First, I would like to get the legal issues out of the way. The excerpts are taken from a copyrighted Project Gutenberg e-text. You can read the interview in its entirety here. (I know it's an E2 node by me. I didn't want to link to the thousands of ftp mirrors it's on.)
In this interview, William Gibson talks at length about "Johnny
Mnemonic", movies, SF, net culture and issues.
Even though this part of the interview may be slightly off topic I wanted to include it because it is interesting to note how Gibson thinks the movie will fly. Of course, by studio standards it was a box office flop. Another thing you have to take into account is that Gibson wrote the short story and collaborated on the screenplay.
What are your initial impressions on how "Johnny Mnemonic" is
turning out ?
I have just seen the pre-assembled 10-minute show reel. I think it is
fantastic! It felt very good seeing the universe of "Johnny Mnemonic" taking a life on its own. If it had been different, I wouldn't probably
be here. But it can be safe to say that ";Johnny Mnemonic" has been
the optimal screen experience so far.
You seem very detached from your previous experiences in movies.
"Johnny Mnemonic", on the other hand, seems very personal to you.
Why is that ?
Do we see a distinction between the media and politics? I saw an editorial in my local paper a couple of days ago that had this caption: "I heard on talk radio that we should vote for Bush because the media is pushing Al Gore." Think about it.
I wrote the original story in 1980. I think it was perhaps the second
piece of fiction I ever wrote in my life. It held up very good after all
these years. "Johnny" was a start for many creative processes:
it was in fact the root source of "Neuromancer" and "Count Zero".
It is only fair that the first script of mine that goes into production
should come from that, from my early career.
The world of "Johnny Mnemonic" takes for granted the Berlusconi
completion process, I mean the media baron becoming one of the
Country's leaders. I think the distinction between politicians and
media is gonna disappear. It already has, in effect. It is very sad.
It's like saying that the theories you imagined in your science fiction
stories are becoming real...
How close was he to the truth?
Yeah, but people shouldn't look at science fiction like they look at
"real" fiction. They shouldn't expect that this is what the future
is gonna look like. We science fiction writers are sort of
charlatans: we come up with a few ideas and we make a living out of that.
When I wrote "Neuromancer", I would have never imagined AIDS
and the collapse of the USSR. We never get the future right.
I always thought that USSR was this big winter bear that would
always exist. And look at what happened. In 1993 I wrote an
afterword for the Hungarian version of "Neuromancer". I wrote that
nothing lives forever, and that it's time that the winds of democracy
blow over the East. But now, after the arrival of people like
Zhirinowsky, I have second thoughts again and I fear for them.
You and Bruce Sterling are the forefathers of the new science fiction.
Isn't it ironical that he is very fascinated by hackers and the new edge,
whereas you're not a technical person ?
I find it very interesting that at the time of this interview (1994) Gibson didn't even have a modem. I wonder if he has changed since then? He says he doesn't hate it, but does he fear it?
Bruce practically lives on the Internet. I don't even have a modem
or e-mail. My computer is outdated by any standards of criteria.
I never was a technical guy and never will be. I'm a writer,
and poetry and pop culture are the two things which fascinate me most.
I'm not deeply excited by hi-tech. The Edge of the U2 was over here
the other day and he was showing me Net stuff. He showed how he
could telnet to his Los Angeles computer and he was very excited.
I'll never be like that. However, I feel obliged to be ambivalent
towards technology. I can't be a "techie", but I can't hate it, either.
You have written "Virtual Light". So, what do you think of Virtual
He hit this nail right on the head even before George Lucas was predicting it. "Entire virtual replicas." I work for a media corporation that owns a couple of television stations. Virtual newscasters are a big possibility. Heck, you can already have a virtual newsroom and studio. Don't believe everything you see...
