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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: tmgibson.txt

An interview with William Gibson and Tom Maddox

             Queen Victoria's Personal Spook, Psychic Legbreakers,
                              Snakes and Catfood:
                An Interview with William Gibson and Tom Maddox

                           by Darren Wershler-Henry

(source: _Virus 23_ #0 [Fall 1989], 28-36)

	A conversation with William Gibson is kind of like a full-immersion
baptism in all of the weird and disturbing gomi [1] that comprises late
twentieth century culture (Arthur Kroker would call it "excremental" culture,
but then again, he's also capable of calling "the post-Einsteinian individual"
a "hyper-Hobbesian energy pack." Screw that noise). Japanese Nazi geneticists
in white bathrobes and terrycloth tennis hats, Luddite death squads, catfish
farms, high rollers drawing voodoo designs in lines of cocaine, guinea pig-
driven flamethrowers, unlicensed denturists... these are a few of his favorite

	Gibson's writing is, on the most basic level, a testament to this
obsession with the bizzarre and the disturbing: he takes these random,
abandoned fragments of our shattered society and fuses them together into a
strange and beautiful mosaic of words. The resulting gestalt, though, is more
just than an artistic curiosity. Out of this odd assortment of cultural
detritus, Gibson creates some genuinely new ideas, and redefines many old
ones. "Scramble and resequence; but, in the process of borrowing symbolic
energy from the past, new simultaneities and odd juxtapositions, like dreams,
emerge" [2]. Take Gibson's most famous creation, cyberspace, as a prime
example. The Media Lab (MIT) and Autodesk (California) are all lathered up
about the possibility of actually building the thing. "Ether, having once
failed as a concept, is in the process of being reinvented. Information is the
ultimate mediational ether" [3]. As much as he is an entertainer, Gibson is
also vitally important as a writer of ideas. 

	Tom Maddox, a long-time friend of Gibson's, is a professor at Evergreen
State College, an excellent science fiction writer, and an astute critic. In
the short biography of Gibson he wrote for the ConText 89 program, he points
out that the public's reaction to Gibson has often been a mixed one: "[Many SF
writers and readers say] Gibson's work is all 'surface' or 'flash,' 'never
passes from ugly to ennobling.'" In other words, the reasons given by Gibson's
detractors for their (often violent) dislike of his works rarely varies from
typical conservative distaste for Postmodern writing techniques [4]. (On the
other hand, it could be jealousy....) The explanation Maddox provides for this
kind of reaction ia a blunt and simple one: Gibson's writing can be a colossal
mindfuck for those unprepared to deal with the issues it raises. 

	It's a truism of SF criticism that speculative fiction is more about the
author's lifetime than any hypothetical "future." Reading Neuromancer is like
putting on a pair of the X-ray specs from John Carpenter's They Live, and
seeing the subliminal underbelly of North American capitalist culture. A trip
through the lookinglass darkly, a strangely warped reflection in the left lens
of the author's mirrorshades... it doesn't matter which metaphor you use,
because the upshot of it all is that Gibson sees a blackness in our society
that very few people are anxious to hear about, much less do or say anything
about. So when someone picks up a Gibson novel which describes a world where
multinational corporations have more personality than the people they employ, 
where the US navy "recruits" dolphins by hooking them on heroin, where people
would rather live vicariously through media personalities than cope with their
own lives, a little voice starts up in the back of their head. Our world isn't
like that at all. Oh no. 

	Bruce Fletcher (Virus 23 staff writer) and I met Gibson and Maddox in
Edmonton, where they were guest writers at ConText 89 (Gibson was the Guest of
Honor), and persuaded them to talk for several hours about many of the things
that make Gibson's work unique. My starting place was the Summer 1989 issue of
the Whole Earth Review, "Is the Body Obsolete?" [5]. In attempting to deal
with the question of bodily obsolescence, Whole Earth lays bare the
connections between most of the important work being done today in, well, in
just about every field you can imagine (and a few others): cybernetics,
theories of the body, downloading, feminist theory, artificial intelligence...
the list goes on and on. Essentially, this is the same weird collection of
oddities--gomi--that Gibson is so fond of. Sure, it's intellectualized gomi,
but gomi nonetheless. The section on Gibson himself falls right in the middle
of the magazine, acting (intentionally or not; there are no accidents, right?)
as the point where all the other articles converge. It seemed to me that a
natural place to begin an examination of Gibson's fiction would be the
exploration of some of these connections. Judging from the range of the topics
we covered in about 2 hours--many of which I've never seen mentioned in
another interview with Gibson--I think it worked pretty well. 

