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William Gibson (1948 - )
Date of Birth: 17 March 1948
Like it or not (and apparently the man himself is less than enamoured), William Gibson will forever be linked with the 80s 'cyberpunk' movement. He didn't invent the label and, like many of those writers clubbed together under its banner, he didn't much care for it, but his initial novels epitomised the movement and virtually defined its style and motifs.
Born in 1948, Gibson left his native United States in 1968, heading north to Canada to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam war. He settled initially in Toronto before making his home in Vancouver in 1972.
Gibson began his writing career in 1977 when Unearth magazine published his short story Fragments of a Hologram Rose, a workmanlike affair that gave no indication of the dazzling technique that was to come to the fore in later stories. He continued publishing short stories fitfully throughout the early years of the 80s, most of which were later collected in the recommended Burning Chrome (1986).
In 1981, he published Johnny Mnemonic which was important in that, in retrospect, it and another story, Burning Chrome (1982), were dry runs for his first novel, the definitive cyberpunk text, Neuromancer (1984).
The first part of what would eventually become a trilogy, all set in and around the Sprawl, a massive conurbation reaching down the east coast of the United States, Neuromancer was an astonishingly confident debut, impressing from its very first line ("The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel") and with the clarity of its narrative. The bewildering, often surreal tale of hi-tech crime and the birth of artificial intelligence in a gloriously textured near- future, Neuromancer netted Gibson a clutch of awards and announced him as a major new talent in literary SF. It gave the world a handful of buzzwords that were to insinuate every aspect of popular culture in the 1990s - 'cyberspace' being perhaps the most pervasive.
The world created by Gibson for Neuromancer proved so evocative and persuasive that Gibson returned to it for the 1986 follow up, Count Zero which, if anything, was even better. The complex narrative (in fact it weaves three separate strands that seem initially unconnected) is more satisfying and, in the moment when one of the characters encounters the 'brain-damaged' remains of one of the artificial intelligences from the first book, it features one of Gibson's most impressive and moving pieces of work.
The loose ends of the trilogy were wrapped up in the dark Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), which ends with the kind of conceptual leap that reminds you why you love the genre in the first place.
Putting the 'Sprawl' behind him, Gibson headed for Hollywood, penning a series of scripts that never quite made it to the screen. A script for Neuromancer was produced by the scale of the project has thus far defeated all comers. Gibson's highest profile Hollywood assignment was his involvement with the ill-fated Alien 3 (1992) - his excellent script, far and away better than the poor excuse that finally reached the screen, has from time to time been available on the Net and is worth a look if it can still be found.
While all of this was going on, Gibson teamed up with fellow cyberpunk writer Bruce Sterling for the freewheeling and hugely enjoyable alternate-history romp, The Difference Engine (1990). The clever central conceit suggests that Charles Babbage managed to overcome the restrictions of 19th century engineering tolerances that defeated his real-life attempts to create his difference engine and the information technology revolution has come a century early.
Gibson returned to his near future milieu with Virtual Light, a different near-future than that envisaged in the first three novels, but covering some of the same ground. For many, it was a disappointment, Gibson seeming to be going back over old ground. It contains moments of pure Gibson magic, but it lacks the staying power of earlier work.
It spawned two sequels, each improving on the other. The remarkable Idoru takes some of the peripheral characters from Virtual Light and lets them loose in a bizarre tale of a globally adored rock star who dismays his fans by announcing his forthcoming marriage - to an idoru, a computer generated woman!
His most recent novel is one of his best, the powerful All Tomorrow's Parties (1999) which concludes his future San Francisco sequence by taking us back to the location of Virtual Light, a vast makeshift community eking out a life on a massive derelict bridge. The maturity and confidence of Gibson's writing impresses more than ever, and some of the imagery he conjurs resonates long after the final page.
Gibson has continued to flirt fitfully with film and TV,
perhaps most successfully with his pair of scripts for The
Switch (1997) and First
Person Shooter (2000)) written in collaboration with another
cyberpunk author, Tom Maddox.
* = television
The Late Show: 26 September 1990 (performer (himself)) *
The Late Show: The Space Age (29 November 1993) (performer (himself)) *
Tomorrow Calling (short story (the Gernsback Continuum)) *
Palms (performer (himself)) *
Johnny Mnemonic: The Interactive Action Movie (story (Johnny Mnemonic)) +
Visions of Heaven and Hell: Selling the Future (performer (himself)) *
Visions of Heaven and Hell: Virtual Wasteland (performer (himself)) *
The Sci-Fi Files: Children of Frankenstein (performer (himself)) *
The Sci-Fi Files: Spaceships and Aliens (performer (himself)) *
The X-Files Movie Special (performer (himself)) *
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction pp.493-494
Last Updated: 1 January, 2009
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