If we take what I consider the "Sunday paper supplement" of VR,
I mean Goggles and Gloves, I think that it has become very obvious,
very cliche. I think that real VR is gonna come out from the new
generation of visual effects in movies. I met Jim Cameron when he
was editing "Terminator 2": he showed me the clips of the T-1000
emerging from fire in the L.A. canal. He said they were gonna use
the actor for the whole shot, but it was easier for them to do it in
digital. This is the future. One day there will be entire virtual
replicas of real actors.
You're not fascinated by technology, and yet you come up with ideas
on the edge...
This is another almost off topic excerpt. I find it very intersting that Gibson creates an image first and he is still able to see things as what they could be in the future.
When I write my books, my favorite part is always "art direction",
not the plot. I admit I like giving people a visual impression
of the world I'm creating. Then, I have to remind myself that
I have to tell a story, foremost.
Another issue you focus on are Information Superhighways.
What actions have you taken ?
It's all about easibility and portability? Take another look today, William. This was Apple in the early nineties. Also, computers weren't a high commodity to the average Joe at home. What if that same incident happened today? The iMac has this easy-grip handle...The time certainly has changed here. However, I still think he makes a point. The TVs, Walkmans, steros, and such were easy to swipe, easy to carry.
Bruce Sterling and I went to the National Academy in Washington to
address the Al Gore people. We told them that this is the last
chance to give the poorest schools equal chances than the richest.
In a few years it will be too late and we won't be able to fill up the gap.
To me, Information Highways are best described by the most
interesting image I've seen on TV during the Los Angeles riot.
A Radio Shack shop (ED. a chain of shops selling consumer
electronics gear) was being looted. Next to that there was an Apple
shop, and it was untouched. People wanted to steal portable TVs
and CD players, not computers. I think this clearly indicated the
gaps of culture, or simply the gaps of chances, in our society.
Besides, the Information Highway issue gives the public a false
perception. They don't wanna offer you exhaustive accesses to
information; they wanna offer you a new shopping mall.
What do you think of the Clipper issue ?
Interesting. Does anyone remember Clipper? Stego? You can pretty much watermark information now. Whatever happened to Clipper. If I remember right, it seemed to blow over. Well, that was when the media stopped reporting about it. Was it even technologically possible?
The NSA wants to legislate that every computer manifactured in the
U.S. will have a chip built inside that will allow the Government
to decrypt the information. The worst thing is that people are not
informed of what is at stake here. Who would buy a computer with a
spy inside? The Clipper chip is an admission of incompetence.
They say they wanna be able to decrypt the information that would
jeopardize National Security. But to can prevent the Medellin cartel
to buy - say - into a Swiss corporation which comes up with a new
encryption system which totally cuts out the Clipper ?
Encryption programs are stronger and stronger. There is a new one
called Stego, which is free on Internet. It takes written material and
hides it in visual elements. I send a digitized e-postcard from
Cannes and there is half a novel hidden in its data. I've seen it work.
I haven't understood the half of it yet.
Man, the Clipper chip is fucked anyway. Most of the new edge guys
are into computers, and they're coming up with new gear nobody
had the slightest clue about five years ago. I saw recently a
prototype which looked like a beeper, but it was a virtual telephone.
Unfortunately, we have to deal with more paper than before. We are
submerged by tons of paper!
What is in your opinion the most important technological
breakthrough of our society in recent years ?
I wonder if he would say the Walkman today? I believe that music has gone one step higher: MP3. Digital audio has changed the way we percieve music. Not in just how we listen to music, but in how we distribute it.
My favorite piece of technology is the Walkman. It forever changed
the way we perceive music. The Walkman has given us the opportunity
to listen to whatever kind of music we wanted wherever we wanted.
The Fax machine is also an amazing thing. We live in a
very different world because of that: instantaneous written
communication everywhere. It is also a very political technology,
as the Tien An Men Square events told us.
What about e-mail ?
Curious. It appears that he may have an underlying tone of email being a bad thing. Now that I think about it. Does it make my life more efficient? I seem to spend more time replying and writing. Everyone has that person in the office who sends an email and then calls the person to tell them. Have you been guilty of it?
E-mail is very glamorous. Way too glamorous.