William Gibson was in town. He was relaxed, stooped, quietly spoken. Tired, by the look of it. He’s promoting his new book. I’d never seen him before. Never even heard his voice, so it was very exciting, surprisingly like encountering a hero of punk. He didn’t seem jaded, showed no sign of the irritation you might expect of an author whose work is so minutely policed online.
In fact he welcomed the attention of the unappointed exegetes and redacters who assail his texts – even before they’re officially published. He ‘honoured the cloud of hypertext’ surrounding his work. So there was nothing tough about this encounter. No hostility, no cynicism at all. And I suppose that’s as it should be. No critics here. Only fans (we’d paid to be there, after all).
Gibson has always soaked up this geek love. Something about his attitude to life – to celebrity, to notoriety – never allowed him to reject all this unorthodox, slightly autistic attention. As a result he’s brought his fans with him. They’re not a millstone or a distraction. He’s never even thought about leaving them behind, despite his restlessness as to genre and period.
Gibson fans like and respect his openness to interpretation, his relaxed attitude to the fans’ rewriting and annotation of his words. There’s an implicit deal: Gibson says: “I won’t get uptight about your preposterous over-engagement with my stories provided you don’t complain that I periodically stop being a Sci-Fi writer”.
His fans would never read a ‘stylish noir thriller’ but, let’s face it, that’s what they’re doing. I was talking with my friend Paul about this this morning and we concluded that Gibson’s important not because he’s a great writer (he’s pacy but he’s no Hammett) but because of this remarkable receptiveness. He soaks up the now, finds it sufficient: all he needs to construct enduring narratives. So he rejects nothing. He’s the opposite of a grumpy old man. Engaged, present to the world, listening, absorbing.