	What follows is a sliced, diced (and hopefully coherent; everyone
present was nursing a hangover) version of that conversation.

                                   * * * * *

Darren Wershler-Henry: (Producing a copy of the Whole Earth Review, Summer
1989: "Is The Body Obsolete?") Have you seen this? It's a collection of a
whole bunch of different things that seem to crystallize around your work:
theories of the body, information theory; there's a piece on Survival Research
Laboratories [6],  a list of the major influences on cyberpunk writers, and
(pointing out the interview entitled "Cyberpunk Era") they even did a
[William] Burroughs-style cut-up of your old interviews. 

William Gibson: No... show it to me. (To Tom Maddox) Have you seen this? This
is really bizzarre. I wouldn't give them an interview so they cut up a bunch
of old interviews.

Tom Maddox: Who did this?

WG: Kevin Kelly. It's the Whole Earth Review.

TM: Oh--I heard about that, yeah.

DW: For me, one of the most interesting things in this magazine is when they
start talking about what happens when you download people into machines. What
constitutes personality when the borderline between people and machines starts
to blur? The Flatline seems to be a personality, but is a ROM construct, and
the Finn, who gets himself made into some kind of construct...

WG: (Laughing) That's one of my favorite parts in that book... he's got the
high rollers drawing in cocaine.

TM: Do you mean, what is it that's in there?

DW: Yeah. At the end of Mona Lisa Overdrive you've got Angie, Finn, Colin, and
Bobby--two dead people and two personality constructs, one modeled after a
"real" man and one a complete fabrication--in the Aleph, heading off into
alien cyberspace, and they seem to have their own volition. It's not just a
machine kind of thing...  they're not programmed to act in certain ways. So
that's what I want to look at: where does the self go? How much self do any of
these characters have?

WG: Yeah, well, that's just a question, you know? I suppose the book poses
that question, but it doesn't answer it. I can't answer it. As for that
downloading stuff, I think those guys who seriously consider that stuff are
crazier than a sackful of rats. I think that's monstrous! It just seems so
obvious to me, but people like those guys at Autodesk who're building
cyberspace--I can't believe it: they've almost got it--they just don't
understand. My hunch is that what I was doing was trying to come up with some
kind of metaphor that would express my deepest ambivalence about media in the
twentieth century. And it was my satisfaction that I sort of managed to do it,
and then these boff-its come in and say "God damn, that's a good idea! Let's
plug it all in!" But, you know, it just leaves me thinking, "What??" You know,
that is actually stranger than having people do theses about your work, is to
have people build this demented shit that you dreamed up, when you were trying
to make some sort of point about industrial society. It's just a strange

DW: Actually, there is an article in here on NASA's virtual reality project,
and Whole Earth calls it cyberspace.

WG: (looking at the photo of a sensor-lined glove that controls the movement
of the wearer in "cyberspace") Hey, Tom: you know, if you turned this thing
inside out, you could get the computer to jerk you off?

TM: (laughing) That's beautiful, Bill. Put it in your book and someone'll
build it.

WG: (laughing) Instead of jacking in, you'd be jacking off.

DW: It seems to me that what is at the center of the discussions in this issue
of Whole Earth is the way the "personhood" of people is jeopardized by new
technologies.  What does happen to the concept of self in a society where
downloading, cloning, and replaceable body parts are commonplace? In your
books, the main characters use technology to protect what's left of the self.
Molly is a particularly good example. The mirrors over her eyes, and the
razorblades under her nails seem to me to be an attempt to protect what's left
of any kind of interiority.

