Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 28, 2021

Adelaide Writers Week: The Future is Now with William Gibson, chaired by James Bradley

William Gibson, guest of Adelaide Writers Week, is the author of a series of novels which are prescient about the future.  Neuromancer (1984) is listed in 1001 Books You Must Read. 

This is the festival description of the event, which was streamed live on 28/2/21:

The man who invented “cyberspace”, William Gibson is one of the most influential writers of our time. From his ground-breaking debut novel Neuromancer, to his latest bestseller Agency, he was the first to imagine a computer-saturated existence, grounded in an all-too-material world, and to anticipate its implications. The philosophies and practicalities of the near futures of his books stem from a deep and fascinated engagement with the present, as embodied in his most famous aphorism: “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Gibson began by reading from The Peripheral (2014).  I can’t say that this was a good idea.  He was not a great reader.  And if it answered the question that Bradley asked, I missed it.

The session was hard work for a listener.  It was slow and ponderous, and Gibson’s answers went on in a monologue for a long time.  We could occasionally see Bradley on stage reading through his notes, perhaps trying to reframe his questions to keep the conversation on track when it wasn’t going the way that was expected.  (I’ve never had this happen to me as a chair but I can see how difficult it must be.)

It looked quite different to Sisonke Msimang in conversation with Maaze Mengiste at the Perth Festival where though in different parts of the world, they seemed to be in conversation, looking at each other and responding to each other as friends do when chatting about books f2f.

Bradley tried to steer Gibson towards an understanding that not everyone in his audience (including me) was intimately familiar with the books.

One thing he said which did make sense to me was that (although SF is not predictive) as technology develops eventually all SF becomes redundant—but becomes instead a way of seeing how people in the past viewed the future.

The other thing that made sense to me was that at the time that Gibson wrote Neuromancer, the Cold War meant that there was always a risk of nuclear war between the US and the USSR and mutually assured destruction of the planet.  For his generation, there was always the fear that the world would end, so writing a book about the future, even a dystopia, was actually an optimistic thing to do.  Gibson feels that young people do not understand this aspect of what life was like then.  I understand why he says this, but I don’t think it’s fundamentally different to the contemporary fear of climate change making our world uninhabitable and the sense of frustration that no one is doing what needs to be done to prevent it.

However, it was obvious from the questions, that enthusiasts enjoyed the session very much.

Oddly enough, though I didn’t find this session satisfactory, it did make me want to read the book…

 

 

 


Responses

  1. I love William Gibson! I have all his books. The Peripheral and Agency have to be read in that order. The later books are quite ‘straight’ though those two involve a form of time travel. The earlier cyber-punk books are more interesting and more inventive (IMO of course)

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    • You would have loved this session!

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  2. I too was similarly frustrated! I found it hard to hear, and wished that Gibson had been more direct in his responses. I do enjoy his writing, though. Maybe he’s just not good in interviews – not all writers are great at public speaking (which explains, perhaps, why they are writers …)

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    • Yes, I thought of that too. I saw a video once of a young writers talking about how as an introvert she was paralysed by fear when she was expected to get out there and market herself.
      But Gibson, well he’s obviously old enough to know whether he’s capable of delivering a good performance or not!

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  3. It’s always painful when people have difficulty publuc speaking. I’m not familiar with his books but of course don’t read much in this genre. Sounds like you enjoyed the Adelaide Writers week overall.

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    • There’s more to come. I’m booked in for a couple more events later this week.

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