A few years ago, I saw William Gibson
give a reading of Pattern Recognition in the St. James Cathedral in Chicago. With the gold leaf and religious imagery overlaid by a network of tech equipment and halogen lights, it seemed like a fitting locale for the author of Neuromancer. I wanted to suggest to him that he visit Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain in Millennium Park
, another Gibsonian location, but didn't get the chance.
On Monday, I went to his reading of Spook Country
, held in the much less Gibsonian Borders on Michigan Avenue. Attended by a large contingent of hackers and ninjas of a wide variety of age groups, the biggest surprise was the predominance of oddly named people (Cinchel, Aramigosta, 9Jane) and people from unusual countries (Latvia, Belarus) getting their books signed, often with really long notes appended, until his hand gave out.
It is seemingly hard to ask concrete questions of the man. I for one drew a complete blank. He had some useful advice for writers, though, beginning with Damon Knight's dictum on writing: "Alice in Wonderland good, Alice in weird Wonderland good, weird Alice in weird Wonderland bad". He also had a great story about his first writing teacher who had spent several years writing specifications for the military and whose idea of a good writing assignment was, "give me 500 words describing this pencil in great detail...wait, since you're a beginner, just do the eraser, or maybe that metal bit that goes around the eraser here at the end." This resulted in him being able to do great descriptions of little machines "like a particular kind of switchblade" but left gaps in the early novels that he can detect now.