How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real
December 9, 2019 1:27 PM   Subscribe

 
“Agency” is a sequel to Gibson’s previous novel, “The Peripheral,” from 2014, which is currently being adapted into a television show for Amazon, executive-produced by the creators of “Westworld."

...cautious excitement...
posted by jquinby at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2019 [9 favorites]


I guess that I have to catch up with The Peripheral now. Frankly I kind of like his contemporary fiction more than his science fiction; the Blue Ant books are really my favorites of his.
posted by octothorpe at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]




"[Trump] keeps topping me, but I think I can handle it in rewrite."
posted by simra at 1:55 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


"[Trump] keeps topping me, but I think I can handle it in rewrite."

There's not a lot of authors I would trust to deliver on that promise, but Bill Gibson is one of them.
posted by tclark at 2:02 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


I read one of his books- I think it was “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, in any case one of the Bridge ones - and I had the sense that I was reading the first dystopian novel set in a place in which I wished to live.
posted by MtDewd at 2:14 PM on December 9, 2019 [8 favorites]


I read The Peripheral and barely finished it. Ultimately, I found the central SFnal premise of the book to be a little too fantasy for my taste. The action sequences of the book tend to be highlights, but this one especially didn't stitch together. To be a little harsh, I don't think he has grown as a writer, especially in terms of character development/cliches. I had a lot of trouble telling characters apart, and it seems to be an exercise left to the reader to flesh them out. I found Pattern Recognition to be overall a more interesting direction to take, and I do give him a lot of credit for not falling into the many self-indulgent holes that SF/F writers tend to fall into. I'm glad he is working, and he absolutely nailed the way the present day is developing . I don't think he was nearly cynical enough about how things will turn out.
posted by Dmenet at 2:22 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


No disrespect to Gibson at all. A brilliant author. But he could learn a few things from Peter Watts.

::ducking::
posted by Splunge at 2:34 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


I just wish for once he'd build up to a big ending that didn't totally fizzle out/get resolved by deus ex machina. I read the Blue Ant books a few years ago and was impressed by his consistent inability to stick the landing.
posted by praemunire at 2:50 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


“Make a wrong turn down here and you’ll be in the headquarters of YouTube,” Gibson mused. “You’ll never get out. Never! You think Facebook is bad? Those YouTube motherfuckers—they will really fuck you up.”

Indeed.

I had the opposite reaction to The Peripheral that Dmenet had; I loved it, and felt like it contained some of the best prose he'd ever written. To be fair, though, it had been a LONG time since I read the Blue Ant series, and still longer since the Bridge series, so I should perhaps go back and re-read for comparison.

Gibson is one of the few authors that I will force myself to slow down on the reading...there is a richness to his writing that I've always loved and I tend to want to stretch out the experience more.
posted by Thistledown at 3:01 PM on December 9, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think Pattern Recognition was the first book I read that felt prescient - it felt like a book written ten years after it had been published. Ironically, coolhunters ended up being the thing that dated the book the most, but I think the rest of it largely held up.
posted by Merus at 3:04 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


Guess I missed books two and three of the Blue Ants. Need to take care of that.
posted by Windopaene at 3:04 PM on December 9, 2019


I also want to live on the Bridge.

There is a film called No Maps for These Territories that's mostly just the camera on WG riding in the back of a car as he and, I guess, the producer talk about whatever and it is RIVETING.
posted by Horkus at 3:09 PM on December 9, 2019 [10 favorites]


But he could learn a few things from Peter Watts.

Watts is kind of typical of a certain sort of SF writer, who creates imaginative large scope plots. Niven is another. There are many other examples. Everything they write is to serve the story. They're very concerned with idea and with plot.

While they can be fun, in a puzzle box sense, they are claustrophobic, monomaniacal, pat. Characters often don't feel real like they have an internal life. Everything is about the plot or the big idea. Watts can struggle to evoke the the messiness of real life in his books, of characters that haves lives before or outside of his narratives.

This is one of Gibson's major strengths. The people he writes about walk on stage with histories, with emotional reactions informed by events of their lives that ring true because they're not just generic young cool hacker dude or young cool but world weary street samurai girl.

