Saturday, April 21, 2018
Books

Review: Worlds of interest for your consideration in 'Distrust That Particular Flavor' by William Gibson

Ever since he coined the term "cyberspace" in 1981, speculative-fiction writer William Gibson has been a go-to guy for people eager to know where technology is taking world culture.

Turns out, being the go-to guy makes for a busy schedule. In addition to his 10 novels — the longer he writes, the closer his stories get to the present — Gibson has been a recurring contributor to magazines from Wired to Rolling Stone, has spoken at publishing events including 2010's Book Expo America and has written introductions to and reviews of books he's admired.

While he doesn't always bring forth wisdom, Gibson is usually interesting, so Distrust That Particular Flavor, a new collection of some of those nonfiction writings, is a breezy, engaging read.

Among other things, Distrust shows Gibson isn't your stereotypical SF guy. Topics range from Japanese culture to the joys of urban life to his pop music passions (Steely Dan, Moby Grape's Skip Spence). Sometimes he makes sweeping insights; more often, he's still working out his reactions to what he's experiencing.

In 1993, for example, Wired magazine sent Gibson to Singapore to get a read on the Asian economic powerhouse. The lengthy article that resulted, "Disneyland With the Death Penalty," paints the picture of a country "micromanaged by a state that has the look and feel of a very large corporation" — a nation with ambitious technological goals but whose chief creative outlets appeared to be shopping and eating. Singapore, Gibson notes, responded to the article by banning the import of Wired.

Unlike many collections of publishing ephemera from great or influential writers, Distrust includes at the end of each entry updates, clarifications or second thoughts from Gibson. A haunting piece on New York City, written for the Globe and Mail shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is followed by a note from Gibson explaining that the writing of the article helped him decide to continue writing the novel he had just started, with a character whose roots were firmly in New York. Gibson's straightforward discussion of his thinking at the time gives both the essay and the novel he later wrote — 2003's Pattern Recognition — an added dimension.

Distrust might be better for readers already plugged into Gibson's evolving fictional worlds. If he's new territory for you, a better introduction might be Gibson's Twitter feed GreatDismal (twitter.com/greatdismal), a smart, curiosity-powered series of posts and retweets mixing the author's passions (great writing, democracy movements, Vancouver food trucks). Like Distrust, it will take you to a lot of places you might not have realized you were interested in till he took you there.

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