Gibson, William

views updated

William Gibson


Born March 17, 1948, in Conway, SC; emigrated to Canada; son of William Ford (a contractor) and Otey (a homemaker; maiden name, Williams) Gibson; married Deborah Thompson (a language instructor), June, 1972; children: Graeme, Claire. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A., 1977.


Home—Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Agent—Martha Millard Literary Agency, 293 Greenwood Ave., Florham Park, NJ 07932; (for film and television) Martin S. Shapiro, Shapiro-Lichtman Talent, 8827 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.



Awards, Honors

Nebula Award nomination from Science Fiction Writers of America, c. 1983, for short story "Burning Chrome"; Hugo Award for best novel of 1984 from World Science Fiction Society, Philip K. Dick Award for best U.S. original paperback of 1984 from Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, Nebula Award for best novel of 1984 from Science Fiction Writers of America, and Porgie Award for best paperback original novel in science fiction from West Coast Review of Books, all 1985, and Ditmar Award from Australian National Science Fiction Convention, all for Neuromancer; New York Times Book Review Notable Book for 2003, Washington Post Choice Cuts of 2003 pick, and Los Angeles Times Best of the Best Book for 2003 selection, all for Pattern Recognition.



Neuromancer, Ace (New York, NY), 1984.

Count Zero, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1986.

Mona Lisa Overdrive, Bantam (New York, NY), 1988.


(With John Shirley, Bruce Sterling, and Michael Swanwick) Burning Chrome (short stories; includes "Burning Chrome," "Johnny Mnemonic," and "New Rose Hotel"), introduction by Bruce Sterling, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1986.

Dream Jumbo (text to accompany performance art by Robert Longo), produced at UCLA Center for the Performing Arts, Los Angeles, CA, 1989.

(With Bruce Sterling) The Difference Engine (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1990, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.

Virtual Light (novel; first in trilogy), Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

Johnny Mnemonic (screenplay; based on Gibson's short story of the same title), TriStar, 1995.

Idoru (novel; second in trilogy), Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

All Tomorrow's Parties (novel; third in trilogy), Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.

Pattern Recognition, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

Work represented in anthologies, including Shadows 4, Doubleday, 1981; Nebula Award Stories 17, Holt, 1983; and Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, edited with an introduction by Sterling, Arbor House, 1986. Contributor of short stories, articles, and book reviews to periodicals, including Omni, Rolling Stone, Wired, and Science Fiction Review. Scriptwriter for "Kill Switch," an episode of The X-Files, 1999. Contributor to Fox Network series Harsh Realm, 2000.


Neuromancer has been optioned for production as a feature film to be directed by Chris Cunningham.


Creator of the concept "Cyberspace," science-fiction author William Gibson developed a new fictional landscape for his edgy work—a hallucinatory three-dimensional region built from computer data gathered around the globe. Inventing this fictional setting, he could also leave it behind, which he has in later work. Increasingly, Gibson's creative production has come back from the future to deal with the here and now, forming a distinct arc from his 1984 debut sf novel, Neuromancer, set in the gritty futuristic urban world of the Sprawl, to his 2003 mainstream thriller, Pattern Recognition, placed in the dystopic present and featuring actual locales from London to Moscow and Tokyo.

Gibson had published only a handful of short stories when he stunned readers with his debut novel, Neuromancer, the first work ever to sweep the major honors of science fiction—the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards. Combining the hip cynicism of the rock music underground and the dizzying powers of high technology, the novel was hailed as

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

the prototype of a new style of writing, promptly dubbed "cyberpunk." Gibson, who was also earning praise as a skillful prose stylist, disliked the trendy label but admitted that he was challenging science fiction traditions. "I'm not even sure what cyberpunk means," he told a contributor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, "but I suppose it's useful as a tip-off to people that what they're going to read is a little wilder."

The surface features of Gibson's allegedly cyberpunk style—tough characters facing a tough world, frantic pacing, and bizarre high-tech slang—alienated some reviewers. "Like punk rock . . . Cyberpunk caters to the wish-fulfillment requirements of male teenagers," explained science-fiction novelist Thomas M. Disch in New York Times Book Review, "and there is currently no more accomplished caterer than William Gibson." In Science Fiction Review, Andrew Andrews criticized the "style and execution" of Count Zero, a novel typical of Gibson's work during the 1980s. "It is hodgepodge; spastic; incomprehensible in spots, somehow just too much," the reviewer declared. "I prefer a novel that is concise, with fleshy, human characters." Beneath the flash, however, some admirers detected a serious purpose. Writers like Gibson, suggested J. R. Wytenbroeck in Canadian Literature, are really describing the world "in which we live today, with all its problems taken to their logical extreme." In particular, the advance of technology is shown to cause as many problems as it solves. "Technology has already changed us, and now we have to figure out a way to stay sane," Gibson observed in Rolling Stone. "If you were to put this in terms of mainstream fiction and present readers with a conventional book about modern postindustrial anxiety, many of them would just push it aside. But if you put it in the context of science fiction, maybe you can get them to sit still for what you have to say." Along with "adrenalin verve and random pyrotechnics," wrote Colin Greenland in the Times Literary Supplement, Gibson's work is "intellectually substantial." "His style," Greenland wrote, "is deadpan and precise, with the tone of the classic crime thriller: canny, cool and undeceived, yet ultimately the very opposite of the callousness it imitates, because motivated by a desire for justice."