Gibson is often accused of having a murky writing style that meanders in and out of coherence. There's at least a few instances where major plot points happen without fanfare in a narrative paragraph without much warning or notice from the characters. That's what he's trying to do. The world is lumpy; sometimes the stuff the characters are worried about is the least of the issue. Gibson does understand plot and can write in that tight hard SF style---see his Burning Chrome shorts for example. But he's trying to do other things with his writing than only plot.
posted by bonehead at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2019 [41 favorites]


I had a lot of trouble telling characters apart, and it seems to be an exercise left to the reader to flesh them out

That was my main complaint with The Peripheral. Otherwise I enjoyed it a lot more than the Blue Ant stuff. I do not care about who designed a pair of jeans, or that a particular kind of light bulb was an Ecuadorean copy of a Norwegian-designed light bulb with a filament made of an alloy developed in Japan.
posted by Foosnark at 3:30 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Oh, I adore the Blue Ant trilogy. It was effectively a primer for how the 2010s would turn out and I think some of the themes Gibson began embroidering in The Peripheral began percolating in Zero History, especially the passage on cosplay competence and camo as streetwear:
"...Our best analyst thinks it’s not a tactical design. Something for mall ninjas.” “For what?” “The new Mitty demographic.”

“I’m lost.”

“Young men who dress to feel they’ll be mistaken for having special capability. A species of cosplay, really. Endemic. Lots of boys are playing soldier now. The men who run the world aren’t, and neither are the boys most effectively bent on running it next."
I feel like you can draw a direct line from that conversation between a marketing mogul and a journalist to the world of Flynne and her people in Appalachia. "Lots of boys are playing soldier now. The men who run the world aren’t." And I feel like you can actually connect that conversation backward to the Bridge trilogy, to another semi-omniscient marketing mogul in All Tomorrow's Parties when he explains the perils of strip-mining alternatives to the mainstream:
“Bohemias. Alternative subcultures. They were a crucial aspect of industrial civilization in the two previous centuries. They were where industrial civilization went to dream. A sort of unconscious R&D, exploring alternate societal strategies. Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large. And they did, frequently, have locales with which they became associated. But they became extinct.”

“Extinct?”

“We started picking them before they could ripen. A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious. Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters. They went the way of geography in general. Autonomous zones do offer a certain insulation from the monoculture, but they seem not to lend themselves to recommodification, not in the same way. We don’t know why exactly.”
(This was the first thing I thought of when I read the pieces "Welcome to Airspace," about Airbnb infecting apartments in different locales with the same minimalist aesthetic and "Style Is An Algorithm," about the feedback loop between human trends and algorithms that reward engagement.)

The thing I keep returning to in The Peripheral is The Jackpot, or the serial waves of disaster that depopulated the world -- not one big thing that made society break down, just one local crisis after another that systemically picked off the most vulnerable and least lucky. I think about The Jackpot a lot these days. I can't wait to see what ideas from The Agency burrow into my head.
posted by sobell at 3:33 PM on December 9, 2019 [28 favorites]


My problem with Gibson is solely* his self-obsessed and often clunky prose. Everything else is fine (and even great sometimes); I remain a cautiously optimistic Gibson apologist.

*Well that and how he writes and treats women, but that’s too complex for a simple comment
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:38 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


This article was a good read! I haven't read any Gibson for a while, so I just ordered a used copy of The Peripheral. Thanks for posting this!
posted by carter at 3:42 PM on December 9, 2019


> Here's a treat for William Gibson fans.

Best holidays gift EVER
posted by goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes at 3:56 PM on December 9, 2019


Very nice portrait. I appreciate how well it mixes Gibson's stories with his attention to artifacts.

And hey, a bonus Jack Womack cameo!
posted by doctornemo at 4:04 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


The thing I keep returning to in The Peripheral is The Jackpot, or the serial waves of disaster that depopulated the world -- not one big thing that made society break down, just one local crisis after another that systemically picked off the most vulnerable and least lucky. I think about The Jackpot a lot these days. I can't wait to see what ideas from The Agency burrow into my head.

