Tuesday, October 05, 2010

William Gibson and Cory Doctorow at Intelligence Squared

William Gibson in conversation with Cory Doctorow

I must admit to a couple of small confessions: I've been reading William Gibson's books for 22 years, and I've never before seen him live; I'll come to the second confession later. This Intelligence Squared event was therefore probably a little more exciting for me than it might have been for the dozens of other attendees last night at Cadogan Hall in London, many of whom appeared to have seen him many, many times before.

Gibson makes it clear from the beginning that he finds ideas "through the narratives" of his stories, allowing them to "re-complicate, circle around and come back" rather than starting with the book's theme. He says that people often ask him whether this particular novel, Zero History, and the three-part oeuvre of which it is the final instalment, is a snapshot of the first ten years of the 21st century. He dismisses this - showing particular dislike for the word "snapshot", preferring to see it as a decade-long pinhole camera exposure - a palimpsest - with superimposing narratives.

He doesn't appear comfortable at all, on stage, at a lectern. He's tall. Thin. Stooped. Dressed in a wind- (and presumable water-) proof jacket, chinos in a shade of olive green that probably has a particular name, striped socks and plimsoles. I think he'd like his shoes to be described as plimsoles, rather than sneakers. I noticed his socks as I was sat in the front row, almost at his feet.

"We can no longer grow the full beef of bohemia - it's all veal now"

Cory Doctorow dresses as he does on Twitter. What do I mean by this? Well, he wears the same, purple red, multi-button-holed, padded jacket that he does in his Twitter profile pic. He looks strikingly at odds with Gibson, although it's clear they share some history. Cory - once described as the Gibson of his generation - interviewed him back in 1999. At that point, they both agreed that change was coming - exponentially - and in unidentifiable ways. Sitting across from each other a decade on, one wonders what the next ten years will bring, although both confess to still having no clue as to what will happen next.

Given the central premise of Zero History, there is the obligatory discussion about clothing. Gibson informs us that there is a particular way of dressing in Afghanistan that screams "operator". Striped Polo shirt, Ralph Lauren slacks. Presumably a gun. Where does he find out about this stuff?

I must admit to smiling more than I had in a long time, nodding vigorously and probably looking like a loon, as I listened to Cory question Gibson on prophecy, bohemia, China, steampunk and cheese. Actually, there was no mention of cheese, but it was that kind of evening.

Steampunk was punctuated by the production of a leather "gimp" mask, by Bob Basset, and a question from Cory as to why it's taken over 20 years since the publication The Difference Engine for steampunk to hit the mainstream. My view is that steampunk has taken a large detour through Japan first, having been gleefully reinterpreted by Hayao Miyazaki, before being pressed through the sunny streets of Harajuku and somehow arriving in the bizarre leather-work of a Russian named Bob. But what do I know?

It was a fascinating evening, culminating in a book signing. The entire evening is available to listen / download here.

Oh. I said I had another secret. I do. I asked @GreatDismal to dedicate my copy of Zero History. Hey ho.


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