TM: I think the categories you're using are too traditional. Those are
adaptations; those aren't protections of the self. The self is much more
labile than in previous cultures, if you will... and in Gibson's stuff, it
seems to me that what the self is is sort of open to negotiation on a
particular day.

WG: Yeah, I'd agree with that.

DW: Something else that  comes up over and over is the position that women
characters end up occupying in your books, and in Postmodern literature in
general.  There's a book written by a feminist theorist at Yale named Alice
Jardine called Gynesis, and she talks about the way in Postmodern fiction that
women's bodies become a map for Postmodern Man to follow--the only the only
remaining guide to the unknown. Angie in Count Zero, with the vvs written on
her brain, or the messages Wintermute sends Case through Molly's eyes in
Neuromancer, could be textbook examples of this phenomenon.

TM: No; I don't know; I just don't...

WG: I find it kind of poetically appealing.

TM: Yeah. I can't imagine it being true or false, right? (laughing). It's a
nice way of looking at this stuff.

WG: Yeah (laughing). It's a good come-on line; try that next time.

TM: (laughing) Right: "Let's explore the unknown."

WG: I don't think it's necessarily women's bodies; why not men's bodies? You
know, it's a two-way street. The closest I ever come to saying anything about
that is the scene in Neuromancer where Case fucks the construct of Linda Lee
in the construct on the beach. He has some kind of rather too self-consciously
Lawrencian experience. He connects with the meat and it's like he gets
Lawrencian blood-knowledge (and that's a little too much the English major
there), but I was sincere about that; on some level I guess I believe it. But
I think it works both ways.... Am I shooting myself in the foot, Tom? Should I
be saying these things and have people come back in 20 years and cite this
guy's thesis to me?

TM: There's a fundamental separation of categories that you have to understand
here. Asking Bill if this thesis about women's bodies is true to his work is
asking him to be the interpreter of his own text, in which case he's just
another interpreter. Now if you what he meant by something, well, that's
legit, but he can't validate or invalidate a particular interpretation, and in
fact, to ask him to validate or invalidate a particular interpretation is like
asking him to betray the possibilities of his own work. Umberto Eco wrote a
book called A Postscript to The Name of the Rose, in which he said that in
writing his postscript he was betraying the novel. He said, if I wanted to
write an interpretation, I wouldn't have written a novel , which is a machine
for generating interpretation.

WG: Well, the thing that I would question in that theory as you paraphrased it
is that women's bodies are the map; I think bodies are the map, and if, for
instance, you looked at the sequence in Mona Lisa Overdrive where what's-her-
name, the little thing... I forget her name... Mona! yeah, Mona.

TM: (laughing) Your title character, remember?

WG: Jesus, I can't remember the character's names... I never think about this
shit. (laughing) That's what I think you gotta understand.

TM: Nobody who ever writes a book thinks about this shit.

WG: Yeah, the eponymous Mona, where she remembers her stud showing up for the
first time, when she's working in a catfish farm. All that really sexual stuff
happens there before he takes her away. Think about the way she's looking at
him, the way she's reading his body. Or look at the art girl, Marly. Marly
follows the map in that book. She's the only one who can receive the true map
and she goes to the heart of it. She gets an audience with God, essentially,
and she does it through her own intellectual capacity and her ability to
understand the art. 

TM: She, in a way, for me is the most important one of those three characters
[in Count Zero].

WG: If I was doing a thesis on my work, I would try to figure out what the
fuck that Joseph Cornell stuff means in the middle of Count Zero. That's the
key to the whole fucking thing, how the books are put together and everything.
But people won't see it. I think it actually needs someone with a pretty
serious art background to understand it. You know, Robert Longo understood
that immediately. I was in New York--I've got a lot of fans who are fairly
heavy New York artists, sort of "fine art guys", and they got it right away.
They read those books around that core. I was actually trying to tell people
what I was doing while I was trying to discover it myself. 

DW: It goes back to Postmodernism, to pieces again, and to making new wholes
from fragments, doesn't it?

WG: Yeah. It's sort of like there's nothing there in the beginning, and you're
going to make something, and you don't have anything in you to make it out of,
particularly, so you start just grabbing little hunks of kipple, and fitting
them together, and... I don't know, it seemed profound at the time, but this
morning it's like I can't even remember how it works (laughs).

