William Gibson at the CBC, 2007

Fri, 07 Sep 2007

William Gibson’’s stretched stooped figure curls over book and microphone under yellow lights that hang like a field of beauty salon hair dryers before an unlit neon sign tracing out the words Studio One on a wall deep within the bowels of the CBC. He has just returned from touring in the States and Europe, hitting a dozen cities in twice as many days while promoting his new novel, Spook Country.

He is honed at this point. Listening to him read, you realize that this is how his writing is best taken in. He reads like a jazz musician plays his horn, echoing Kerouac and, of course, Burroughs in the way that the words fall into punched syncopated rhythms, sentences building into what has been described by one reviewer as "miniature aesthetic jolts”

He will tell us later that the part of the brain that writes fiction is also the part that reads it, that in fact “writing and reading are two halves of the same activity”, that the exercise of reading a book is as active a part of the process as the writing. Only upon doing so, when the words of the writer project their world onto the back of the reader’s skull is “arch of the text” successfully completed.

So went the discussion at tonight’s CBC Book Club, with Gibson delivering poignant, often comic takes on how Google has replaced our memories, the inevitability of blended reality and the “complications” of sci fi, all the while riddled with deep, cerebral observations on the writing process. You got a sense that writing for Gibson — if not for all writers — is an act of discovery.

“My own experience with creativity,” he tells us, “is that it is incremental.”

The development of a character will begin simply as a point of view, a camera angle. Often characters are not so much created as they simply show up on the scene with their own demands and opinions so that all the writer can really do is try to “keep them on topic”. He tells us of a fan site called Node, named after the under-the-radar magazine that the protagonist is hired by in Spook Country, on which Gibson fans have mapped any and all linkable references found in the pages of the novel.

Gibson marvels at the speed that such endeavours can be executed in this day and age. A dozen people, in different times zones, “who are crazy” can achieve enormous things. Gibson describes it as cheap A.I. In fact, as he continues talking, you come to understand his view of the human race as something that has evolved well past nature, that our present “natural state” is more cyborg than animal. Gibson seems to mark the point of no return down this path at the dawn of broadcast television:

“We still have no idea what the impact of broadcast television has had on us and it is pretty much a dead medium”.

But none of this is to be interpreted as a pessimistic world view; a writer like Gibson has a tendency to remain agnostic on most accounts:

”I’m kind of ok with where we are,” he say with a smile. “It’s interesting.”