Science Fiction as Subversion

Gibson grew up in a small town in southwest Virginia, Wytheville, on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, where his widowed mother had grown up and back to which she moved when her husband, Gibson's father, died. "It was a boring, culturally deprived environment," he recalled in the Sacramento Union. "The library burned down in 1910, and nobody bothered to rebuild it." In such a place, he told Interview's Victoria Hamburg, "sciencefiction books were the only source I had for subversive information." By his late teens Gibson had left behind the conventional authors who filled the genre with shining cities and benevolent scientists. Instead he began to prefer iconoclasts, such as J. G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick, who described a grim and frightening future. Some of his favorites might not qualify with purists as science-fiction writers at all: both William S. Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon were intricate stylists whose core following was among literary intellectuals. Such writers used the fantastic element of science fiction as a device to explore the ugly potentials of the human heart. Science fiction, Gibson realized, was a way to comment on the reality of the present day.

He escaped Wytheville by attending a private school in Arizona, but before he graduated, his mother died of a stroke. The 1960s youth culture also drew Gibson's attention; a long-term rock fan, he counts the hard-edged music of Lou Reed as a major influence. In 1967 he dropped out of high school and journeyed to Canada, ending up in Toronto, which had a thriving hippie scene. "We had our own version of the Summer of Love there," he said in the Sacramento Union. "If I'd gone to New York or San Francisco, I can't imagine what would have happened to me." Reluctant to be drafted into the Vietnam War, he remained in Canada and eventually married Deborah Thompson. The couple settled in Vancouver, where their lives soon centered around the University of British Columbia (UBC). Gibson's wife was a teacher and he was a "permanent pseudo-grad student" who earned his bachelor's degree shortly before he turned thirty. After graduating, "I was clueless," he recalled to an interviewer for the Chicago Tribune. "Alotofmy friends were becoming lawyers and librarians, things that filled me with horror." So he became a science fiction writer, even though at the time "it seemed like such a goofy, unhip thing to do," as he told a contributor for Rolling Stone. Gibson began his career almost in spite of himself, after enrolling in a science fiction course at UBC with the hope of an easy credit. Unwilling to submit a term paper, he accepted the teacher's challenge to compose a short story—an ordeal that lasted three months. As Gibson settled into life as a househusband, however, he realized that writing more stories was the best way he could earn money while watching over his children.

Early Writings

His writing blossomed with amazing speed. He sold his first short story, "Fragments of a Hologram Rose," to Unearth magazine for the princely sum of twenty-three dollars in 1977, the year his first child, Graeme, was born. By the early 1980s Gibson was a favorite of fiction editor Ellen Datlow, who helped make Omni magazine a showcase of rising science fiction talent. In Omni stories such as "Johnny Mnemonic" and "Burning Chrome," Gibson began to sketch his own grim version of the future, peopled with what a Rolling Stone contributor called "hightech lowlifes." The title character of "Johnny Mnemonic," for instance, stashes stolen computer data on a microchip in his brain. He is marked for murder by the Yakuza, a Japanese syndicate that has moved into high-tech crime, but he is saved by Molly Millions, a bionic hitwoman with razors implanted under her fingernails. "I thought I was on this literary kamikaze mission," Gibson told Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone. "I thought my work was so disturbing it would be dismissed and ignored by all but a few people." Instead, on the basis of a few short stories, he began to gain a powerful reputation: "Burning Chrome" was nominated for a Nebula Award, and Ace Books editor Terry Carr encouraged him to expand his vision into a novel. Meanwhile, "cyberpunk" was becoming a trend throughout the science-fiction world. After writing a third of his novel Neuromancer, Gibson went to see the 1982 film Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott's stylish, punked-out interpretation of a book by Philip K. Dick. "It looked so much like the inside of my head," reported Gibson in Saturday Night, "that I fled the theatre after about thirty minutes and have never seen the rest of it."

