I just read on The Writer’s Almanac that today is the birthday of William Gibson (born on March 17,1948). No mention of that on his @GreatDismal Twitter account. His new book, Distrust that Particular Flavour, takes its title from the essay, Time Machine Cuba, contained in the book. Click on the link to read the essay. “I learned of history and science fiction in a single season,” it begins. He sneaked into an empty house where he found photos of Second World War planes in a trunk and science fiction books on the racks.
Here’s another Gibson essay, Rocket Radio.
The Writer’s Almanac says:
His first novel, Neuromancer, was published in 1984, and in it Gibson popularized the term “cyberspace,” having coined it in a short story two years earlier. Neuromancer earned him a role as a prophet of the information age, since it predated the Internet by about 10 years.
I started reading Neuromancer and was immediately intrigued by its anti-hero, Case the computer hacker, and the cyberspace described in the book. Here’s how the story begins:
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
“It’s not like I’m using,” Case heard someone say, as he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. “It’s like my body’s developed this massive drug deficiency.” It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese….
A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void…;The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there…
Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he’d been a cowboy, a rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl. He’d been trained by the best, by McCoy Pauley and Bobby Quine, legends in the biz. He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief, he’d worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data.
He’s made the classic mistake, the one he’s sworn he’d never make. He stole from his employers. He kept something for himself and tried to move it through a fence in Amsterdam. He still wasn’t sure how he’d been discovered, not that it mattered now. He’d expected to die, then but they only smiled. Of course he was welcome, they told him, welcome to the money. And he was going to need it. Because––still smiling––they were going to make sure he never worked again.
They damaged his nervous system with a wartime Russian mycotoxin.
Strapped to a bed in a Memphis hotel, his talent burning out micron by micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours.
The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective.
For Case, who’d lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall. In the bars he’d frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.
His total assets were quickly converted to New Yen, a fat sheaf of the old paper currency that circulated endlessly through the closed circuit of the world’s black markets like the seashells of the Trobriand islanders. It was difficult to transact legitimate business with cash in the Sprawl; in Japan, it was already illegal.