September 18, 2012

William Gibson says science fiction is almost always wrong


In an extensive series of interviews with Wired, William Gibson, author of Neuromancer and Zero History, delves deeply into the tropes of his adopted writing style.

Most particularly, he dismisses the reputation of science fiction writers to accurately predict the future.  Rather, he says,

“I think the least important thing about science fiction for me is its predictive capacity. Its record for being accurately predictive is really, really poor! If you look at the whole history of science fiction, what people have said is going to happen, what writers have said is going to happen, and what actually happened — it’s terrible. We’re almost always wrong.”

He ascribes this focus on forewarning and prediction to media and marketing.

“Unfortunately, the predictive part is traditionally a large part of how we market science fiction and the people who write it. “Listen to her, she knows the future.” It’s a really ancient kind of carny pitch, but it’s not what I think science fiction really does. I think science fiction gives us a wonderful toolkit to disassemble and reexamine this kind of incomprehensible, constantly changing present that we live in, that we often live in quite uncomfortably. That’s my idea of our product, but it’s not necessarily a smart publicist’s idea of my product.”

In reality, his writing reflects the odd and fractured reality of the present, only heightened.

“By the end of All Tomorrow’s Parties, which was my sixth novel, I was starting to be haunted by a feeling that the world itself was so weird and so rich in cognitive dissonance, for me, that I had lost the capacity to measure just how weird it was.

Without a sense of how weird the present is — how potentially weird the present is — it became impossible for me to judge how much weirder I should try to make an imagined future. And so those last three books were — whatever else they were — were me building myself a new yardstick for the weirdness of the decade we’ve gone through while I was writing those books.”

If you’re slightly disappointed by this real talk from one of your favorite science fiction authors, go ahead and watch the deliciously jarring No Map for these Territories, a prolonged conversation with Gibson, directed by Mark Neale, where the author sits and smokes in the back of a limousine going nowhere.


Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.