"We are being shoved up against futurity with such violence that science fiction may become a historical term." -- William Gibson (MacClean’s June 5, 1995)
CYBER NOODLE SOUP #11
Cyber Noodle Soup is published from time to time, usually whenever we have a couple of pages of material. For copies send an SASE to Clark PO Box 2761 St. Paul, MN 55102. Back issues are on the Net at http://www.subsitu.com/cns/index.htm
The material in this issue originally appeared in INTERFERENCE ON THE BRAIN SCREEN #5. Copies are $3.00 or trade to the snail mail address above.
First up, an obscure interview…
Recently we had the chance to interview to interview one of the big guys of cyberpunk, William Gibson. In case you’ve been living in a cave, William Gibson is the author of such best-selling cyberpunk novels as "The Difference Engine", "Burning Chrome", "Mona Lisa Overdrive", and of course, the quintessential "Neuromancer", one of the catalyst/harbingers of the cyberpunk culture. And a pretty interesting guy to boot.
He certainly isn’t what you’d think he is from all his hard edged writing. He was dressed in a warm, comfy sweater, with a sensible pair of spectacles on. He talked with a peculiar drawl in his voice, choosing his words with patience, and we got to ask him about a number of things:
Cyber: "The first question I have for you is how did the success of "Neuromancer" change your life?"
Gibson: Well… I don’t know, it changed it in many ways, I mean for instance look at the picture on the back of "The Difference Engine", it was taken in what we call the "Neuromancer Memorial Kitchen" – it financed my house, everything. The money is spent.’
Cyber: "Do you want any of your books to become movies? Which ones?
Gibson: I’ve you have a million dollars to give me, I’ll give you the script for "Neuromancer" right now! We’ve been negotiating the rights to it, but really haven’t been able to come to a satisfactory deal with all the studios and everything involved. So right now, it’s on the shelf. About my other books? I think I just want to get this one out of the way first.
Cyber: "You have such detail-oriented work…do you think a movie or a broadway show or anything can contain the entirety of experience that a book has?
Gibson: "Well… I think that anytime you convert written fiction into film you get a dubious kind of result… Take "Terminator 2" for instance. I think the kind of scope you have in that story, plot-wise, is about the same as a short story, a very short story I think. I would like to get a film, I think a film based on a short story has a much better chance than a full length novel… right now I’m involved with some of that, we’ll see what comes of it."
Cyber: "What movies and groups are your current favorite?
Gibson: Movies? Well, lately I’ve seen "Rules of the Game" and "Key Largo", and I’m very much interested in seeing what Cronenberg has done with the "Naked Lunch", I really hope I get a chance to see that soon. Oh, I’m also looking forward to seeing "Until the End of the World". Uhh… listening to for this tour is the soundtrack to "Until the End of the World", and the latest "Teenage Fanclub" stuff. Oh, and I’ve also been listening to an album by "X", "Under the Big Black Sun. Does that help?"
Cyber: Yeah,… say, you mentioned the "Naked Lunch."
Gibson: "Uh-huh, I’ve heard a lot about the movie, and I like Peter Weller."
Cyber: " Well, the reason I ask is because the "Naked Lunch", the book was banished to the deepest, blackest corners of dirty bookstores. I read it when I was about 14, and later, when I gave it to one of my Senior High English teachers to read, he gave it back the next day like it was a dead fish, saying there was no meaning in it. Now, with the movie out, you can walk into any bookstore like this one here and buy a nice shiny yellow, redesigned appealing cover by a bunch of graphic artists to attract peoples attention. Its almost like "Batman", there’s "Making of Naked Lunch" and another movie, "Naked Making Lunch"… Do you think all of this mainstream exposure will detract from the book’s original power and meaning?"
Gibson: "You know, no, I don’t. That book will eat anybody’s soul who sits down with it. The way I got involved with it is that when I was young, about your age, I got to read some snippets of it in another book. It wasn’t until years later when I was in a pornographic bookstore in Sweden where I actually found it and got to completely read it, I’d already read "Ticket That Exploded", but this book really reached me… But you’re right, when I was in High School it was hardly available. But that book will outlive anything film-makers do with it. I hope every High School kid ends up taking home a brightly colored copy of it!"
