Taking Off the Mirrorshades: a Review of
William Gibson's appearance in Portland, Oregon

Alan P. Scott - Rants - Reviews

autograph hound

On the evening of September 18th, I had the pleasure of seeing William Gibson speak, in a packed upstairs room at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

I'd seen two sf authors speak there previously: Kim Stanley Robinson, touring behind Blue Mars, and Jack Womack, author of Random Acts of Senseless Violence and several other gritty novels of the near future. Womack is apparently a friend of Gibson's, or at least Gibson mentioned Womack telling him that he was considering moving to Portland just to be near Powell's, a sentiment I can understand!

Their crowds were respectable, but not like this bunch... this time the place was standing room only, filled with all manner of fans, from stereotypical sf (pudgy white male with glasses) to outrageous (long green hair, piercings doubled and trebled on every flap of skin, black leather and shiny black vinyl and black fishnet hose).

Of course, Gibson's new novel Idoru has been getting a lot of attention from the print media. So far, I've seen articles on the book in Wired, Spin, and the free press Willamette Week, and a feature in the Portland Oregonian's "Arts & Books" section (an interesting phrase, that, as if art and books were somehow separate. Reminiscent of the similarly specious distinction between "drugs and alcohol"... but I digress).

* * *

Gibson walked promptly up to the mike at 7:30pm, dressed casually in a black jacket over rusty black T-shirt featuring Japanese characters in a bright green LED font. Even though he had a cold, or so I surmised from his clogged voice and frequent sips of water, he turned out to be quite a cheerful and engaging speaker; he read forcefully from chapter 3 of the new novel, rather Dilbertpunk and very entertaining - he had us applauding and guffawing at his characterization of the typical media consumer - and answered quite a few questions, some of which I'd seen bandied about on the 'net without previous resolution.

For instance, he explained why the American release of Johnny Mnemonic is so darned bad (or so I've heard; I haven't actually seen the film, due in part to the bad press, and in part to my utter indifference to the magic of Keanu Reeves). From Gibson's perspective as someone "intimately involved at every level"* with the production of the film, the post-production editing is to blame. He touted instead the Japanese version, which has an entirely different musical score, 15 minutes of extra footage, and subtitling in Kanji, so the English dialogue is preserved in the soundtrack. The Kanji runs vertically down the sides of the picture, too, so there's less distraction from the imagery. I must admit he did pique my interest in seeing the film despite its apparent shortcomings.

Gibson explains why Molly doesn't appear in the movie, too... it has nothing to do with the widespread rumor that someone else had already bought the rights to that character. In fact, his explanation is quite the opposite, and quite simple: he held Molly back, "hiding her under a paper bag" for a while, so she wouldn't end up property of Sony Pictures; thereby he's left the way open for a future filmed version of Neuromancer itself. No, he did not announce plans for any such film... but at least Molly's there for it if there is one someday.

He mused for a while about the amazement that some people express at the contrast of him writing Neuromancer on a manual typewriter. After all, he pointed out, at the time he was a grad student, not yet a successful author... when he was writing Neuromancer in the early 1980s there were no personal computers to speak of (they were "home computers," and they were either pathetically underqualified for the job of writing novels, or prohibitively expensive for a struggling graduate student). Of course he wrote the book on a typewriter!

How quickly things change; Gibson expressed a certain amount of amazement himself, that the IBM Selectric was, in the '70s, "every writer's dream. Now... they're landfill."

He also threw out a free hint about a likely collectible antique of the future: the type balls, sturdiest flowers of the late Electromechanical Age, used in those very same IBM Selectrics. I could easily see his point; they do have a certain functional beauty that would be striking in a display case or massed in a wall installation, as well as coming in a variety of fonts that would lend itself well to taxonomical classification.

* * *

I ended up in the back of the book-signing line; every now and then a lucky one who'd been near the front would walk past with his (or her; there were a FEW women there) freshly-signed armload, and burst out with a spontaneous expression of sympathy, as if we in the back had been in an auto accident or something equally deserving of their pity. The line moved fairly swiftly once it got started, though; the Powell's staff had thoughtfully passed out Post-It notes on which we could pre-spell our names for him, which made things easier.

While we were waiting, the store intercom announced that a Toyota Camry with license plate "GO DOT" was going to be towed if it didn't move... upon the repetition of the announcement, though, it was obvious that the vanity plate was actually GODOT, as in "Waiting For," which I would have thought a Powell's bookstore employee would've known if anyone would have.

When I eventually did get up to the front of the line, Gibson's attention was, frankly, waning - not that I'd blame him. I told him he'd spoken well, and he thanked me. Then I said the line I'd been honing during the wait: "In the future, all relationships will last 30 seconds or less..."

He was already looking away when I looked at my watch and said "Wups. Guess time's up."

Well, the guy behind me chuckled.

Not wanting to hold up the line, which was still snaking around the bookshelves out of sight, I left with my own autographed book wrapped in a plastic bag against the Portland rain.

* * *

* Things I've put in quotation marks are my best recollection of Gibson's exact words; I didn't write anything down at the time but my memory of them is, I believe, accurate. Things attributed to Gibson but not in quotes are my paraphrases of things I heard Gibson say, and could more easily contain inaccuracies; corrections from people who were there or have heard Gibson say otherwise on other occasions are welcomed.

Original content on this page © Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

Contact me: