who invented it said, "Wow, you know what we could do with this? We could
set this up in a theater in front of the stage and we could film the actors
doing a play and then we could watch the play whenever we wanted to." And in
fact they did that. It never really caught on. I think that's what a lot of
Internet magazines are like. It's like the thing that it really is hasn't been
discovered yet. Like it's Eisenstein hasn't turned up. I have this fantasy that
somebody's going to walk in and say, you know, you can do montage. This is how
we edit film. And suddenly, there will be this kind of entertainment that we
haven't had before. Actually, I don't think it will happen that way because this
is something that is being evolved by everybody. It's not like a Thomas Edison
The really fascinating thing for me about the Web is the way that it's not
hierarchical. I have a website now. I have an incredibly cool looking website
that doesn't cost me anything. It's just because I've got this one super smart
guy who does really great graphics and it's his hobby. I've got a much cooler
looking website than my publisher does, for instance. They couldn't afford to
pay somebody to do the kind of website I've got. That's different. That's
completely new. Anybody with the talent can get something out there at very
little cost that rivals anything a large corporation can put together. It
usually is better than anything a large corporation would bother to put
The first time I went to see my publisher's website -- they're an MCA company -
I got slammed into this MCA strip mall. It's the ugliest environment I've ever
seen on the Web. Push here for Universal. Please! I called them up and I said,
"Do you know where you are in cyberspace? You're in a strip mall." It's very
different. I kind of look at the Web at this point, it's like for very low cash
output, anybody can become a global ham television station except pretty much
all you can broadcast is color postcards and messages. But still, it's fantastic
that people can do that. And the whole thing is evolving so quickly.
For years, I said I don't care about the Internet because I'm not going to be
interested in it until they make it so simple that children and dogs can do it.
And now they did. They did that with Netscape. Children and dogs can pretty much
surf the Net. It doesn't take long to teach anybody. It takes longer to download
stuff than it does to teach people how to use it.
ATN: You made a decision at the end of the Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa
Overdrive trilogy to move on and do some different things. Virtual Light and now
Idoru are not just more of the same. Where do you see your writing going?
Gibson: Well, with Idoru, I suspect I've written myself into a corner that's
going to require a third volume of stuff in that universe. As embarrassing as I
find that given genre science fictions near terminal affliction with sequelitis.
Although I don't actually consider these books sequels in the traditional sense.
They're sort of connected to about the extent that a lot of Elmore Leonard
novels are actually connected. And you see mine are characters from one blending
through in the background. And after that, I'll just have to see what's going
on. I never know. It's not like a planned campaign. It's a kind of ongoing
exploration of something.
ATN: Have you started another novel or are you going to get through all this
promotional stuff first?
Gibson: Well, I think...it's a twinkle in my eye as they used to say. I think I
have a pretty good hunch where it would go and that's that I'm deeply curious
about what the 24-hour convenience store on Sunset that Rydell has to work at
now would be like. And what would they sell? You get a glimpse of it. Laney
remembers going there in Idoru but I really wonder. What would the 21st century
7-Eleven be like? There's a certain strip of Sunset that I'm actually quite
familiar with now and the convenience stores are the only places there that sell
anything that anybody ever really needs. All the other shops on Sunset just sell
weird impulse buy stuffs that no one really needs to survive. The necessities of
survival are in the convenience stores and I think that might be an interesting
way to start and figure out what people need.
ATN: What was it that made you want to write in the first place and write sci
GIbson: I think rock 'n roll and science fiction were in a very real sense all
the culture I had. [laughs] That's my real native culture. Anything else I know
of literature is like an overlay of four years of college and some reading
afterwards. When I was 14 years old, probably what I most wanted to be to the
extent that I wanted to be anything was a science fiction writer. I forgot about
that. I lost interest in it and forget about it. But when I found myself turning
30 with no career and really not very much ambition to do anything, I felt doors
closing. So I thought, I'm going to try just once to be an artist of some kind.
What'll I do? I'll write science fiction. I knew that from what I'd learned in
my teens, I kind of knew the business of culture. I thought I'd give it a shot
and I'd give science fiction writing a shot. And I did and through some kind of
real incredible fluke, I immediately made a little money at it. So it was
something I could do on the kitchen table and bring in maybe enough money to buy
a small color television set. So I was kind of stuck doing it. It had a built-in
I think if I hadn't had some immediate success, I probably wouldn't have had the
dogged persistence to sit there and keep cranking out stories and mailing them
out and having them rejected, which is what happens to most people. I always
feel very deeply for those people because I kind of see myself there.