Monday, October 11, 2010

My world turns with an audible click...

William Gibson used to be a writer of science fiction. In the '80s, writing on a manual typewriter, he coined the term "cyberspace" in the near-future trilogy that began with the book Neuromancer. His second set of three books, beginning with Virtual Light, was set in an even nearer future: our world, but balkanized and seemingly suffering from some global depression that had emphasized the gulf between the haves and the have-nots, with some prototype nanotechnology thrown in to give it that "SF" flavor. And this most recent trilogy is only "science fiction" in the sense that we are right now living in a pretty science fiction world.

I just finished reading the third book in that set, Zero History. It was a little poignant to see the word "iPhone" on the page of a William Gibson novel...

What caught me even more off-guard was something that happened on page 213:
"Sleight had arranged for us to have a look at a garment prototype. We'd picked up some interesting industry buzz about it, though when we got the photos and tracings, really, we couldn't see why. 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. Or the ones who are actually having to be soldiers, of course. But many of the rest have gone gear-queer, to one extent or another."
You expect this from Mike Williamson or Larry Correia or even Oh John Ringo No, because they are, when it comes down to it, us. They're as immersed in the internet gun culture as their readers are. But William Gibson? He's an auteur from the Pacific Northwet who whiffs faintly of patchouli at times.

I was a moderator at GlockTalk almost ten years ago when one "Gecko_45" showed up and posted a bizarre thread that has now injected a piece of jargon so deeply into the cultural zeitgeist that it has bubbled to the surface as an actual plot element in the latest novel by probably the most literary and laser-gun-free SF author writing. Weird.

Anyhow, fantastic book. Recommend!

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonder where Gibson sourced his research? I'd say chances are pretty good his eyeballs landed right here at some point in the process.

We haz contemporary realism! No longer SF...SR?

AT

TBeck said...

"Gear-queer" LOL! I look up that thread once a year, in fact I read it last night after Caleb posted about an RTF patch on Facebook. Mike Williamson even features Gecko45's near future stunt double in BETTER TO BEG FORGIVENESS.

Anonymous said...

I think Gibson's always done his gun stuff pretty well, from the worn .38 revolver, fanciful caseless HK with a floating breech and rubber chunker from Virtual Light, to the sawed off shotgun built in Johnny Mnemonic, to the sniper rifle and Glocks of Spook Country or the RPK of Zero History.

I agree, great book. I wish he'd wrote one more than one every three or four years, though.

Matt
St Paul

Anonymous said...

Gear-queer is new, but I've heard "gear slut" for over a decade.

In Better to Beg Forgiveness by Michael Z. Williamson, mall ninjas show up and save Our Heroes' bacon.

TBeck said...

I asked Mike about that scene and he readily admitted that it was a tribute to Gecko45, even down to the rapid response golf cart. But let's not forget Gecko45's comrade SpecOps, who informed us that one instance of experimentation in the military does not make one a homosexual!

Tam said...

"In Better to Beg Forgiveness by Michael Z. Williamson, mall ninjas show up and save Our Heroes' bacon."

Yes, that would be why I obliquely referenced that. ;)

Joanna said...

Maybe it's weird to you, but it's my normal. Think about it: If he published Neuromancer in 1984, and the writing process probably took a couple years ...

That means the word "cyperspace" is older than I am.

tom-the-impaler said...

Gear queer is a "current" term here in Oklahoma, I've heard it about 10 years ago in reference to policemen who accumulate too much tac stuff for the comfort of run-of-the-mill officers.

The term Cosplay leaped out at me as a term used in the anime segment of sf/fantasy fandom, and is actually Japanese in origin I think though the root words costume and play are loaned (duh) from English

Tam said...

"That means the word "cyperspace" is older than I am."

Now you cut that out right now! :p

Anonymous said...

Agree, very good read! There were a few more references that spoke of either great research or personal experience. Note that the taser sequence was quite possible.

Interesting that his time frame seems to be getting closer. IIRC, Dean Ing did much the same thing.

Al T.

the gripping hand said...

"Oh John Ringo No"? Is this meme-train I haven't boarded yet?

The Jack said...

Gripping Hand:

Paladin Of Shadows

Not his best work.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PaladinOfShadows

Rabbit said...

