William Gibson writes about his evolution as a science fiction writer in his recent non-fiction book; first an admirer of HG Welles’ work, such as ‘Time Machine’- a movie I watched a few years back with excellent special effects; but Gibson is wary of this type of fiction writing; a forecasting effort, something like predicting the future, a feat that George Orwell achieved in his book ‘1984’ (or was it a warning shot?). Instead Gibson was attracted by the works of ‘beat’ writers like William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, writers who often write about alcohol and drugs, or living in the edge of experience; for instance - Burroughs accidentally shooting his wife dead, or his life in Tangiers or Kerouac on the road and dying of alcohol abuse; writers who focus on chemically induced transcendence. The influence of HG Welles, Burroughs and Kerouac results in the interesting mix in Gibson’s work; avoiding the predictive ‘flavor’ of Welles though with enough elements of forecasting to qualify as science fiction; with living in the edge quality derived from altered insights; reminiscent of chemical hallucinations from the stories of the beat writers – themselves a forerunner of a new type of writing, futuristic in itself (i.e. spontaneous stream of consciousness).
Lying in the background is the immense influence of George Orwell, a better ‘futuristic’ writer than Aldous Huxley; Orwell is a giant, not an ordinary novelist who rushes out to scribble but one who establishes a central theme relevant to society; then crafting the appropriate literary vehicle to expound his views: poverty in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, imperialism in ‘Burmese Days’, politics in ‘Animal Farm’ and totalitarianism in ‘1984’. Despite his meager output, Orwell remains relevant today because he accurately pinpointed the important issues of the age, crafting wonderful plots with excellent humorous writing, influencing artists everywhere (see Apple computers first Super bowl commercial). Orwell insights in ‘1984’ influenced Gibson one thinks, himself a circumspect writer not known for prodigious output like Stephen King, but with a minimal, almost ascetic and elegant style, who did not strive to predict the future but enough to foresee the coming age, to coin terms like ‘cyberspace’ and write about pattern recognition, Soviet martial arts, Cuban spies, computerized intelligence gathering, Japanese anime, drone surveillance and other esoteric subjects way ahead of its time; indicative of carefully research and reflection reminiscent of Orwell.
One reads Gibson to make sense of the new age, of technology, or to understand the trends surfacing in the world, someone who sees future markers before anyone else; Japan as the future state, Singapore as totalitarian Disneyland, the internet as a vehicle that cultivates solitary experts, or as a global nervous system (where dead people remain alive), an expert in cool trends (guerilla fashion, ‘avant garde’ videos). His essay show the thinking behind the writer, derived from a unique perspective or an altered state of consciousness; a contemporary attuned to modern tastes; his appreciation of the music of ‘Steely Dan’ for example, identifies him amongst the cool hackers of today, writing for ‘Wired’ magazine, give him street cred. William Gibson is maybe today’s George Orwell, a writer living within the complications of his age, where the big issues lie buried in the infrastructure, with pattern recognition the needed skill to decipher reality. His journey through the worlds of Burroughs and Kerouac kept him remarkably intact, perhaps more so than writers like Hunter Thompson; avoiding the excess and chemical indulgences that this type of writing induces; a continuation of Hemingway’s hedonism; but instead emerging as a modern seer from this psychedelic mixture.