DW: But it seems to me that the body is still more important to your female
characters than to your male characters. You start out with Case, and the
whole thing about how "the body is meat." It's like it's just not important to
him; it doesn't matter.

WG: He's denying it.

TM: There's that key line "He fell into the prison of his own flesh," which is
the whole point, in a way. I don't know--if you want some real ammunition for
this that's not just bullshit Postmodernist criticism, there's a guy at
Berkeley named Lakoff, George Lakoff. He's a cognitive psychologist, and he's
testing a whole set of theories based on the notion that all knowledge is a
"body" of knowledge, and that every single intellectual structure in the world
is ultimately a piece of embodied spatial knowledge translated by metaphor
into something else. 

WG: Wow...

TM: Very heavy shit. This guy's really something. He's got a book called
Women, Fire and Dangerous Things that's about how we categorize the world.
And, as a matter of fact, I'll set him loose on Neuromancer some time because
he'll come really back with like four hundred explanations about why this is
the way that Bill's books work. But it fits very nicely with Bill's thoughts,
because in the worlds he creates, knowledge is perceived knowledge, which
means embodied knowledge, and the people who deny that, like Case, maybe they
have to be taught by women about that denial, taught that the prison of our
own flesh is the only place there is.

WG: The thing is, I'm very labile, especially this morning (laughs). I could
sit here with 20 different people and 20 different theories and say, "Yeah,
that's what it is." I like Chip Delany's reaction to anybody who comes on him
with anything like this. He listens really intently and then he says, "That's
an interesting thesis." And that's all. (laughs)

TM: It's very easy to make this stuff stand up and dance to whatever tune you
want it to. If you're Julia Kristeva and you've got some well worked out
critical act that you want to work on something, fine. But here's what I'm
really objecting to in this stuff. The categories that you're applying to this
stuff are not categories that are integral to the books. Things like the map
on the woman's body and the "self". The interesting thing about Bill's stuff
is that it's creating new categories. Cyberspace is not an analogue of
something. It's not the self, it's not sex, it's cyberspace.  that's what's
really interesting. Look at the new categories. There's sort of ongoing
discussion groups  where people who work at universities and corporations all
around the world are thinking about what they call cognitive engineering The
most valid literary criticism that I know of is archaic by comparison. It's
got all these categories it's trying to drag kicking and screaming into the
twentieth century. It's like J.G. Ballard says about Margaret Atwood and those
people: "Yeah, it's the psychology of the individual--who gives a fuck, you
know? It's all been done." Right, it's been done as well as it's ever going to
be done. And why people get excited about Bill's stuff, is that it's not
what's been done. And the categories are genuinely emergent. Maybe there's not
a body. Maybe the idea of the body or self is entirely irrelevant. Maybe the
question of the self becomes infinitely complex. Literary critics love to talk
about consciousness. You know what Marvin Minsky says about consciousness?
It's a debugging trace. It's like a little piece of froth on the top of this
larger thing. I think Bill believes that. Consciousness is just part of the
act (laughs). All this other shit that goes on is equally important.

WG: Yeah. The snake wanted catfood [7], yeah.

TM: (laughing) Yeah, the snake wanted catfood, right, yeah, right.
WG: And, you know, sometimes you're just running on brain stem. I was running
on brain stem last night. Look where it got me too.


TM: This is what Bill's work is in fact about. Bill has been an obsessive
afficionado of late twentieth century experience, which for most people is
just too unnerving. They don't want it, so they screen themselves off from it.
But Bill actively seeks it out, and this has always been true. I mean most
people don't want it. It fucks their minds up and they don't want to be part
of it.

WG: What I do is I give it to them in these books and they're able to open up
to it a little bit because it's science fiction. 

TM: Right. But in science fiction itself, which is enormously conservative in
these matters, his stuff generates a lot of resentment because they don't want
to know, and they don't want to experience what the late twentieth century is
like, they want to experience what some fifties version of the future is like.
Most of the stuff he thinks about, in terms of structure and all that, the
visual artist immediately gets, bang bang bang. Whereas people who do
straightforward literary criticism wheel out these creaky old novelistic
categories that don't apply worth a fuck. 

WG: Most of the stuff that I'm seeing, even the stuff in The Mississippi
Review, it's like a bunch of guys from the English Department being forced to
write rock criticism (laughs).

DW: So what do you consider some of the better work that's been done on your

WG: Well, one of the things that's really amazing about the British reception
of my work, and this has just been consistent all the way through, is they
think I'm a humorist. By and large, they think of me as being largely a
humorist, and they think the stuff's funny as hell. It's 'cause they're Brits.
They understand--it's more like their sense of humor. The kind of sense of
humor I've got is still considered sort of suspect to North America, it's
considered just a little too bleak. See, a lot of it was written because I
thought it was funny. 

Bruce Fletcher: That kind of backhanded humor really came out in the reading
[excerpts from The Difference Engine [8]] last night. 

WG: Well, there's kind of two levels to that thing. Actually, the world we're
depicting there is infinitely grimmer than the world of Neuromancer, and it
needs that humor. I mean, when you get to the third section of the book, you
realize that they've invented the art of making people disappear. And they're
doing this with death squads (chuckles). There are death squads working in
London to take these Luddites out, or anyone who interferes with the system.
They just arrest you and take you to Highgate and hang you in the middle of
the night, and drop your body into a pit of quicklime, and that's it. One of
the viewpoint characters is this tortured British spook diplomat named
Laurence Oliphant--he was a real historical figure--he was Queen Victoria's
personal spook: "Oliphant of the Tokyo legation." He was a hero; he was in
this crazed samurai uprising, in Tokyo. Anyway, Oliphaunt's manservant was an
avid lepidopterist. In the middle of one night, these black-clothed barefoot
ninjas with samurai swords were sneaking toward Oliphant's bedroom and they
stepped on this fucker's pinned butterflies which he'd put into the tatami.


WG: That's true, that's a true story. Oliphant got his wrist slashed, and one
of the lines in the book, which is actually lifted from a recorded
conversation with Oliphaunt, is, "Strange how a Japanese"--and this scar is
right on his wrist, so when he shakes hands you can see it--"Strange how a
Japanese sword when you're concerned is quite adequate carte de visite."

TM: Oh Jesus Christ (laughs).

WG: In our book, Oliphant is the man who dreams up disappearing people; he
believes in the All-Seeing Eye. He just dreams it up to solve one terrible
problem that they have, and then it takes over. And so he's sort of tortured
by knowing he's the guy that discovered the principle of this, because he
knows it's wrong. It's gonna be a crazy book; I hope we can finish it. We've
got the whole plot together; it's really twisted.

BF: What are the mechanics involved with collaborating with someone on a book?

WG: It's impossible to explain. It's like telling somebody how you "be
married." You "be married" the only way you can be married to the person
you're married to, and that's all there is to it. 

BF: Since we're on the topic of writing, I'd like to talk a bit about
influences. I find the Cyberpunk 101 reading list [9] interesting in terms of
what it says about the formation of canons. As soon as people accept and
validate a category like "Cyberpunk," it becomes a retroactive thing. All of a
sudden everyone like  J. G. Ballard and William Burroughs becomes a proto-
cyberpunk writer. There are works on this list written as long ago as 1937.

WG: (looking at list, laughing) Last and First Men??! ...and Chandler...
I don't like that, you know? I'd like to go on record as saying that I don't
like Raymond Chandler. I think he's kind of an interesting stylist but I just
found him to be this creepy puritanical sick fuck. (laughter) 

DW: That would explain the way you handle Turner in Count Zero.

WG: Yeah, Turner is a kind of detective, a deconstructed [literally and
figuratively: ed.] thriller guy. I wanted to get one of those macho thriller
guys, a real he-man straight out of the kit, and just kind of push him apart.
I never was quite able to do it. The scene that works for me the most is when
he kills the wrong man. There's a slow build and he blows the shit out of
somebody and someone says to him, so-and-so's the agent here, you asshole.

TM: (laughing) Yeah, why'd you kill him?