Geez, Joanna. You sure know how to kill a good buzz.

I'm going back to work on my PDP-7 and Bell Labs UNIX now. Maybe I should get around to throwing out this box of old Christmas cards from Thompson and Ritchie.

Back later. My 10MB Winchester drive seems to have walked away from the wall and unplugged its cable again.

Joanna said...

My work here is done. I'll get off all y'all's lawns now. XD

Tam said...

Joanna,

Actually, what I thought was "weird" was the fact that the term "mall ninja" had escaped into the wider world.

But you did give me an idea for another post, about how little has really changed in our lifetimes. The only two really big paradigm shifts have been the intertubes and the ubiquity of mobile phones. And those both happened within your lifetime, too. ;)

DirtCrashr said...

Time-dilation?

Parallel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Parallel said...

Hey Rabbit -- your Winchester couldn't have been 10MB. The design target for the first IBM 3340 drives was two removable 30 megabyte modules, hence 30-30. :-)

wv "messed": I messed up my first attempt to comment on this thread.

Joanna said...

Tam,

I got the mobile phone thing when I noticed that in Fight Club, Jack calls Tyler on a pay phone instead of a cell. And that movie's only a about 10 years old, give or take.

The weirdest part for me is that I'm on the bleeding edge of the big changes; "normal" for me -- in terms of what to expect from society at large -- seems to be on the far side of a sharp divide between what came before and what comes now.

Also I should point out that all I did was make an age joke. I'm not the one who linked to TV Tropes. Jack. *shakes fist*

Standard Mischief said...

>"That means the word "cyperspace" is older than I am."

Just checkin', 'cause ISBN:0471978612 was published in 1989. A spelling mistake or a weird portmanteau of 'cyberspace' and 'cypherpunk'?

>I think Gibson's always done his gun stuff pretty well..

Agreed. if he's not a closet 3%-er or mall ninja up there Vancouver (unlikely) then it's obvious he knows how to do his research. I cringed every single time in Josh's Firefly.

>...cultural zeitgeist...

;-)

Joanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanna said...

Just checking: It's a typo.

Via Wikipedia:

"The word "cyberspace" (from cybernetics and space) was coined by science fiction novelist and seminal cyberpunk author William Gibson in his 1982 story "Burning Chrome" and popularized by his 1984 novel Neuromancer."

I was born in 1983.

The Jack said...

Now now, all I did was help someone board the meme-train. Where said train takes them is their buisness.

I do remember going from a family computer with no internet to gettting dialup from one of the small local providers. That they had a local phone number and had flat rate pricing was what sold the service.

As for the cell phone I only got one three years ago.

Matt G said...

Gibson changed the whole scene of science fiction for this young Heinlein reader, upon my reading of a beat-up copy of Neuromancer that my HS girlfriend gave me in 1989. I immediately started gobbling up his other stuff.

I remember thinking how it was proper that a warrior on a tugship would keep an ancient old cut-down Remington auto shotgun behind a service panel. Just the thing.

Also, in Virtual Light, he presents a revolver in an early scene that is never used by the final act, thereby foregoing literary convention, but far more accurately reflecting reality.

Anonymous said...

Matt G, that's the revolver I meant-the one brought up by the bridge tender and given to Skinner, who is advised to lose it if he has to use it...

Matt
St Paul

Tam said...

Actually, the revolver use I most loved in the Bridge Trilogy was in All Tomorrow's Parties, when Konrad borrows Fontaine's Model 34 and takes out a handful of paramilitary assassins and then returns the heater with a couple of rounds still in the chamber.

That's also the novel that gave me a hankerin' for Bud Nealy knives...

aczarnowski said...

I'm feeling a bit adrift in all the cross referencing. I clearly have to re-read my Gibson and make retaining it a bit higher priority.

Mirrored glasses, a bicycle that lights up would be thieves and a floating electronic head reached via rasta spacemen wrapped up in distopian grime and humanity is all I'm floating on right now.

Lawrence Person said...

I am curious as to whether anything actually happens in Zero History. I'm a big fan of his work an unmatched prose-style, but Pattern Recognition was very close to an exquisitely written novel of excruciating tedium...

Tam said...

"I am curious as to whether anything actually happens in Zero History."

A thinly-disguised Erik Prince is the antagonist...

