Gibson talks, and whets appetites for Spook.
Think you know William Gibson, Vacouver speculative-fiction author, father of cyberpunk? He recently sat down with the Straight to discuss his new, ninth novel, Spook Country (G.P. Putnam's Sons, $32.50), and we learn”¦
1. Spook Country concerns, among many other things, a mysterious shipping container. To keep their ill-gotten gains, its owners seem to have enormous resources–weapons, gadgets, militia–at their disposal. How do we counter such vast evil? "I hope I will never have the kind of editorial function," Gibson replies, "where you ask me, 'How do we counter such vast evil?'”¦The worst-case scenario for me would be if I became the kind of writer who went, 'Well, since you asked, I have a 10-point program here and we're going to fix all this shit. There won't be any more. It'll become William Gibson's War on Stupidity.' I don't think it's going to work. I'm desperately trying to stay away from the didactic."
2. So the author chooses not to control his characters. A rich Belgian marketing spook from Pattern Recognition returns. Did Gibson mean to revive him? "It wasn't my intent when I started the book. It was like they climbed over the wall and started doing a better job than the lead characters I'd invented.”¦My daughter finally convinced me not to be ashamed to be a sucker for returning characters.”¦Her position was that I was fallaciously assuming that a novel is like a feature, that narrative fiction is like feature film. But why isn't narrative fiction like Deadwood?”¦The more I'm not in control of these narratives, the better it seems to be for everyone concerned."
3. The author chooses not to control his readers either. "The author has to trust the reader. In some way it's a social obligation. And as the reader, you know when that social thing is being violated by the writer, and it's not a good thing. It's not good. There are extraordinary cases where that's what it's about. Beckett, right? That's what you go there for. The guy's going to put sand in your scrambled eggs. But I'm not going to do that."
4. No? Given Gibson's esoteric interests–Spook Country mines high-tech surveillance, locative art, and revolutionary messianism–he's an unlikely bestseller. In previous books, he acknowledges he tried to put readers off: "I thought it might unconsciously be that I'm trying to get rid of all the boring readers. Like, you know? 'I'm going to give you two pages of heightened language from some intricately complex, unreliable point of view and if you can't dig it, you should go find something else.'" With Spook, he took a different tack: "I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to reverse this. I'm going to open with Hollis, who's mysterious but recognizably human. You don't have to wonder whether or not she's an android or a god or something. So I'll go with her.' I don't know if there will ever be any feedback”¦"
5. What about Gibson's survivor characters, with their preternatural poise? Spook's protagonists–among them a former rock star, an Ativan addict, and a Yoruban gangster–never lose their cool. What makes them so self-confident? "I suspect that initially I did characters like that because I needed them to reassure me. Like, I needed characters that would sort of parent me. And then maybe it worked. I think I gradually came to have a little more confidence in the world-view that these characters are espousing."
6. Do the contents of the container ultimately matter? What do the situationists have to do with Gibson's last two books? What West Side greasy spoon is the model for the final scene? Why is Spook Country most like Count Zero? For answers to these and more, come ask Gibson when he appears at the CBC Radio Studio One Book Club on September 6. For free tickets, visit www.cbc.ca/bc/bookclub/.