"Cyberspace" Trilogy

Neuromancer, together with its sequels, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, fleshes out the future society of Gibson's short stories. Here technology is the main source of power over others, and the multinational corporations that develop and control technology are more important than governments. The world is a bewildering splatter of cultures and subcultures; Gibson skirts the issue of whether the United States or Canada are still viable countries, but his multinationals are generally based in Europe or Japan. While shadowy figures run the world for their own benefit, a large underclass—the focus of Gibson's interest—endures amid pollution, over-crowding, and pointlessness. People commonly drug themselves with chemicals or with "simstims," a form of electronic drug that allows users to experience vicariously the life of another, more glamorous, human being.

Though the future envisioned by Gibson may seem hopeless, he remains in some sense a romantic, observers note, for he chronicles the efforts of individuals to carve out a life for themselves in spite of hostile surroundings. His misfit heroes often exist on the crime-infested fringes of society, thus lending his works some of the atmosphere of a traditional crime thriller. Along with the expected cast of smugglers, prostitutes, murderers, and thieves, Gibson celebrates a distinctly modern freebooter, the computer hacker. Computers of the future, Gibson posits, will be linked worldwide through "cyberspace"—an electronically generated alternate reality in which all data, and the security programs that protect it, will appear as a palpable three-dimensional universe. Computer operators will access cyberspace by plugging into it with their brains, and hackers—known as "cowboys"—will sneak in to steal data, fill their bank accounts with electronic money, or suffer death when a security program uses feedback to destroy their minds. Gibson wrote in Rolling Stone, "The Street finds its own uses for things—uses the manufacturers never imagined."

Gibson's wandering youth did not hinder—and may have helped—his ability to create such a world. "I didn't invent most of what's strange in the [books'] dialogue," Gibson told a contributor for the Mississippi Review, as quoted in Whole Earth Review. "There are so many cultures and subcultures around today that if you're willing to listen, you start picking up different phrases, inflections, metaphors everywhere you go. A lot of stuff in Neuromancer and Count Zero that people think is so futuristic is probably just 1969 Toronto dope-dealers' slang, or bikers' slang." Gibson lacked an education in computers, but he knew about computer people. "They have this whole style of language. . . . which attracted me simply for the intensity with which they talked about their machines," he said in Rolling Stone. "I immediately heard that in a real echo of the teenagers I grew up with talking about cars." Cyberspace came from watching a new generation of youth in video arcades. "I could see in . . . their postures how rapt these kids were," Gibson informed the contributor for Mississippi Review, adding: "Everyone who works with computers seems to develop an intuitive faith that there's some kind of actual space behind the screen."

The plots of Gibson's works, some reviewers suggest, are less important than the way of life he describes: even admirers find the narratives rather complicated and difficult to summarize. As Gibson told Hamburg, he doesn't "really start with stories" but prefers to assemble images, "like making a ball out of rubber bands." Neuromancer centers on Henry Case, a skilled computer "cowboy" who has been punished for his exploits by being given a powerful nerve poison that leaves him unable to plug into cyberspace. As the book opens he is scrounging a living on the seamy side of Japan's Chiba City, when a mysterious patron offers him restorative surgery in exchange for more computer hacking. Case assents, and in the company of Molly Millions (one of Gibson's many recurring characters) he travels from one bizarre setting to the next in pursuit of a goal he cannot even understand. Finally Case arrives on a space station controlled by the wealthy Tessier-Ashpool clan, a family of genetic clones that owns two Artificial Intelligences—powerful computers which, like humans, have self-awareness and free will. Case realizes that one of the computers, named Wintermute, has hired him to help it take control of the other, named Neuromancer; the combined Artificial Intelligence that would result could break free of its human masters.

"Neuromancer was a bit hypermanic—simply from my terror at losing the reader's attention," Gibson recalled in Rolling Stone. For the sequel, Count Zero, "I aimed for a more deliberate pace. I also tried to draw the characters in considerable detail. People have children and dead parents in Count Zero, and that makes for different emotional territory." Thus instead of taking one main character on a manic ride throughout human society, Count Zero tells the stories of three more fleshed-out individuals whose lives gradually intertwine. The "Count Zero" of the title is really Bobby Newmark, a poor teenage computer "cowboy" with dreams of greatness. On his first illicit run into cyberspace, he finds it much more colorful than Henry Case had found it a few years earlier: the Artificial Intelligences of Neuromancer seem to have broken apart into many cyberspace entities, some of which manifest themselves as voodoo gods. The "gods" have human worshippers who take custody of Bobby after he apparently has a religious experience while he is hacking. Meanwhile, art dealer Marly Krushkova tries to find an artist with mysterious powers, only to encounter an old "cowboy" who also believes that God lives in cyberspace. And Turner, a mercenary who rounds up scientists for multinationals, finds himself the protector of a strange young woman named Angie Mitchell. Angie has a unique gift: her scientist father placed microchips in her brain that give her direct access to cyberspace and sometimes make her the mouthpiece for its ghostly inhabitants. "The resolution [of the plot] is figuratively left in the hands of the Haitian Computer Gods," wrote Dorothy Allison in the Village Voice. "They are particularly marvelous, considering that the traditional science-fiction model of an intelligent computer has been an emotionless logician."

Gibson's third novel, Mona Lisa Overdrive, "brilliantly pyramids the successes of its predecessors," wrote Edward Bryant in Bloomsbury Review. The book is set several years after Count Zero, using a similar structure of plot-lines that slowly interconnect. When Mona Lisa Overdrive opens, Bobby Newmark has grown up into an accomplished cowboy. Now he leaves his body in a coma so that he can explore the electronically generated universe inside a unique and costly microchip that he stole from the Tessier-Ashpool clan. Angie Mitchell, Bobby's sometime girlfriend, has become a simstim star, struggling against drug abuse and unsure of her future. In Mona Lisa Overdrive, wrote Richard Mathews of the St. Petersburg Times, "Gibson employs the metaphor of addiction as the central fact of existence. Addictions to drugs, information, and sensuality permeate society and form the basis of all economic transactions." The drug-abusing Angie, for example, is herself a "mere fix . . . piped to millions of simstim addicts to enrich [her producers]." Bobby is also a junkie—"a metaphor for society, increasingly techno-dependent, and hopelessly addicted to the excitement of high-tech power trips and head games."

As Mona Lisa Overdrive unfolds amid complex intrigues, the power of technology looms so large as to challenge the meaning of human identity itself. Characters seek friendship and advice from the personalities recorded on microchips; Angie comes face-to-face with "Mona Lisa," a confused teenage junkie who has been surgically altered to resemble Angie herself as part of a bizarre abduction plot. In the violent climax of the novel, during which Angie dies of a brain hemorrhage, the simstim producers stumble upon Mona and gladly recruit her as a new star. Then, in an astonishing burst of fantasy, Gibson shows Angie reunited with Bobby in his microchip universe—a computer-generated heaven. By then, Mathews observed, "Gibson has us reevaluating our concepts of 'life,' 'death' and 'reality,' all of which have been redefined by the impact of the information matrix. What makes Gibson so exceptional a writer is that you haven't just seen or thought about this future; you've been there."

Increasingly Gibson was hailed as a master of observant, evocative, economical prose. Paul Kincaid of the Times Literary Supplement observed, "If the pace [of Mona Lisa Overdrive] is rather less frantic than in the earlier books, it is because Gibson's writing has improved, and the space given to more vividly presenting mood, place and character slows the action." Even the skeptical Thomas Disch quoted a passage from Mona Lisa Overdrive and, as other reviewers have done, observed how deftly Gibson could suggest a whole society with a handful of words. "Gibson is writing brilliant prose," declared Ellen Datlow in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "work that can be compared to anything being written inside or outside the science-fiction field." Some critics have called Mona Gibson's most absorbing story, while nevertheless observing that the plot is slowed down by too many characters. According to David Hiltbrand of People, Mona "has so many plot lines working that it takes most of the book for him to generate much narrative momentum." Nation contributor Erik Davis found the experience of following the numerous plot lines dizzying. "Chapters are short, speedy and high-res[olution], and following the various strands of the plot resembles watching four different TV programs by rapidly changing channels." Similarly, Pat Cadigan of Quill and Quirefelt that "readers will be left not only wanting more but imagining what it might be. That's called science fiction at the top of its form."

A World Beyond Cyberpunk

Gibson at first seemed bemused by his new life as a best-selling novelist. At book signings he was greeted by disparate groups of hackers and punks whom he termed "M & M's" (for "modems and Mohawks"). As a soft-spoken, conservatively dressed father of two, Gibson realized that his wilder fans were sometimes disappointed to see him in person. "There was a classic case in San Francisco when two huge motorcyclists came screeching up," he continued in the Chicago Tribune. "One of them looked at me, picked up a book and shook his head and said, 'You can sign it anyway.'" To Gibson's surprise he quickly attracted the attention of the Hollywood film industry, and two years after Neuromancer was published he sold the film rights for $100,000. Soon he was recruited as screenwriter for the projected third film in the highly profitable Aliens series. But after he wrote several drafts, the film studio had a management shuffle and he lost his job. Paradoxically, the very fact that he was involved with such a high-profile effort made it easy for him to find more film work. Though Gibson stresses that Mona Lisa Overdrive is not autobiographical, he admits that the simstim subplot was inspired by his introduction to America's film capital. As he told a contributor for the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Sitting in the Polo Lounge talking to 20-year-old movie producers with money coming out of their ears—that's science fiction, boy."

By the time Mona Lisa Overdrive was published in 1988, Gibson and many reviewers were glad to say farewell to the cyberpunk era. "It's becoming fashionable now to write 'cyberpunk is dead' articles," he noted in the Bloomsbury Review. The author teamed with fellow novelist Bruce Sterling to write The Difference Engine, a sort of retroactive science-fiction novel set in Victorian England. The book is named for one of several mechanical computers that were designed during the nineteenth century by mathematician Charles Babbage. Babbage failed to build his most sophisticated machines, for their manufacture was beyond his budget and he was unable to secure public funding. Gibson and Sterling, however, imagine what might have happened had he succeeded. With the help of mechanical computers, the Victorians develop airplanes, cybernauts, and a huge steam-powered television. The Difference Engine, Gibson warned, "sounds cuter than it is. It's really a very, very chilly semi-dystopia." In this novel, as in most of Gibson's work, technology proves to be corrupting, and society is painfully divided between the haves and have-nots. "One of the reasons we cooked this up was so people wouldn't be able to say it was more cyberpunk writing," Gibson told a contributor for the Chicago Tribune. "There won't be one guy with a silver Mohawk in the whole book."

After the short vacation from cyberpunk that The Difference Engine afforded him, Gibson returned to a familiar dystopian future with his next novel, Virtual Light. Set in the geographic conglomerate known as the Sprawl (most likely a fusion of most of North America), the novel centers on the adventures of an unlikely pair of allies who are thrown together by circumstance. While Gibson's trademarks are still present: biotechnology, evil corporate empires, and ghosts in the machines, Virtual Light was perceived by critics as more character-driven than the author's previous cyberpunk work. The technology serves the advancement of the plot rather than existing as the locus of the narrative. As one Publishers Weekly critic maintained, Gibson "has his finger on the pulse of popular culture and social trends; he molds a near-future world more frighteningly possible than any other recent writer."

In addition to his return to cyberpunk writing, Gibson also revisited the arena of Hollywood scriptwriting. Although his efforts for Alien 3 were fruitless, he returned to produce a screenplay in 1995. Adapting his short story "Johnny Mnemonic," Gibson worked closely with director and artist Robert Longo (who had previously collaborated with the author on a performance art piece titled Dream Jumbo) to bring his vision of the near future to the screen. With slight alterations to the original story—the remorselessly fierce Molly Millions character was turned into a softer, more accessible female mercenary—the film was released to mixed reviews. While many credited the work with faithfully creating

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

the "look" of the Gibson universe, there were numerous complaints regarding the film's pacing and the acting of Keanu Reeves, who played Johnny.

From Dystopia to "Coolhunting"

The world of Virtual Light has been elaborated on in two subsequent Gibson novels, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties. Both are tales of "the techno-decadent 21st century" that find "semi-innocents wading hip-deep into trouble," to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In Idoru, the second novel of the trilogy, "Gibson excels . . . in creating a warped but comprehensible future saturated with logical yet

unexpected technologies," according to the same reviewer. One of the central characters, the "idoru" of the title, exists only in virtual reality but is the love object of a flesh-and-blood American rock star. Booklist contributor Benjamin Segedin noted of the story: "Gibson remains on the cutting edge, but his vision does not now seem far-fetched. Indeed, often Idoru seems not to be set in the future at all. It resonates with startling realism as it presents a future not unlike the present, part hell and part paradise." In Entertainment Weekly, Ty Burr observed that Virtual Light and Idoru "reminded readers of what makes Gibson so damned good: a love of Raymond Chandleresque pulp poetry, a knack for visionary squalor, a bone-dry wit, and an insistence that the

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

technology we create will inevitably evolve beyond us." The final novel of the trilogy, All Tomorrow's Parties, picks up the trail of Colin Laney, a freakish interpreter of computer data, who has possession of the projector which holds the idoru. Laney and a host of other characters—some original to this title, others returning from its two predecessors—must try to thwart the ambitions of nano-technology billionaire Cody Harwood. "Gibson's prose, as always, is portentous, crosscutting tough-guy understatement and poetic vagary," wrote Tom LeClair in a New York Times Book Review piece on the novel. Nevertheless, the critic added: "Compared to 'Idoru' and 'Virtual Light,' the world of 'All Tomorrow's Parties' is lo/rez, but the author appears to have been highly resolved to compose a trilogy, even if the result is 'Virtual Lite.'" Conversely, Booklist correspondent Segedin noted that All Tomorrow's Parties "is less a cyberpunk novel about virtual reality than one that realizes an almost recognizable future filled with new and exciting technologies. . . . Gibson's vision is inextricably linked to the advent of the Internet, whose possibilities he envisioned in the book that made him a big sf name, Neuromancer."

