William Gibson says reality has become sci-fi

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Author William Gibson, who has spent much of his career creating fictional futures, says it’s hard to write science fiction when reality is so unbelievable.

People look at computer screens inside an Internet cafe in Xining, northwestern China's Qinghai province November 10, 2006. Author William Gibson, who has spent much of his career creating fictional futures, says it's hard to write science fiction when reality is so unbelievable. REUTERS/Simon Zo

Gibson, who coined the term cyberspace in his 1984 novel “Neuromancer,” said publishers would have laughed at a plot in which a sexually transmitted disease killed millions as terrorists hit New York and technology was warming the planet.

His latest and ninth book, “Spook Country,” released this week, is his second consecutive novel to break away from science fiction, focusing instead on cultural changes in the United States since 9/11 and political paranoia.

But Gibson, 59, who lives in Canada, told Reuters that he is not ruling out a return to science fiction writing:

Q: Your last two books have broken away from science fiction. Was that a deliberate move?

A: “Personally I think that contemporary reality is sufficiently science fiction for me. Some critics are already maintaining that science fiction is a sort of historical category and it is not possible any more.”

Q: Do you agree with that?

A: “Well, by the time I finished my sixth novel, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” I was starting to feel that the present I was working from had become very dated. I started writing in the late 1970s and I think I held onto that as the present that I was writing from, and by 1997 or 1998 that wasn’t the present any more. I think these books may give me a present from which to project the future. I may not be done with the future but I have to figure out what it means to try to write about the future at a time when we are all living in the shadow of at least half a dozen wildly science fiction scenarios.”

Q: Do you get fed up with being asked how you came up with the term “cyberspace” and whether your vision was right?

A: “I always spend at least 10 percent of every interview in denial. I didn’t know what was going to happen. What I call cyberspace in “Neuromancer” hasn’t actually happened but people started calling what has happened cyberspace.”

Q: But other aspects of the book have happened?

A: “There are a couple of areas I did get right in “Neuromancer” that no one ever checked (credited) me for. I don’t think globalization existed as a concept in 1981 but “Neuromancer” is set in a very nasty globalized society in which there does not seem to be any surviving middle class. There are only millionaires and people on the street -- like in Moscow and some of the other less fortunate parts of the world. Everyone says I foresaw cyberspace but I did foresee the world of globalization.”

Q: I see you are reading your new book in Second Life. Do you keep up with new technology?

A: “I think you can drive yourself crazy with it. I keep up to some extent with that sort of thing but because it is so much my topic area. I like to see what people are doing with technology -- how they’re trying to figure out how to make money or get sex or whatever from it. That is how technology is interesting.”

Q: Have you started your next project already?

A: “No. I have to go through a fairly long process of being a human being again. I have to come back from the wretched state I get myself into in the course of writing a book and get into the next one. I am a way from starting anything but I am feeling the preliminary discomfort.”

Q: So your writing does not flow easily?

A: “No, not really. It is a miracle to me that anything every happens. My part of the job is to turn up every day and move my fingers on the keyboard and see if what writes the book will turn up as well. If the “author” does not turn up I often end up scrapping what I have written.”

Q: What do you read?

A: “Increasingly history. I am a big fan of the novelist/historian Iain Sinclair who has been a favorite for the last 15 years or so. I don’t read as much fiction.”