WG: (back to the list) Alfred Bester, yeah. Bester I'll go for. [William
Burroughs'] Naked Lunch, yes. Philip K. Dick, though, had almost no influence.

TM: Right, you've really never much really read...

WG: I never really read Dick because I read Pynchon. You don't need Dick if 
you've read Pynchon. I mean Dick was the guy who couldn't quite do it. 

TM: Ah, I think that's different, but you haven't read Dick, Bill (laughs).

WG: That's true. I read a little Dick, but I didn't like it. [Michael
Moorcock's] The Cornelius Chronicles? Well, [Samuel R. Delany's] Nova, yeah, I
could see Nova. But The Cornelius Chronicles, well.... I never read [Alvin
Toffler's] Future Shock. [J. G. Ballard's] The Atrocity Exhibition, yeah.
[Robert Stone's] Dog Soldiers, yeah.

DW: Do you know Richard Kadrey, the guy who made this list? 

WG: Yeah. You know, I think Richard Kadrey's first short story was my first
short story cut up into individual blocks of one or two words and rearranged.
It was published in Interzone, and it's really weird. I talked to him about
it, and he just wouldn't cop to it. It's weird, it's indescribably weird, you
should actually read it. Ther are sentences in there that are out of
"Fragments of A Hologram Rose," but they've been dicked with in some
mysterious way. And you couldn't really say it's plagiarism. I actually
thought it was kinda cool.

TM: Yeah. he's a good guy, a smart guy. Richard's the only one I know who's
really, Metrophage is really and truly a Gibson hommage. He's not derivative
at all.

WG: Yeah, it's really good. This guy published his book and everybody's
saying, "God, this really a rip-off of you. You should be offended!" I thought
that it was a dynamite book and that it really stands out. What he'd gotten in
there and done was he'd gone in there and played riffs on the instrument that
I'd never dreamed of. And he's one of the hipper people in the field, that's
for sure. He knows about drugs, too. (laughter)

DW: What about the "punk" in cyberpunk? Do you see any real connections
between what you write and punk rock?

WG: I read something recently where they described me as the dark godfather of
an outlaw subculture (laughs). I mean, when I was fifteen, that was my wildest
dream, but now...

TM: (laughing) It's a case of being careful what you wish for, Bill, because
sometimes you get it.

WG: There was a while, at the start of all this cyberpunk stuff, when I
contemplated dressing up like that, getting a foot tall blue mohawk or
something. When people go to a reading to see a cyberpunk author, they expect
to see him come running in out of the rain and whip the sweat out of his
mohawk and start signing books. (laughter) Actually, one time I was in New
York signing books, there was this godawful huge roar outside the bookstore,
and these two huge motorcycles screeched up to the curb, and these two huge
guys covered in leather and studs and chains and shit got off, and came into
the store. When they got a good look at me in my loafers and buttondown shirt
their faces just fell, you know? One of them pulled out this copy of one of my
books and said, "Well, I guess you can sign it anyway." (laughs)

DW: Some of the characters you describe in your books sound a lot like various
types of punks: the Gothicks and Jack Draculas, for example.  

WG: Yeah, I hung out with some of them [Goths] in London. You know, they
pierce their genitals? And they won't fuck anyone who doesn't have a hunk of
steel shoved through there. It's weird, 'cause they hang little bells & shit
on them. You can hear them jingle when they move (laughs).

BF: Are there other people who've influenced you that you talk to regularly?
Do you correspond with Timothy Leary at all?

WG: I exchange letters with Mark Pauline; the stuff in Mona Lisa Overdrive is
supposed to be a homage to SRL, but I don't think I quite got it. Leary? I
talk to him on the phone, yeah. We don't really correspond, because he doesn't

TM: I was going to say he's probably post-literate at this point (laughs).

BF: I like his new book, he's redone Neuro-Politics, he calls it Neuro-
Politique [check titles]. It's dedicated...