Gibson has extended his narrative vision to realms beyond the printed page. His work is often exchanged and discussed on the Internet and he has contributed to television series such as The X-Files. Much as he envisioned back in 1984, information and communication has become the fastest growth industry of the new millennium. But despite the prophetic aura one can bestow upon Gibson's ideas, it is his storytelling ability that continues to hold his readers' interests.

Gibson's Neuromancer has become one of the most anticipated science-fiction films in the history of the genre. In 1998, the book—called "the Rosetta stone of modern sci-fi" by Entertainment Weekly's Noah Robischon—seemed to be on its way to the screen when a director, Chris Cunningham, signed on to work with Gibson on the project. Though Cunningham was a special-effects expert in the entertainment industry and had never directed a feature film before, he had drawn storyboards for Neuromancer after he read it as a teen, which impressed Gibson. Both writer and director were determined to make "an intelligent, human film rather than just another sci-fi blockbuster," noted Robischon, who predicted that the big-screen Neuromancer was likely "years away" from fruition. "Then again, when the book was first published in 1984, cyberspace seemed a long way off too."

Gibson was not holding his breath, waiting for the movie, but rather moving on to new ground in his novel writing with 2003's Pattern Recognition. The novel features Cayce Pollard, a highly paid, eerily intuitive market-research consultant or "cool-hunter," who can find the next big trend in any neighborhood she walks into. Almost physically allergic to brand names herself, she has the buttons on her Levi 501s sanded to erase name recognition. But she can make a brand famous at the snap of her culturally attuned finger. In London on a job, she is offered a secret assignment by her wealthy employer, Hubertus Bigend of the Blue Ant ad agency: to investigate some intriguing snippets of video, known as "the footage," that have been appearing on the Internet. An entire subculture of people is obsessed with these bits of footage, and anybody who can create that kind of brand loyalty, Bigend figures, would be a gold mine for an advertiser. But when her borrowed apartment is burgled and her computer hacked, she realizes there's more to this project than she had expected.

Still, Cayce is her father's daughter, and the danger makes her stubborn. Her father, Win Pollard, exsecurity expert, probably ex-CIA, was last seen headed to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and is presumed dead. Win taught Cayce a bit about the way agents work. She is still devastated by his loss, and, as much for him as for any other reason, she refuses to give up this newly weird job, which will take her to Tokyo and on to Russia. With help and betrayal from equally unlikely quarters, Cayce will follow the trail of the mysterious film to its source, and in the process will learn something about her father's life and death.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Lisa Zeidner welcomed the new direction taken by this "elegant, entrancing . . . novel." Unlike Gibson's other sf and cyber novels, Pattern Recognition "is almost nose-thumbingly conventional in design," according to Zeidner, who further praised Gibson's "corpuscular, crenellated" prose, and his "sentences [that] slide form silk to steel, and take tonal rides from the ironic to the earnest." Similarly, Nancy Pearl, reviewing the novel in Library Journal, observed that Gibson "moves into the mainstream with this thriller." Pearl also felt that the book "has a lot of charm and surprising amount of noncloying sweetness that is positively refreshing in a cool and composed postmodern novel." Not all reviewers were so positive about the new work however. Writing in Print, Victor Margolin allowed the many charms of the book, but also complained that it was, in the end, "less resonant" than Neuromancer. According to Margolin, "Gibson offers little insight into global advertising and, in fact, plays on the most widely accepted perceptions of it." Additionally, as Margolin observed, "Whereas Neuromancer retains an air of mystery and uncertainty at its conclusion, the loose ends in Pattern Recognition are tied up too neatly."

On the whole, though, Pattern Recognition was a critical success. "Global networking meets terrorism," a reviewer noted of this novel in the Washington Post Book World. Noah Robischon commented in his Entertainment Weekly review that "far-out ideas and densely worded sentences bear Gibson's unmistakable imprimatur," and that the author of Neuromancer demonstrates with this book that he is "just as skilled at seeing the present." New Scientist's Dave Longford likewise wrote that Gibson's tale "glows with SF verve and glitter as future shock overtakes the present." Praise continued in a review from a Publishers Weekly contributor, who felt that this was "Gibson's best book since Mona Lisa Overdrive." Time magazine's Lev Grossman dubbed the book a "serious thriller set in the dystopian present," while Christine C. Menefee, writing in School Library Journal, described the novel as a "headlong race through an unsettling but recognizable world to a surprisingly humane conclusion."

If you enjoy the works of William Gibson

If you enjoy the works of William Gibson, you might want to check out the following books:

Pat Cadigan, Mindplayers, 1988.

Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon, 2002.

Norman Spinrad, Deus X, and Other Stories 2003.

Bruce Sterling, editor, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, 1988.

On his author Web site, Gibson addresses the issue of why he set Pattern Recognition in the present: "I've been threatening to do it for a while. The last three books feel to me more like 'alternate presents' than imaginary futures. Science fiction is always, really, about the period it's written in, though most people don't seem to understand that. The way that September 11 changed the world is a major theme in this book. How would you describe that change? By writing this book. And I'd leave it at that. I'm more interested in finding questions than answers. Questions are more enduring."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 39, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.

Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.

McCaffery, Larry, editor, Across the Wounded Galaxies: Interviews with Contemporary American Science Fiction Writers, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1990.

St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Sterling, Bruce, editor, Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1986.


Adweek, April 7, 2003,"William Gibson on the Spot," p. 64.

Analog, November, 1984, p. 167; December, 1986, p. 179; January, 1987, p. 182; April, 1989, p. 178; October, 1989, p. 93; January, 1994, p. 304; September, 1995, p. 160; March, 1997, Tom Easton, review of Idoru, p. 147.

Austin American-Statesman, November 27, 1988.

Best Sellers, July, 1986.

Bloomsbury Review, September, 1988, Edward Bryant, review of Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Booklist, June 1, 1993, p. 1734; March 15, 1995, p. 1301; August, 1996, Benjamin Segedin, review of Idoru, p. 1853; September 1, 1999, Benjamin Segedin, review of All Tomorrow's Parties, p. 7.

Canadian Forum, October, 1994, p. 40.

Canadian Literature, summer, 1989, J. R. Wytenbroeck, "Cyberpunk," pp. 162-164.

Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1988; November 23, 1988.

College English, November, 2000, Daniel Punday, "The Narrative Construction of Cyberspace: Reading Neuromancer, Reading Cyberspace Debates," p. 194.

Computer Weekly, January 23, 2003, Mark Lewis, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 34.

Entertainment Weekly, January 31, 1992, p. 54; August 13, 1993, p. 66; August 26, 1994, p. 106; November 17, 1995, Ty Burr, review of Johnny Mnemonic, p. 86; February 13, 1998, Ken Tucker, review of "Kill Switch" episode of The X-Files, p. 48; October 8, 1999, Noah Robischon, "Virtual Celebrity," pp. 10, B16; October 29, 1999, Ty Burr, "Slight of Hand," p. 104; February 7, 2003, Noah Robischon, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 86.

EuropeMedia, April 29, 2003, "William Gibson Stops Blogging to Focus on Writing."

Extrapolation, fall, 2003, Dominick M. Grace, "From Videodrome to Virtual Light," pp. 344-356.

Fantasy Review, July, 1984; April, 1986.

Film Comment, January, 1990, p. 60.

Fortune, November 1, 1993.

Guardian, October 7, 1999, Jim McClellan, "Cyperpunk 2000," p. S14; April 26, 2001, Sean Dodson, "The Original Cyperpunk," p. S16.

Impulse, winter, 1989.

Interview, January, 1989, Victoria Hamburg, "The King of Cyberpunk," pp. 85-86.

Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, August, 1986.

Library Journal, August, 1993, p. 159; August, 1996, p. 120; October 15, 1999, Jackie Cassada, review of All Tomorrow's Parties, p. 110; February 1, 2003, Roger A. Berger, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 116; July, 2003, Nancy Pearl, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 152.

Listener, October 11, 1990.

Locus, August, 1988.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 29, 1989; May 12, 1991, John Sladek, "A Byte Out of Time," p. 9.

Maclean's, April 29, 1991, p. 63; September 6, 1993, p. 52; June 5, 1995, Brian D. Johns, "Mind Games with William Gibson," p. 60.

Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August, 1985, p. 28; August, 1986, p. 64; October, 1990, p. 31; February, 1997, Charles de Lint, review of Idoru, p. 40.

Mississippi Review, Volume 16, numbers 2 and 3, 1988.

Mosaic, March, 1999, Tony Fabijancic, "Space and Power: 19th-Century Urban Practice and Gibson's Cyberworld," p. 105.

Nation, May 8, 1989, Erik Davis, "A Cyberspace Odyssey," pp. 636-639; May 6, 1991, p. 598; November 5, 1993, p. 580.

