Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson
New York. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 2012. ISBN 9780399158438
When a leading science-fiction author publishes an anthology of essays entitled Distrust That Particular Flavor, one is relieved to find it is not exactly science fact, nor another book on weight loss or “dietics.” In spite of the promotional description on the inside flap, neither is the book a systematic guide to our times.
William Gibson, the godfather of “cyberpunk,” entertains with twenty-six pieces, written during a thirty-year span, often in response to requests to say “something interesting.” As different as they are in subject matter, a kind of skeptical humanism—the “Distrust” factor—provides a unifying thread. A human being emerges from inside the author.
Each essay is prefaced by a blue title page and dated, making even the most searching critiques of Singapore (a technological totalitarian society) or Japan (a society of solitude and small spaces) possibly fictitious. One understands why Gibson likes Borges.
The human who emerges is framed in two pictures: one of a lanky student lounging on a leather (or vinyl) sofa with a girl friend who presumably became his wife. It’s the 1970s and, as my father would say, “The boy needs a haircut.” A second color photo on the back cover features a short-cut gray head, rimless glasses, eyes focused on the camera lens in all seriousness. Also framing are green endpapers decorated with childish cartoons of this head, entitled “iPad Portraiture.”
Paged between the pictures and cartoons is the progress of a human and an author: the process of becoming a writer, of constituting a self from pieces of experience, of Steely Dan and film, from Disney to Takeshi Kitano, of reflecting on the Internet that he early imagined as cyberspace. What emerges is a fascination with small objects—a perfect spherical ball, an antique watch purchased on eBay—that dates back to his earlier hand-to-mouth days, when he was a “picker,” on the lookout for what might be “collectable” from Salvation Army shops and garage sales.
Gibson is still a sort of hunter-gatherer, storing up images of manga-dressed teens and anticancer “charms” on cell phones in Japan, of objects in a Soho shopwindow, of film sets in Toronto; at the same time he imagines objects and characters that might appear on a page. A purely creative self seems represented by the figure of “Garage Kubrick,” an urban hermit who builds digital landscapes almost from nothing.
Certainly that dream touches his own goal of detailing realities the reader never quite grasps, even while the reader believes in them. The essays help one see how science fiction builds on the present, how Gibson’s fiction replicates postmodern experience, especially the “endless digital Now” of the younger generation, who will someday simply and naturally interact with an environment of many smart tools and interfaces, replacing the screens large and small that presently hold us captive.
W. M. Hagen
Oklahoma Baptist University