Yes, after reading The Peripheral The Jackpot is how I think the future will happen if we don't sort ourselves out. And just as importantly as the disasters is that the rich will swoop in after and extract everything of value for a pittance and further increase their wealth and influence.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:12 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


I've started Peripheral at least three times, (opened Neromancer and remember looking up and going omg it's light out late for work) it may be one of those I see the series in between chapters. Spoilers ha, read and watch asynchronously folks. Vonnegut had it, time/life is not continuous. Very much looking forward to the series!
posted by sammyo at 4:18 PM on December 9, 2019


Another thing I noticed reading Peripheral was that my mind's eye while reading the book was murky. Like I had an image of everything going on, but the entire volume was hazy and undefined. I didn't particularly care for that feeling.
posted by Dmenet at 4:41 PM on December 9, 2019


the Blue Ant books are really my favorites of his.

I don't know if I'd call them favorites, but I certainly enjoyed the ride.

SPOILER ALERT: nothing really happens, it's more of a way into looking at a world, this world, I guess, but somehow more fascinating than I usually notice. I think somebody gets their nose broken at some point. I also learned how to fry bacon without it curling up on me.
posted by philip-random at 4:46 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd go along with what some others have mentioned above here. I was absorbed in Gibson's gritty near-futuristic world building in his 20th century work, and then I gradually started to loose interest over time. He mentions that his writing process is organic rather than plotted, but sometimes this process results in flat or underwhelming endings. (P.K.Dick was also a genius who didn't really do endings as part of his thing.)

The essay mentions in passing that funny Yorkville Hippie CBC News interview that he did. It was in a MeFi post a few years ago about the old Canuck music scene. It's hilarious.
posted by ovvl at 5:47 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is the best article on Gibson I've seen. If you've read his stuff for a while, knowing how he got that way really helps.

Blue Ants were OK, but still happiest with The Bridge.

Gibson's ... "clunky prose" ??? A HA HA
Picasso's "clunky art" ?

It's a good thing Stephenson exists, something worth reading while waiting for new Gibson. (I too want to tour that basement.)
posted by Twang at 5:58 PM on December 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


I read The Peripheral and barely finished it....I had a lot of trouble telling characters apart, and it seems to be an exercise left to the reader to flesh them out.\

I feel exactly the same. It's a shame, because he otherwise is a really good writer and sets a fantastic serious mood to the proceedings. But characters can be discussing things--in that mode when it's just quotations without attribution--and I can't tell them apart and have to backtrack. I haven't read his older SF but now wonder if it suffers from the same one-character style.
posted by zardoz at 6:22 PM on December 9, 2019


I've always liked Gibson's prose style, with its Burroughs-esque amused world-weariness mixing nicely with a fetish for technology and upscale consumer brands. But that's the thing-- all he seems to care about now are those brands, the woes of upper-middle class professionals, and the weird power games the ultra-wealthy play with each other. He still writes the occasional ordinary-joe types, but it feels like lip service, at least to me. It has been an ongoing disappointment (to say the least) to watch this shift in focus over the course of his books.

A return to the atmospheric tales of tech-savvy, streetwise, working-class punks scuttling and smashing the plans of billionaires (also maybe eating a few on the side for lunch) would be more than welcome right now. I want to see a Molly Millions shooting needles into the eyeballs of dissolute oligarchs again. Fuck Hubertus Bigend and everything human-shaped bugs like him stand for.
posted by KHAAAN! at 6:34 PM on December 9, 2019 [14 favorites]


I've loved everything Gibson has written, except The Difference Engine, which really never stuck with me (though I've read it perhaps three times). The Blue Ant books are my favorites, with Pattern Recognition sitting at the pinnacle, but I joyfully re-read his whole oeuvre every couple of years (and listen to Pattern Recognition on Audible...Shelly Frasier is the perfect narrator for that book).

