Ottawa X-Press Sept. 22, 1993

Ottawa X-Press cover, Sept. 22, 1993

(colour shot of Gibson leaning over a combination ad/bike rack, headline: "William Gibson's reality". The ad is blacked out, and the following Virtual Light quote inserted over top:

There was a product called Kil'Z that Rydell had gotten too know at the Academy. It smelled, but faintly, of some ancient hair-tonic, flowery and cool, and you used it in situations where considerably bodily fluids had been spilled. It was an anti-viral agent, capable of nuking HIV's 1 through 5, Crimean Congo, Mokola fever, Tarzana Dengue, and the Kansas city flu. He smelled it now, as the IntenSecure man used a black anodyzed passkey to open the door into 1015.)

by Mark Shepherd

William Gibson is staring at a black sculpture on the ground level of the World Exchange Plaza, a extremely upscale shopping site in the heart of downtown Ottawa. Not only is Rinaldo, Mila Mulroney's hairdresser here, so too are bike couriers, as the Plaza often serves as an informal hangout, if not backdrop.

It's a particularly interesting piece: narrow see-through tubes moulded into the sculpture hold souvenirs of Hong Kong, and printed circuit boards are pasted onto the edges of it.

"This is very cool, great, very Gibsonian," he intones, as he gazes intensely at his surroundings. Earlier in the afternoon Gibson was entertaining fans down at the House of Speculative Fiction on Fourth Avenue in the Glebe, a moderately affluent section which juts across Bank Street.

About seventy fans, mostly university students in leather jackets and jeans, showed up for autographed copies of Gibson's latest novel, _Virtual Light_. A man from the Tea Room next door to the small book store vainly tries to give away samples of Arctic Fire" tea and is promptly ignored. A CBC camera crew hovers at the bottom of the stairs, asking emerging fans what cyberpunk is.

William Gibson is widely considered to be the father of "cyberpunk", dark novels about hi-tech computer bohemians and underground renegades. His first novel, _Neuromancer_, bears the singular distinction of winning the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards, a veritable "grand slam" of SF honours. _Virtual Light_ is his first published work in nearly three years.

Gibson and I sit down at a cappuccino bar and chat briefly over coffee. Gibson orders a latte, and I have the same.

XPress: What are your impressions of Ottawa? Have you visited the city before?

William Gibson: I've never been here before. It seems like a more pleasant place than I would have expected of a 'company town'. There are an awful lot of people walking around looking like my idea of Canadian bureaucrats but I suppose that's to be expected.

X: With Virtual Light you've taken a more different, subtle approach to writing, do you feel the book is significantly different than what you've written before?

WG: When I gave the publisher the proposal for it a couple of years ago I said it was supposed to be like an Elmore Leonard novel set in the early twenty-first century. It also has a lot of peculiar agendas running simultaneously, one of them being to deconstruct and poke fun at a lot of my earlier work or at least a perception of it. I don't think it's too much of a departure - I'm really happy with how it turned out.

X: There was never any pressure to write a more technology-oriented novel from the publisher, like writing another hook-filled story like Neuromancer?

WG: I'm sure it would have delighted the publishers, but no, I don't want to write Neuromancer again. I think it would be great if somebody wrote Neuromancer for the 90s, as long as it doesn't have to be *me*.

(cut was a follow-up - did Gibson feel that Neal Stephenson had achieved that distinction? His reply: He's capable of it, but Gibson didn't like it when he felt that in _Snow Crash_, Stephenson was intent on telling him how much he knew about computers)

X: How about other writing friends of yours? Anyone in the Vancouver area, like Doug Coupland, or perhaps Nick Bantock or Brian Fawcett?

WG: No, the only one I know is Coupland, and I've only known him for a couple of months, I didn't even realize that he *lived* in Vancouver. When I started writing in 1976, I didn't have any friends in Vancouver who were like Vancouver writers. Coupland is a wonderful guy, he's a relentlessly creative individual, he's always making something, a lot of art, particularly, he takes it as seriously as his writing. Last time I saw him he was making life-sized human skulls out of white Lego bricks, very very detailed and amazing.

X: Do you have a final answer to 'is the cyberpunk phenomenon dead, should it ever have existed'?

WG: Yeah, I've got a new answer. A decade ago, cyberpunk was a literary term but today, the first definition of it should be of or pertaining to "bohemia with computers", or the "underground with computers". As to what it is, it's like, "who are these people?" I mean, I've never met any real cyberpunks. The closest I've come is people who like to dress up like cyberpunks, well, hackers, you meet people like Phiber Optik, he dresses like a little hip-hop kid, who wears his baseball cap backwards and has baggy pants, he doesn't look like a cyberpunk, but I think we can't really see what it's like now, and I suspect in fifty years that cyberpunk will be seen as the precursor to something much bigger. It's like a beatnik in a coffeehouse, which in and of itself is not that exciting, but is considered a vital link to things like the Beatles and LSD and so forth. Cyberpunk isn't a big deal now but it may lead to something bigger in the future. It's not going to come about until user interfaces have evolved so that there's no learning curve in accessing the Net.

X: How's the screenplay for "Johnny Mnemonic" coming along? Is it in production yet?

WG: It's in pre-production. When I was in Toronto, the director, a producer and a storyboard guy were holed up in a hotel doing the most *amazingly great* sketches for what it's going to look like. It would not look like Blade Runner. It's like the people working it all have tattoos that say "not like Blade Runner".

X: How exactly would you go about doing that? Blade Runner is pretty firmly established as the cyberpunk film canon.

WG: Well one thing you do is everything's overlit...

X: Make everything ultrabright?

WG: Yeah. It looks kind of like Akira, only the characters don't have those *big eyes*? It's quite violent.

X: Who's directing it? Did Abel Ferrara take the project?

WG: Abel Ferrara might be making a film of "New Rose Hotel", but I don't want anything to do with it. "Johnny Mnemonic" is happening because Robert Longo, the painter, has wanted to make a feature film for a long time. Val Kilmer's signed to star, and the bad guy who isn't in the original short story, is a bounty hunter called "Street Preacher", he's a Christian fundamentalist bounty hunter. The last time I talked to the producers it sounded like they were shooting for Dolph Lundgren. Street Preacher's heavy, scary but also very funny. At one point ICE-T was interested in playing "J-Bone", the leader of the Lo Teks, and he may still do it.

X: How much does religious fundamentalism or Mormonism play a role in Virtual Light, particularly that scene in the tattoo parlour, "yours is Mormon, because you *did* ask for coffee"?

WG: Well, Mormons can't drink coffee. I just stuck it in that one scene. I think fundamentalists are a big problem, it doesn't matter what kind of fundamentalist it is, as long as you're dealing with anybody who thinks they've already been given the bottom line, you're not going to be able to do much in terms of constructive social action or criticism. For Virtual Light I basically just went after Christians because I find them a singular pain in the butt, an easy target and always deserving.

X: You went to Singapore recently. How did that trip affect you?

WG: It made me feel like I was on the right track (laughs). Singapore is a terrific destination for a science fiction writer - what it really is like, it's sort of like you've arrived at the world that Robert Heinlein was predicting in 1958 and somebody was foolhardy enough to build it and then you go and check it out and it sucks! There's no slack or alternative culture - all they do is shop.

X: How do you feel about the Middle-East peace agreement, and peace in general?

WG: Yeah, I'm all for it. I hope they can get somewhere with it - at least they're trying. I just can't get it up anymore for any kind of ethnic separatism. I don't think that's the way to go. Everything breaks down eventually, you keep fighting and the whole structure collapses and you're left with something like Somalia. I'm a peace-nik of the first water.

X: What does the future hold for you?

WG: I don't want to write anymore screenplays, at least not contract work for Hollywood. I'd love to get Johnny Mnemonic made with my script but if it doesn't work out I don't want to mess around with it. It takes up too much of my time - I make more money writing books than writing unproduced screenplays, and people get to read them! I get the feedback from the audience, it's much more appealing - words in a row.

X: Thanks a lot for this.

WG: Thank you for the opportunity to have the coffee.

Mark Shepherd (,