Cyber: "How long did it take to write "Neuromancer"?"
Gibson: "Oh, years…30 years, I’d say. It was really the culmination of everything I’d learned and felt in my life up until I wrote it."
Cyber: "When you wrote it, did you know any actual hackers or phreakers? Did you get their advice?"
Gibson: "Well, no… There weren’t any years back when I wrote it. MacIntosh wasn’t even around, and it was all conjecture when I was writing this. It really just didn’t exist then."
Cyber: "Okay. What do you think about "Mondo 2000" and other cult magazines that have you as their idol? Is it wishful thinking, or are they on to something?"
Gibson: "Oh, Bruce (Sterling) is much more able to answer this question .. he lives for this. He had some other business, so he had to drop out of this tour. Well, I would have to say that Mondo was much more hip when it was "Reality Hackers Inc." – I still read it cover to cover, but all their enthusiasm for me makes me doubt their credibility a little. I think "Boing Boing" comes a lot closer to being a real hacker zine."
Cyber: "And what about "Cybervision"?
Gibson: "Oh, Cybervision beats them all. Definitely."
So that was our interview with Bill Gibson. I would not have imagined that he listens to "Teenage Fanclub" (bleh) and as far as no hackers or phreakers being around when he wrote "Neuromancer", well, sorry Bill, but WRONG! He was still a cool guy, though. We gave him a copy to give to Bruce Sterling, and he put it in an envelope, and addressed it right in front of us. So take care Bill, and stay plugged into the net, wherever you are.
[From Cybervision no. 2. No date but circa late 1991 – early 1992. Cybervision was a cyberpunk zine produced by Saint Vitus and Kid Thalidomide in St. Paul. MN. It was truly cool. This transcript makes no attempt to correct typos, errors, etc. that appeared in the original. Why should it?]
Gibson on Philip K. Dick…
…WITH A STRANGE DEVICE
column by William Gibson
Some Blues for Horselover Fat:
Some dozen years ago I sat on the grimy hardwood floor in a room that had once been the library of an elegant Toronto townhouse, the walls coated with uneven layers of art students’ white latex, a single bulb dangling from the center of an enormous plaster rosette intended to support a chandelier, and watched pale tendrils sprout from my dirty bare feet and take root in the cracks between the floorboards. That night my private picture show was being orchestrated by a substance that put Trumbull’s best efforts to shame; I’d eaten an eighth of a minute tab of a chemical the street knew as STP, variously alleged to be either an escaped Dow bid for Barefoot In The Head wars or a methedrine molecule dolled up with assorted baroque tails by a legendary California chemist…. None of the eight people who sampled it that night ever felt the least desire to go back for a second taste; I only mention it now to make a point. After that, we always referred to the night we did the PKD and spent the next 48 hours looking for the way home to Base Reality.
Now the writer we renamed the stuff after is dead, it’s been years since I’ve tripped on anything I’d have considered psychedelic in those days, and lately the late night news has been going form bad to weird…. I’m going to miss Mr. Dick, a man I never met.
Remarkable the number of Phil Dick’s fans who have no desire to read any other sf. It always impressed me. "Well, no, I don’t read that stuff…. But do you know this guy Dick?" How did they get on to him? Word of mouth…. He was the only product of the American genre sf scene you could give to hardened Burroughs and Pynchon fanatics without wincing a little. Because, at his best, he was truly Dread, the poplit equivalent of certain moments in rock when an improvised guitar line comes scything out at you like a snapped cable and cuts the mind-body dichotomy eight ways from Sunday…. Reading him, sometimes, I’d get this image: man typing at a kitchen table maybe, stoked on dex and twenty cups of coffee, typing fast; just making it all up, and somehow behind it all his admirable desire to drive us all, if only for a few seconds at a time, straight of our wretched minds.