The delays besetting his latest book have only added to my anticipation. The Peripheral certainly wasn't among my top Gibson reads, but it's very good, and I'm waiting for the next to cement that particular iteration of the Gibsonverse into place.
posted by lhauser at 7:20 PM on December 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Almost all of Gibson's work remains evergreen in my opinion. The only books of his I haven't re-read at least once are The Difference Engine and the last couple Blue Ant books. (And, I guess, The Peripheral, but I'll get to it before Agency comes out.) Sure, there are plenty of flaws (Molly Millions didn't go over well at our sci-fi book club), but goddamn if his writing doesn't make me look at the world in new ways. His settings, particularly the Sprawl, are uncomfortable, corroded, corrosive places, but still seem worth living in, if one takes a different approach to what "living" can mean. It's a useful way to reframe my own relationship with a world that so often seems thoroughly miserable and baffling.

For several years now I've kept brief notes on what I thought of every book I've read, and I could've sworn that I had some on The Peripheral, since the line I really liked how Flynne and Wilf's relationship developed, and the nature of it pops into my head whenever I think about the book. But nope, I only started making those notes two years later. Must've written the 2014 ones in a different stub.

I had the good fortune to meet Gibson at a book signing a few years ago when he was touring to support the paperback edition of The Peripheral. When I bought my copy in advance, I figured I'd be waiting in line to do so, but I was the first, and when the reading rolled around, I was dismayed at how few people turned up. Still, since I was the first to buy a book, I was the first in line to get it (and Idoru, and maybe another; if that's the case, I must have given it to someone) signed, and the first to get to stammer out some boring shit in his direction. He was friendly and gracious, and not at all a case of "don't meet your heroes." I'd like to smoke a cigarette or ten with him someday, but I'll take what I've been given. After all, if I want to see the man smoke and converse, there's always No Maps For These Territories.
posted by heteronym at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's a good thing Stephenson exists, something worth reading while waiting for new Gibson.

I hesitate to derail the thread, but I couldn't stay silent here. I don't know if you've read Dodge yet, but hoo boy, I didn't like it at. All. I've liked or loved all of his other books, but Dodge was a whole new level of painful for me. The only book in 2019 of around 50 I read that I straight-up hated, and maybe only second to Forest Gump of most-hated-books I ever read. I suffered the whole thing in vain hope it would pay off eventually but no. Please re-read Anathem or Snow Crash, or Seveneves... any of his other ones.
posted by tclark at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2019 [11 favorites]


What blew my mind about All Tomorrow's Parties is the plot involving Cody Harwood building a network without a clear purpose but with the intent of staying relevant in the world of that network. I didn't understand that for years until I put it in the context of networks like Facebook which destroyed so much of the world I previously lived in. What a fucking concept to dream up in the late 90's! I could use a William Gibson book that's part 4 of the Bridge trilogy that does nothing but talk about what happens to the world he created in that sub-plot of that book.
posted by monkeymike at 8:36 PM on December 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


William Gibson retweeted me once years ago and I’m pretty sure that was my internet peak. Loved The Peripheral and very much looking forward to the next book.
posted by jquinby at 8:46 PM on December 9, 2019 [5 favorites]


In lieu of a more substantial comment that I can't make until I get home from work, I'll just say that I found Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan to be rather reminiscent of Gibson (as well as just being a good read) and to somewhat scratch the itch while waiting for Agency. It could easily be a before-and-after depiction of one of the events constituting The Jackpot.

I still feel kind of bad for raining on ubiquity's sequel hopes in the Fanfare post on The Peripheral and am happy that Gibson changed his mind, though I would be very surprised if the question he posed is actually answered in Agency.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 8:57 PM on December 9, 2019


I loved his earlier stuff, but hated the last two Blue Ant books. I just can not bring myself to care about someone whose worst problem is having to fly first class on JAL! Oh the humanity!
posted by monotreme at 8:59 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've read the three trilogies, and tend to prefer the Bridge, in no small part because of this, which has gained a certain desperate relevance:
“[Slitscan's audience] is best visualized as a vicious, lazy, profoundly ignorant, perpetually hungry organism craving the warm god-flesh of the anointed. Personally I like to imagine something the size of a baby hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in the dark, in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka. It's covered with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and makes them sting. It has no mouth, Laney, no genitals, and can only express its mute extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by changing the channels on a universal remote. Or by voting in presidential elections.”
I, too, have had difficulty beginning The Peripheral, but am encouraged by some of the comments here.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:35 PM on December 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


tclark,

I also felt that Dodge was strangely terrible. (I'll try to loosely tie this back to Gibson later.) I just don't know what Stephenson was trying to do or why he thought it might be interesting. I'm not sure why he believed the main conceits of the book were worth exploring in such a drawn out way. As a reader I got glimpses of interesting plotlines but then was forced to wade through hundreds of pages of Everquest meets Paradise meets Genesis. (The book from the bible, not the band.)

