The first part of Geeta Daval's interview at Wired
with the acute William Gibson on his novels and his views of the genre's predictive capacities makes for fascinating reading.
Wired: [P]eople always talk about how prophetic Neuromancer was and how your books are so accurate in so many ways, in their predictive capacity.
Gibson: No, they do, but that’s part of this cultural thing we do as a culture, that we do with prediction. Science fiction writers aren’t fortune tellers. Fortune tellers are fakes. Fortune tellers are either deluded or charlatans. You can find science fiction writers who are deluded or science fiction writers who are charlatans — I can think of several of each in the history of the field. Every once in a while, somebody extends their imagination down the line, far enough with a sufficient lack of prejudice, to imagine something that then actually happens. When it happens, it’s great, but it’s not magic. All the language we have for describing what science fiction writers and futurists of other stripes do is nakedly a language of magic.
I’m having a week where some well-intentioned person on the internet describes me as “oracular.” As soon as one of the words with a magic connotation is attached — I know this from ongoing experience — as soon as someone says “oracular,” it’s like, boom! It’s all over the place; it’s endlessly repeated. It’s probably not bad for business. But then I wind up spending a lot of time disabusing people of the idea that I have some sort of magic insight…. You can also find, if you wanted to Google through all the William Gibson pieces on the net, you can find tons of pieces, where people go on and on about how often I’ve gotten it wrong. Where are the cellphones? And neural nets? Why is the bandwidth of everything microscopic in Neuromancer? I could write technological critique of Neuromancer myself that I think could probably convince people that I haven’t gotten it right.
Because the thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn’t actually like the internet at all! It’s something; I didn’t get it right but I said there was going to be something. I somehow managed to convey a feeling of something. Curiously, that put me out ahead of the field in that regard. It wasn’t that other people were getting it wrong; it was just that relatively few people in the early 1980s, relatively few people who were writing science fiction were paying attention to that stuff. That wasn’t what they were writing about.
I was very lucky — ridiculously lucky in the timing of my interests with a science fiction novel about the digital. Ridiculously lucky. When I was writing it, or actually even before, like a couple of years before, when I was writing the two short stories that Neuromancer sort of emerged from, that the world of Neuromancer emerged from — when I was writing them, they took like a week or two to write, each one. When I was writing each one, it was, “Oh please please let me get this thing published before the 20,000 other people writing exactly the same story right now get theirs published.” Because I just thought it was so obvious. I thought, “This is it. This is what science fiction writers call steam engine time for this kind of story.”
You know steam engine time? Humans have built little toys, steam engines, for thousands of years. The Greeks had them. Lots of different cultures. The Chinese had them. Lots of different cultures used steam to make little metal things spin around. Nobody ever did anything with it. All of a sudden someone in Europe did one out in a garden shed and the industrial revolution happened. That was steam engine time. When I was writing those first stories, I didn’t even know to call the thing the digital. But it was steam engine time. It was happening.
Some guy in England was selling a computer the size of a dictionary. I didn’t know — and it wouldn’t have mattered to me — that the dictionary-sized computer that guy was selling was as powerful as a Casio wristwatch was going to be in a few years, but that was all I needed to know was that you could order these things in magazines and they were small. So I thought, OK, they’re going to be cheap and ubiquitous, increasingly so. What are people going to do with them? It just seemed to fall together so naturally. I was kind of amazed for years after that, that there hadn’t been this huge wave of science fiction writers rushing up behind me, and squashing me flat as I got out the gate with my little cyberspace thing. But actually they did; it took a while. It was very strange. It was good for me, that.