National Review, June 26, 1995, John Simon, review of Johnny Mnemonic, p. 65.

New Scientist, May 31, 2003, Dave Longford, review of Pattern Recognition, pp. 50-51.

New Statesman, June 20, 1986; September 26, 1986; September 24, 1993, p. 55; October 11, 1996, Charles Shaar Murray, review of Idoru, p. 44.

New Yorker, August 16, 1993, p. 24; June 12, 1995, p. 111.

New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1985, p. 33; October 30, 1988, p. 40; December 11, 1988, p. 23; March 10, Thomas M. Disch, review of The Difference Engine, 1991, p. 5; August 29, 1993, p. 12; September 12, 1993, p. 36; September 8, 1996, Laura Miller, review of Idoru, p. 6; November 21, 1999, Tom LeClair, review of All Tomorrow's Parties, p. 15; January 19, 2003, Lisa Zeidner, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 7.

Oregonian (Portland, OR), November 24, 1988.

People, December 12, 1988, David Hiltbrand, review of Mona Lisa Overdrive, p. 49; June 10, 1991, Edward Zuckerman, "William Gibson: Teen Geek Makes Good, Redefines Sci-Fi," pp. 103-108; October 25, 1993, p. 45; July 10, 1995, p. 33.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15, 1986; October 30, 1988, Ellen Datlow, review of Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Pittsburgh Press, October 19, 1986.

Popular Science, October, 2001, "Q&A: William Gibson," p. 63.

Print, November-December, 2003, Victor Margolin, review of Pattern Recognition, pp. 54-56.

Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1993, review of Virtual Light, p. 72; September 6, 1993, p. 70; August 5, 1996, review of Idoru, p. 435; December 2, 1996, review of Idoru (audiobook), p. 30; October 11, 1999, review of All Tomorrow's Parties, p. 59; January 20, 2003, review of Pattern Recognition, pp. 57-58.

Punch, February 6, 1985.

Quill and Quire, December, 1988, Pat Cadigan, "Accessing Gibson's Peculiar Realm of Cyberspace," p. 20.

Reason, November, 1991, p. 61.

Rolling Stone, December 4, 1986, Mikal Gilmore, "The Rise of Cyberpunk," pp. 77-78; June 15, 1989.

Sacramento Union, October 26, 1988.

St. Petersburg Times, December 18, 1988, Richard Mathews, review of Mona Lisa Overdrive. San Francisco Chronicle, January 1, 1987.

Saturday Night, March, 1989, p. 69.

School Library Journal, May, 2003, Christine C. Menefee, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 179.

Science Fiction Review, fall, 1985; summer, 1986; winter, 1986.

Science-Fiction Studies, March, 1995, Istvan Sciscery-Ronay, Jr., "Antimancer: Cybernetics and Art in Gibson's 'Count Zero,'" p. 63; November, 1998, Ross Farnell, "Posthuman Topologies: William Gibson's 'Architexture' in Virtual Light and Idoru," p. 459.

Seattle Times, October 24, 1988.

Spin, December, 1988.

Time, spring, 1995, p. 4; December 6, 1999, Michael Krantz, review of All Tomorrow's Parties, p. 120; February 10, 2003, Lev Grossman, review of Pattern Recognition, p. 80.

Times Literary Supplement, December 7, 1984; June 20, 1986; August 12, 1988, Paul Kincaid, review of Mona Lisa Overdrive; September 27, 1996, Paul Quinn, review of Idoru, p. 25; October 15, 1999, Keith Miller, review of All Tomorrow's Parties, p. 25.

Utne Reader, July, 1989, p. 28.

Variety, November 20, 2000, Ken Eisner, review of No Maps for These Territories, p. 19.

Village Voice, July 3, 1984; July 16, 1985; May 6, 1986; January 17, 1989.

Washington Post Book World, July 29, 1984, Charles Platt, review of Neuromancer, p. 11; March 23, 1986; October 25, 1987; November 27, 1988; February 15, 2004, Jennifer Howard, review of Pattern Recognition, p. T14.

West Coast Review of Books, September, 1985.

Whole Earth Review, January, 1985, p. 39; summer, 1989, "Cyberpunk Ezra: Interviews with William Gibson," pp. 78-82.

Writer, January, 2003, review of Pattern Recognition, pp. 10-11.


Guardian Online, (May 1, 2003), Hamish Mackintosh, "Talk Time: William Gibson."

Science Fiction Weekly Online, (February 24, 2004), Peter Darling, "Sandpapering the Conscious Mind with William Gibson."

William Gibson Official Web Site, (February 25, 2004).


No Maps for These Territories (documentary film), Mark Neal Productions (London, England), 2000.*