It's a shame, because the parts that took place in Ameristan were terrifying and now sort of feel inevitable. These were also the parts that felt most Gibsonian to me. It's interesting how Stephenson really ran with themes that Gibson has harped on for a while: the whole mall ninja, operator aesthetic. Stephenson's bifurcated Christianity of tactical Jesus feels like it's already happened. The inchoate raw data streams that operate as sort of paranoid anger inducing IV drips would have also been an interesting bit to explore.

When people ask me if they should read Dodge, I just provide them with those chapters and tell them to skip the rest.

The only possible interesting read of the story for me is to look for clues that the real world in that book is also a computer simulation but I couldn't find enough evidence to support that reading.
posted by Telf at 12:20 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


In my 50s, I've been reading Gibson since he introduced the whole new hybrid physical-digital ecosystem he saw emerging, and while I was unable to finish the final few pages of Pattern Recognition, it was the last book of his I purchased. It was a significant book and an important one, but now the way technology and communication are developing means I have not been enjoying the speculative aspects of sci/fi as much particularly when relating to contemporarily set themes. Yesterday I picked up an anthology of dystopia shorts, lets see what emerges from that and how it makes me feel.
posted by Mrs Potato at 1:08 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Otaku. That's a keeper. But otherwise tl/dr. Maybe tomorrow.
posted by y2karl at 1:28 AM on December 10, 2019


I found the Peripheral difficult - it's been sitting there uncompleted for a long time now. It really hasn't really gelled for me at all. I like the Bridge series best but Blue Ant is good too (though I had no idea that the series was called that)
posted by bifurcated at 2:57 AM on December 10, 2019


The hard onramp for The Peripheral for me was not having a sense of place, but I always feel a little disoriented for the first hundred pages or so of a new Gibson trilogy, so I just trusted in the knowledge that that feeling would go away, because it always had before.

I liked The Peripheral as a standalone, but I will happily accept more installments of that brand of weirdness. I am baffled by the idea of it as a tv show. Baffled and intrigued.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:11 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


The idea of the Jackpot was one of those moments where it feels like a writer expresses a thought that I'd nearly had, but that had never quite glommed together in my head. Maybe that biased me toward really enjoying The Peripheral, but I did.

I am baffled by the idea of it as a tv show.
Probably, someone'll figure out how to turn it into a weekly police procedural.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 8:02 AM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to understand why Jackpot seems to me like such a good word for what's coming. After all, hitting the jackpot is what so many people are trying to do, right?

Not mentioned yet here, Distrust That Particular Flavor is a good book of essays, speeches, and whatnot that's a more direct, less immersive way into Gibson's head.
posted by kingless at 8:48 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’m a long - time Gibson fan, I liked the Blue Ant books more perhaps than others here because it made delicious fun of the biennale crowd, whom Gibson seems to fully understand. These are people I have to deal with professionally in the world of design, and I’d pay good money for a Gibsonian satire set in this world, of such a thing existed.

I enjoyed the Peripheral enough to read it twice, but probably not enough for a third time. It’s hard to stay relevant as an author as long as WG has, so I’m going to cut him a little bit of slack.

SS, very interested to hear your opinions about women in Gibson’s work. I have complicated opinions as well- tho most of it boils down to “trying harder but achieving less than he believes he is.”
posted by q*ben at 8:52 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Wait, I thought we were supposed to dislike Bigend?
posted by aramaic at 9:09 AM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


how I think the future will happen if we don't sort ourselves out. And just as importantly as the disasters is that the rich will swoop in after and extract everything of value for a pittance and further increase their wealth and influence.

yes, always important to remember (for me anyway). As George Orwell put it of 1984 -- "it's a warning not a prophecy". Unless they're positing utopias, we want our sci-fi futures to be wrong.