WG: Oh God, finding that out was the weirdest experience. I was in L.A.
working on screenplays, and I got into this limo in L.A.X. to go to a meeting
in this fancy Chinese place on Sunset. I got this crazy little Yugoslavian
limo driver--you have to be very careful with limo drivers because every limo
driver's an out-of-work screen writer or something--I get in and he sort of
looks at me and he says, "Are you the William Gibson?" and I said, "Well, I'm
the William Gibson that's sitting in your car" (laughs). And he says, "I
haven't read your books, but I'm the greatest admirer of Dr. Timothy Leary,"
and he whips Leary's book out and it's dedicated to me and Bob Dylan. I mean,
if you want weird, I thought, you know, total cognitive dissonance there. And
he got talking so much that he made me late for the meeting: he overshot the

BF: Yeah, that's the book, all right (laughs).
WG: Yeah, he overshot the restaurant, and then he told me this really sad
story about how he'd been a TV producer. It was a heartbreaking fucking story;
I believe it too. He got his ass out of Yugoslavia, and he got over to
Hollywood, and he thought, you know, he could work in the TV or film business,
and he just realized that he'd been around and nobody would touch him with a
ten foot pole. So there he was, mooking around and driving this limo. Anyway,
I went into the meeting, and somewhere between realizing that I didn't want to
write another version of Alien III and getting back into the car, when we were
sort of doing small talk, I said, "This is such an amazing town. The guy
driving my limo used to be a television producer in Yugoslavia," and I told
them this story that had really affected me. One of the people who's there is
this woman who's The Bitch Woman from the studio--she's there to hurt me if I
get out of line--they've always got an edge, you know. She keeps her mouth
shut until I'm finished, and then she sort of drew on her pity look, and she
says to me, "Huh. Don't they all have a story."

TM: Yeah, right. All the little people (laughs).

WG: Oh, man. But they do--they have people who're like psychic leg-breakers
that they bring along. There's always one.


1  "Kumiko stared as Sally drew her past arrays of of Coronation plate and
jowled Churchill teapots. "This is gomi," Kumiko ventured, when they paused at
an intersection. Rubbish. In Tokyo, worn and useless things were landfill.
Sally grinned wolfishly.  "This is England. Gomi's a major natural resource.
Gomi and talent."
			-William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive. (p.30)

Gibson's writing is testament to what talent can do with gomi.

2  Sol Yurick, Behold Metatron, the Recording Angel. New York: Semiotext(e), 
1985, 6. The Semiotext(e) series is published at Columbia University, and,  
despite some embarrassing editing problems, is a valuable source of texts by  
influential Postmodern theorists like Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Deleuze and  

3  Sol Yurick again: page 9.

4  One of the few really good studies that has been done to date on Gibson's
merits and faults as a writer is Lucy Sussex's "Falling Off the Fence:
Reviewing William Gibson's Neuromancer and Count Zero," The Metaphysical
Review, November 1987. If you can't find it (The Metaphysical Review is an
Australian journal), send me a SASE c/o this magazine, and I'll mail you a

5  I have to admit a vested interest here. A discussion of the space the body
occupies in Gibson's writing will form the core of my Master's thesis.

6  A sorta-kinda performance art group from California (where else) that
builds big machines that destroy each other. SRL was one of Gibson's major
influences in the writing of Mona Lisa Overdrive (see the article elsewhere in
this magazine).

7  A quotation from Tom Maddox's short story "Snake-Eyes," which can be found
in Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Arbor
House, 1986. At the risk of bowdlerizing the piece, I'll just mention that
it's about this guy whose higher thought processes become involved in a
conflict of interest with his brainstem. And you thought hangovers were bad...

8  The Difference Engine is an alternate world novel Gibson is writing with
Bruce Sterling. It is set in a nineteenth century England where Charles
Babbage's steam-driven computer actually gets built, and all sorts of weird
shit happens as a result (including Lord Byron becoming Prime Minister).
Gibson read excerpts from the manuscript at several points during ConText 89.

9  Another product of The Whole Earth Review, the Cyberpunk 101 reading list
can be found in the Summer 89 issue, or, in an earlier form, in Signal:
Communication Tools for the Information Age. New York: Harmony Books, 1988.
(Signal is a whole Earth catalog). It makes for some interesting reading, but
it should come with a warning sticker that reads "WARNING! CANON FORMATION IN

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