essex timeslip

I went out to supper tonight on my own, with a couple of books to remove my attention from this unwelcome fact: the penguin Nietzsche Reader, and Idoru.
Some years ago I interviewed William Gibson, and liked him hugely:

he told me then that you could not write a truly contemporary novel that was not science fiction, because the present and the past are both interdigitated with the future now. There is no standard baseline for the present, the way there was in Fiftie America, when the future also seemed self-evidently distinct. I tried this line out, years later, on Brian Aldiss, who was not impressed. But then Aldiss has a low opinion of Gibson. I can see why such a protean writer as BA would think little of so immediately distinctive a stylist as Gibson, who is as recognisable and as easy to parody as Graham Greene. I can see why; but I think Gibson has grown into his style in recent books.

But the point of this ramble is to sya thet Gibson time is now found everywhere. it;ps not just on the West Coast, or in the Sprawl, or Bangkok and Tokyo. Even in Saffron Walden, where I sat reading something written in 1886, and idly watching the mobile on my table, what really drove it home were the wall decorations: jazz 78s bolted to the wall, one of them by “Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaian Serenaders”.

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2 Responses to essex timeslip

  1. Rupert says:

    “I was sitting on the top of a 73 bus going past King’s Cross Station, reading an article on nanotechnology atomic power cells retrieved just seconds before from a New Zealand blog, when the screen blanked and the phone played a short blast of an organ arrangement of Danse Macabre — previously recorded from the Home Service — to tell me my editor wanted to talk…”

    That didn’t happen this weekend, but only because I was on a 24 going through Camden Town when it did. I don’t see it as evidence of the future bleeding into the present any more than it was in the 50s, when suddenly there were rockets and jets and television and electricity everywhere. These things were belched out of the discontinuity of WWII, and the future was a straight line extrapolation. That turned at the high water marks of Apollo and Concorde, Harrisburg et cet. No wonder people felt in the 70 and 80s that the future had let them down.

    Now we’re trolling onwards from that, just with stuff going on under the surface of daily life. Whether you go along with Kurtzweil’s own brand of extrapolation or not, there is going to be something odd happening with cognitish machines soon, a lot of dumb computers dumped in a sea of connectivity and who knows what getting ready to metamorphosise after maggot-mining our data. And on top of that, there are the cultural implications of this great wobbly sponge greedily soaking up every scrap of extant information, as quickly as it can osmosise it across the analogue/digital membrane.

    That’s before you start to wonder about what’s going on in materials science, quantum computing and gene tech (someone ought to write a book about that). We are cracking open more bottles of weirdness than perhaps we can consume: that we don’t know what’s going to happen next is because you can’t extrapolate from so many unknowns.

    The future is distinct and strange, and the past is as distant as ever. I saw footage of the early to mid 70s Britain on the telly earlier, the first period I have much memory of. It seems a very different world.

    So, no, I don’t buy the fuzzy present, and yes you can write a truly contemporary novel that’s not science fiction, and I quite see why Gibson gets Aldiss’ back up when he says things like that.

    Why do I always get the urge to write purple prose at this time of a Sunday night?


  2. Andrew says:

    I think the answer to your last question has something to do with materials science.

    I still think Gibson has grasped something important about the future. I’ll put the interview up when I have figured out how to format it.
    Perhaps it’s just that I define the future as “anything that happened after I was twelve”.

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