That said, I find I'm increasingly wanting my futures not to be written at all. Which I suppose is why I found the Blue Ant trilogy so appealing. Not a prognostication of what's to come so much as a deep dive into a particular fold of Now. Because I've definitely come to feel that the so-called apocalypse ain't coming, it's now, it's here, we're in it, ready or not ... and, if it's any consolation, we've probably been in it our whole lives. Just spend some time with The Medium is the Massage (1967) if you require convincing.

Which I guess is why I find Gibson's stuff continues to compel me. It has a way of looking at at things I wouldn't otherwise want to look at (hint: the sometimes meandering plot and prose is a big part of how he pulls this off). It's like a friend once said about how he got over his fear of flying. It happened in a manner of seconds. The plane was taking off, he was scared, about to pitch into the usual barely contained terror (and jammed into a window seat with the window closed). Then the guy next to him said, "Hey, can you open that? I always need to see this part. I mean, how many times in your life do you get to travel at a two hundred miles an hour ... and then just leave the ground?" He (my friend) suddenly went from being scared to ... interested, to thrilled.

Sometimes perspective is everything.
posted by philip-random at 9:28 AM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have been a fan of Gibson's work for close to thirty years now.

His discussion about his feelings, the loss of the "membrane" the day after the election is very, very clarifying about his twitter feed's politics since then; very centrist, mainstreamy "we can't risk going too left" stuff.

It's been a constant disappointment to see someone who sees so much of the future clearly doesn't see how we get there; how it takes a whole village to create a Jackpot, and the "good guys" as he sees them are throwing all the fool's gold into the jackpot as fast as they can as well.

The call of political radicals has always been to imagine a better, different future. He's been stuck since 2016 trying to imagine a better future that is constructed using only tools currently in existence, and he cannot reason himself out of that corner.
posted by turntraitor at 10:17 AM on December 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm intrigued with a hint of skepticism at the idea of making The Peripheral into a TV show, but then again if Netflix could make a decent show from Altered Carbon (which I thought would be totally unworkable), maybe Amazon can pull it off.

FWIW, I don't remember much of the plot of Peripheral; I remember some of the various ideas and concepts, some of the worldbuilding, but the murder-mystery plot seemed a bit... thin. Which is fine, as others have pointed out, there are other authors who write heavily plot-driven stories where the characters are correspondingly thin because they have to flex to the whims of the plotline; Gibson, by contrast, seems to err in the opposite direction, bending (even breaking) the plot in order to make intriguing characters and situations.

Part of the charm of his writing, if you can call it that, is that he writes dystopias that seem oddly livable. Which makes sense: even in situations that would appear to objectively suck a lot, if you have to make your life there, you make the best of it. People don't do grimdark 24/7, they just can't. Sometimes he does edge into "competence porn", admittedly, although to some extent I think that's almost a convention of the genre.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:28 AM on December 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


I loved it, and felt like it contained some of the best prose he'd ever written.

This is how I feel after reading any of his books, and I've been on-board since
Mona Lisa Overdrive. The closer to release date you're reading him, the better.

Guess I missed books two and three of the Blue Ants.
I loved his earlier stuff, but hated the last two Blue Ant books.


And yet the second one, Spook Country, is my #1 Gibson now. I wish he'd write more Milgrim!
    But yeah, that Bridge - I drive over it once or twice a year which always triggers daydreams of living there, especially when becalmed in traffic, on a nice day with windows open...
I'm trying to understand why Jackpot seems to me like such a good word for what's coming.

It's because, 'twas ever thus. See The Year of the Jackpot by Robert Heinlein, from 1952.
posted by Rash at 11:53 AM on December 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm trying to understand why Jackpot seems to me like such a good word for what's coming.

I can't speak to why it works for you. But it works for me because it encapsulates three very human ideas:

1. American exceptionalism and individual exceptionalism: "But that can't happen to me! I'm not ordinary! My lottery ticket will win, I read a story about a person who won Powerball on her first try."
2. The complete lack of agency lottery participants have in the game.
3. The fact that lottery winners' lives are changed (sometimes for the better, sometimes not) by this random event over which they have no control beyond participating voluntarily in a system set up to profit off them. And the fact that people who run the lottery will be fine no matter who wins or loses. They're invisibly running the show without account or personal consequence.