So it’s ’82 already and I turned 34 today in a world more peculiar in its particulars than anything I could’ve dreamed up a decade ago. President Ronald Reagan. (Well, Ballard tried to warn us, he did….) Real bad Craziness is loosed again, my dears; the spook juice is flowing from the bunkers under McLean, that old CIA ectoplasm snaking down Nicaragua way to congeal in rancid jizzy clumps along another border…. Every species of Ugly Shit coughs and shuffles in the wings….
Times like these, a good hit of PKD shakes the scales from the tired eyes. Only we can’t get any more, now.
--Vancouver, March 17, 1982
Wing Window [Seattle fanzine] 1982: pp. 5-6.
[…on the other hand…]
"I never got into Phil Dick." - Science Fiction Eye 1987
"I think Dick was a marvelous writer, but he was totally bughouse."
- Journal Wired Fall 1990 (from a 1988 interview)
"Mr. Dick was never a big personal favorite of mine, and I suspect that what I got most get from Philip K. Dick is that distilled paranoia that is found in most of his writings."
- I-Zone [e-zine] May-June 1996.
At the flicks…
Checking Out of the New Rose Hotel
What is it about William Gibson-inspired movies? Are they cursed or something? First there was Johnny Mnemonic, a wretched film. Now along comes Abel Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel starring Willem Defoe, Christopher Walkin and Asia Argento. The project had been floating around for years through various screenwriters, studios and directors before finally being green-lighted. New York-based Ferrara is a good director and an interesting stylist. When word got out that he was handling the New Rose expectations were high. The film was completed in 1998 and played at the Venice Film Festival in September of that year before dropping out of sight. It screened again in NYC last Fall and has now emerged as a video. It’s been a long journey but, alas, not worth the wait.
Many studios will buy a published work, strip it for ideas, images, and broad concepts and then create a film that bares only a limited resemblance to the original (see Blade Runner). Sometimes the studio only buys the title (ditto Blade Runner). But that’s not the situation here. The screenplay by Chris Zois is absolutely slavish to Gibson’s original. Every element in the short story is faithfully reproduced right down to the very sentences Gibson used. Of course the story is only 15 pages long, too short for a full-length film. Zois beefs up the plot by examining the growth of the relationship between X (Defoe) and Sandii (Argento), an aspect that Gibson presented as given in his tale. It’s really the heart of the movie but it’s not that interesting to watch. Much more fun is Fox (Walkin) limping around on a cane, filled with schemes, sermonizing about the Edge but even that pales after awhile. The trio plots in a vague way -- if you hadn’t already read Gibson’s original you would have no idea what is going on. They watch lots of surveillance film of their target, Horoshi, the hot researcher of Maas Biolabs soon to be seduced by Sandii into defecting to Hosaka zaibatsu. X and Sandii have lots of dimly lit sex, go to dimly lit clubs, talk endlessly about their relationship. X negotiates with shadowy minions and Fox rants about the Edge.
This is not by any stretch of the imagination an "action" film. There is no action. Nor is it an "idea" film. Nor a "science fiction" film, whatever that means. The time in now, more or less. It’s not in anyway depicted as "the future" nor are there any special effects, reference to cyberspace or even the internet. It’s all very strange. Somebody could have made a generic industrial espionage/action film with the plot easily enough, either futuristic or contemporary. It might not have been very good but it probably would have been diverting enough. Ferrara wanted to do something different, apparently, though what he wanted do is a mystery. Perhaps by sticking so faithfully to Gibson’s complete story instead of just using the core ideas, he painted himself into a corner. The short story "New Rose Hotel" is essentially a slice-of-life in the feral near-future of Neuromancer. It’s completely descriptive and as a written work does very well, especially at its first publication in the early 80s when that sort of thinking was hot and new. By 1998 the world of "New Rose Hotel" is pretty much just our everyday world – except that corporations don’t actually engage in kidnapping and assassination, really they don’t. By refusing to set the film in a future society Ferrara and Zois give us no reason to suspend our disbelief.
