The William Gibson Interview

Playboy World Wide Web Exclusive

The following phone interview was conducted for the Playboy Web Site on August 30, 1996.

PLAYBOY: Idoru takes place in the same reality as "Virtual Light." Is this a sequel?

GIBSON: As they say in science fiction, it's set in the same universe, but it's not a sequel in terms of directly carrying through any of the action of the previous book. A couple of the characters will be familiar to people who read Virtual Light.

PLAYBOY: In Johnny Mnemonic, you created a future where corporations rule. Is that fiction or prediction?

GIBSON: Actually it's pretty much the world we're living in. I think we're several steps further in that direction than we were when I wrote Johnny Mnemonic all these many years ago. There's nothing left now but mostly multinational capitalism. The nation states are hanging on, but I sometimes wonder how much longer that will last.

PLAYBOY: What is your fascination with Japan and how did it start?

GIBSON: I don't know exactly. I can't really answer the first half of that because I just am fascinated by it, but I'm sure it started because when I started writing, I was living in Vancouver where I still live and this is very much a Pacific rim city. There's a Japanese presence here and we're as conscious in some ways of what's going on around the Pacific rim as we are of what's going on back east in North America.

PLAYBOY: When you were in Singapore, you said you didn't see a single bad girl. Is Molly a bad girl?

GIBSON: Yes, she is in the sense that I was using that in the sort of semi-erotic sense that. . . she has excess fashion attitude. She's gone to sort of elective surgery to express her 'tude.

PLAYBOY: Where did cyberspace come from? What does it mean?

GIBSON: I coined the word cyberspace in 1981 for a short story called "Burning Chrome," and it's in the opening couple of paragraphs. At the time, I didn't have a very clear idea of what I was going to try to make it mean. But I do remember sitting with a blank sheet of paper and a typewriter going to dataspace and infospace and a couple of other clunkers, and then coming to cyberspace thinking it sounds as though it means something. Actually I think it was probably more fun for me when I was still able to look at it and wonder what it meant. When I look at it today, I know more or less what it means, and I have to wonder what the implications are -- which is a different thing.

PLAYBOY: What about cyberpunk?

GIBSON: Cyberpunk, on the other hand, was a sort of journalistic/literary critical label that someone else, we're not quite sure who, coined. But it was applied to what I and a bunch of other newer SF writers were doing in the early '80s. And I was immediately worried by it. A lot of the other writers were younger and sort of delighted by it, by and large. And I said, no, it's a label. Labels are dangerous things and they said, yeah, but we can sew it on the back of our jacket. Then you'll be wearing it for the rest of your life. And indeed they are and indeed I am. I kind of wince when it comes up actually.

PLAYBOY: What are some uses of cyberpunk for the uninitiated?

GIBSON: What you can really use it for these days is as a kind of flavor identifier in popular culture. You can say, well, did you see that video?

"No, what's it like?"

" It's totally cyberpunk. It's kind of retro cyberpunk."

People know what you mean. "It looks like Blade Runner." Or you can say, "Yeah, those trousers are way cyberpunk," and for certain trousers, it would probably work.

PLAYBOY: How does it feel to have coined a word that has became almost universal? It must be an extraordinary feeling to have influenced the whole language.

GIBSON: It's funny, I don't have anything to compare it to, so I don't really know how it feels. It's been my career, you know. For the most part, it's amusing and I do sort of look forward to the attribution. Most dictionaries do not yet have the attribution, but eventually they'll run a little quote. But a few of them, notably the Oxford English Dictionary said, "Oh, yes, we know that's your word and when we eventually bring out another full scale edition, we'll quote your first use of it."

PLAYBOY: Lots of people might find it ironic that you wrote Neuromancer on a typewriter.

GIBSON: The typewriter that I actually wrote that stuff on was a Hermes 2000, which is like a very Ernest Hemingway sort of war-correspondent-for-the-Spanish-Civil-War machine, from my wife's step-grandfather who was a journalist. I still have it, but it doesn't work. I was hunting around to find somebody who could fix the machine when this little mechanical part finally broke and they no longer made that part. So I eventually gave up on it and got an Apple II. One of the guys in the typewriter store said, "Well, I can order you one of those. They still make it. It's exactly the same machine, it just has a different case or a molding around the mechanism." But he said it would cost more than a computer.

PLAYBOY: It wasn't even an electric typewriter?

GIBSON: I never had an electric typewriter. When I started writing -- when I coined the word cyberspace -- the absolute top of the line professional writing machine in the world was an IBM Selectric with a couple of type balls, and that's what everybody aspired to. But I could never have afforded one of those things. Today those things are like landfill. Literally. I've seen fifty working Selectrics piled up like dead cockroaches in the back of a university clearance warehouse.

PLAYBOY: Anything else headed for the movies or TV?

GIBSON: Neuromancer is in the very, very early stages of film development. It was announced, albeit rather quietly, in the trades a couple of months ago, but there's really nothing in place. It's in that beautiful pre-pre production limbo where it's all talk and possibility. The realities of the process have not yet locked on. But it's such a complicated project and the time it takes to do science fiction movies! The ironic thing is the optimal delivery on that I think would be 2001. So people shouldn't hold their breath.