"The Jackpot" is an acknowledgment of unearned dumb luck and unpunished lottery officials. Only in this case, the lottery was human survival.

(And honestly? I feel like the Jackpot is here. We see it here and there now. I'd probably see more of it if I were better about keeping up with news on the global south and climate change impact.)
posted by sobell at 1:59 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think the Jackpot also, subconsciously, conjures the images of your numbers coming up one after another, or poker machine reels slamming home, one after the other.
posted by Merus at 2:30 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah that's how I understood the word Jackpot to be used by the characters in the book: it's your (not so) lucky number coming up not once, but over and over, the output correspondingly multiplying. There's a dark humor about it because the "winnings" are death.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:35 PM on December 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


Long time Gibson fan. I reread all of it ever few years. Over the years which books I like best shift. _Pattern Recognition_ is still a favorite.

He does “miss” periodically: the lack of mobile phones in the Sprawl trilogy, the Bridge trilogy adds mobile phones but lacks texting, and texting doesn’t even arrive in the Blue Ant books until the second one.

All of this discussion also reminds me of an experience of reading Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (essentially an attempted Stephenson clone steeped in GOOG fanboyism) in a family book club. My mother described the book as being set in a future she didn’t quite understand, and I described the book as set in the past.
posted by kreinsch at 10:23 PM on December 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


He does “miss” periodically: the lack of mobile phones in the Sprawl trilogy

I just gotta point out what an implicitly impressive compliment it is to William Gibson that one can use the word "miss" here when describing a science fiction novel set in the near future. How often did anyone demand Asimov or McCaffrey or Robinson write a description of the future that's accurate in detail? I mean: LeGuin said, if you want to know what tomorrow will look like, don't ask us SF writers, because we can only tell you a fable about today.

It reminds me of how people complain that the National Weather Service forecast for next week predicted 2 inches of rain at 3:30 PM next Friday, but it turned out just overcast and drizzly -- like they've forgetten how vague and speculative the the local news weatherman was, a few decades ago.

I think even Gibson is really just looking at the present when he writes. "The future's already here, it's just not even distributed yet." So no mobiles in the Sprawl because ubiquitous cell phones required that the planet be on its way towards being blanketed in cell phone towers, which it wasn't in 1981.

On the other hand, Bruce Sterling is a guy who actually can see the future.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:23 AM on December 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


texting doesn’t even arrive in the Blue Ant books until the second one

I didn't see that as a flaw; Cayce Pollard simply doesn't text. Her phone is for work. Her friends are online.
posted by Merus at 12:40 AM on December 11, 2019


Gibson, Stephenson, and (Ian) McDonald all live in the same place in my brain with similar strengths and weaknesses in the Plot-Prose-Character triangle (diametrically opposite Rothfuss). I agree that their world building, while strong, always feels like it has an off-by-one error (except Dodge, which I concur was very bleh), but they are nevertheless usually worth reading (similar to eating ones vegetables).
posted by Marticus at 3:01 PM on December 11, 2019


i finally finished the article and thought to look up those jackets referenced early on - $2000 coats - so much for the street finds its uses for things
posted by kokaku at 2:20 AM on December 12, 2019


I have always loved reading Gibson's books. I think his prose isn't so much clunky as spare. He makes the reader fill in more frequent and larger gaps than many writers. Oddly he gets the most detailed when he contemplates objects or ideas. I suspect on some level he probably thinks like that. I tend to think like that as well and I love his use of ideas.

I think his characters use the term "Jackpot" a little ironically. They know the loss that brought about their incredible fortune and all seem broken by it. I imagine how 2 or 3 people that inherited Bezos wealth from some 9/11 sort of event would talk about that day among themselves. "Our lucky day" or "The Jackpot". Incidentally in our house we have started to refer to certain present day events and cituations as "The Jackpot has begun".
posted by The Violet Cypher at 1:26 PM on December 13, 2019


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