Defoe and Walkin are serviceable enough but they have nothing to do in the film except talk. Argento is not a particularly good actress. She takes her clothes off from time to time when what little life the script has in it begins to seep away. There are no bright colors; mostly muted pastels or beige and white. Much of what we do see is through low-rez surveillance cameras or in dark places – not dark as in noir, dark as in "not enough lights." At 93 minutes it’s way too long. Indeed, the last 20 minutes or so are post-denouement with X alone in his sleep coffin at the New rose Hotel, experiencing dull flashbacks of what we have already seen once before or repeated scenes of X and Sandii having sex – shouldn’t that have been in the middle of the film instead of the end? You get the sneaking suspicion that when the film was finished Ferrara realized he didn’t have a full-length film and began looping outtakes to pad out the time. Really, that’s what it’s like.
I’m afraid I have to report that the latest Gibson project to hit the video stores is, essentially, boring. Maybe he is cursed.
All Tomorrow's Parties
There's no banging rhythm shaking the living room walls down. The bathroom has no queue, No couple having a furtive drunken grope in the parent's bedroom.
For a book called All Tomorrow's Parties, there are very few parties. What you get instead is a screw-up store clerk, a hologram with airs above her station, several nights in cardboard box with a homeless channel surfer and a carbon-fiber chisel in the spine for your trouble. Is it too late to check if the clubs are still letting people in?
Gibson's seventh novel forms the inadvertent third leg of the Virtual Light Trilogy and takes us back to the beginning, to the Bridge. It is not the same, the forces of commercialization have crept onto it, there are shops on the bridge, even a chain store, tourists make it a must see stop over. But underneath it all there is still a defiant squatter spirit, and more than this there is an anachronistic spirit of community.
The plot is somewhat defuse. Chevette from Virtual Light is on the run from an ex boyfriend, Carson, an obsessive and abusive television executive whom she met on the "Cops in Trouble" show. Laney, from Idoru, is hiding out in a Tokyo subway station, living in a cardboard city while descending into the last stages of a mental syndrome brought on by the experimental drug he was administered with as a youth.
Laney contacts Rydel and has him head back to San Francisco; somewhere amidst the nodal points Laney has managed to tease open, is the answer to a question which hardly has a shape yet, a question involving Harwood, a Public Relations giant, possibly the most powerful man on earth and a recipient of 5SB the same drug therapy that has been used on Laney.
On the way we reacquaint ourselves with Rei Toei, the Idoru and meet a new character, Konrad the Taoist assassin.
The breakthrough technology of this novel is the "nanofax", a device allowing you to scan an item on side of the world and have it duplicated at the other (sort of a 'transporting replicator'), but it isn't important to most of the plot. We also get the usual Gibsonian observations on the world; convenience store culture, the growth of far-eastern hegemony, the information economy and lots of typical detail about life in the information age.
What it is all amounts to, as we hurtle to the mother of nodal points, I really cannot say except that its a lot of fun, moves on at a fair clip and does not overstay its welcome.
This most certainly caps off the Virtual Light trilogy because, by the end of book, everything is so changed as to make writing another story set in the same milieu nigh impossible. What happens next lies on the other side of one of Vernor Vinge's "singularities".
What I find most enjoyable is Gibson's thorough renovation of the 'cyberspace' concept. He has abandoned the clunky virtual reality graphics of Virtual Light and embraced the concept of flow. Laney lies in his cardboard box with a pair of eyephones on, slipping into the stream, tying rivers of data together, slipping its knots apart, running it like a skein. The process, I believe bears a closer relation to the way Gibson himself treats information. It is evocative enough because of his delicate neon prose. But Vague enough that he will not find it (as he has in the Neuromancer Trilogy) a yoke on his neck for the rest of all time.
What All Tomorrows Parties actually seems to be about is Gibson's love of the margins, the gaps where Mainstream culture is not. But also his regret that, as media swallows everything in sight, these margins are shrinking by the moment. And his optimism that they may yet survive, even in a thoroughly informationalized society.