Noah D said...

I remember thinking how it was proper that a warrior on a tugship would keep an ancient old cut-down Remington auto shotgun behind a service panel. Just the thing.

"I an' I's the Rastafarian Navy!"

Loved that bit.

James family outpost, Iowa. said...

Thanks Tam, for alerting me that the new Gibson book was out, I never look for the new release, that got frustrating waiting for Virtual Light. Now I just wait for the book to find me. His book signing found me too, visiting a pal in Washington D.C. and he handed me a flier for a book store in Dupont Circle. Signed copies of Idoru made Christmas shopping easy that year.

JC said...

Don't forget "The Difference Engine", the steampunk collaboration with Bruce Sterling.

Scott said...

"The Difference Engine" is the "Most Ut," if you know what I mean...(ref to Rosie on the Jetsons). I think that I first read Gibson in Omni magazine, when I was in College. Yes, I am that old. I am a bonafide C&R now.

D.W. Drang said...

You watch where you point that "Pacific Northwet" business...

Ancient Woodsman said...

Model 34 with a "couple rounds still in the chamber"?? How does that work?

You were typing pretty fast on that one, as this is a wonderful discussion. Thank you for hosting such a literate blog.

I didn't get Neuromancer until the early 90's, but had been out of college quite some time, started a career and been long married by then. Coming here tonight gave me a case of "ain't you old"s.


WV: stenalli - Salvador with a Sten? Does it melt in the shooter's hands?

Tam said...

Ancient Woodsman,

"Model 34 with a "couple rounds still in the chamber"?? How does that work?"

Heh. My brain said "cylinder" but my fingers typed "chamber". ;)

I'll go abase myself in front of my "no-dash" Kit Gun to make amends. :D

Lewis said...

The sky was the color of a television tuned to a dead channel.

Man, I remember reading that line like it was only yesterday. This was probably the late 80s, but it set a hook into me like nobody's business. Probably one of my favorite modern authors, I associate Gibson himself most strongly with his cameo as himself in "Wild Palms" (the line about "they never let me forget I coined cyberspace") and a rueful comment in an interview that, yeah, he completely missed the whole cell phone thing.

Sometimes lately it's seemed like he's refined all the final residues of human emotion out of his work. That's probably what he's going for, but I kind of miss it, being a warm and fuzzy type of guy myself.

The sky was the color of a television . . . .

Tam said...

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

That may be the single most evocative sentence out of any SF book I've ever read to this day; it's the "Call me Ishmael" of cyberpunk...

Lergnom said...

My first exposure to Gibson was 'Burning Chrome'in Omni, about the same time I was devouring Shadowrun novels. I followed his stuff up to 'The Difference Engine' and got sidetracked with real life(no excuse, I know). His stuff reminds me of Spider Robinson's non-Callahans stories.

Andrew Weitzman said...

One of the other seminal figures of the cyberpunk movement--Bruce Sterling--has also moved in a similar direction. I recall one instance where a tale meant as near-future SF ended up being a factual thriller by the time it was published; he had accurately predicted the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian/Azerbaijani conflict several months before it broke out IRL.

Sterling in particular has a very good handle on modern pop culture and the weirder trends of fin de siecle 20th century and early 21st society.

zeeke42 said...

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

It's kind of funny that to people not much younger than me, this will seem to say that the sky was blue.

Anonymous said...

Vintage Gibson is still great reading, but after Spook Country was published I vowed never to buy another Gibson book as an Amazon pre-release. It is a shame that he has traded in a clear vision of the future for marketing drivel. During an interview he defended this shift, but I feel that he is just going through the motions now.

JT said...

A couple uses of "cyberpunk" (distinct from "cyberspace") always prompts me to recommend fans of the genre to look up Bruce Bethke, coiner of the term. Awesome guy, great writer, I think you'd love his stuff, Tam (assuming you haven't already found it, that is).

His "State of the Union" post is NOT to be missed.

Matt said...

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

That may be the single most evocative sentence out of any SF book I've ever read to this day; it's the "Call me Ishmael" of cyberpunk...


If you really want to feel old, ponder the fact that people who think that evocative phrase means "the sky was deep fluourescent blue" can now vote, drink, and teach in public schools. The _second_ generation that thinks this will start entering kindergarten soon.