The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

William Gibson won't stop splurging on his wardrobe experiments

In the last of a two-part special, the Neuromancer author answers The Next Chapter’s version of the Proust Questionnaire.
William Ford Gibson is an American-Canadian speculative fiction writer and essayist. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

William Gibson envisioned the internet and virtual reality before they existed. He foresaw these things and many other current realities in his science fiction novels like Neuromancer, Pattern Recognition, Zero History and his latest, Agency.

Gibson stopped by The Next Chapter to answer its version of the Proust Questionnaire. You can read part one here.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

"To be in the moment and to be working at something creatively and to be loved, possibly in that order. Because I know that I can be loved and not be in the moment and not be doing anything creative."

Who are your favourite characters in history?

"My favorite character in history is Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov. Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces and on the evening of Sept. 26, 1983, he found himself down in a bunker with the red button on the table in front of him. He was looking at screens and all of them said, in Russian, as an order: 'launch,' because their early warning system had just told them that the Americans had launched everything they had. And Petrov sat there looking at it, thinking 'This doesn't look right,' and the phone started to ring and it's Moscow and they're saying: 'Launch,' and he's saying 'it doesn't look right.' And he stalled them until all the screens switched to say 'malfunction, malfunction.' Most people have never even heard of the guy. But he literally saved the entire world."

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

"I'm inclined — not entirely so much out of my own experience — to think that clinical depression is probably, potentially for most people the most miserable thing because I think it can allow the sufferer to feel just as bad as they possibly can, regardless of whatever else they might have going on in their life.

"I can't prove it because luckily I haven't had a lot of really terrible things happen in my life. But the degree of depression I've experienced and the much greater degree of depression that I've witnessed and felt in others causes me to think that it could potentially just be the worst."

What is your greatest extravagance? 

"My greatest extravagance is nerdy wardrobe experimentation. I'm obsessed with certain kinds of clothing. I'm not obsessed with fashion. I'm interested in super functional — what people now call techwear, but it's always been around. It's caused me to be very interested, all my life, in military clothing, not because I fetishize military things, but because military clothing is the way it is and looks the way it is because it's never had to be designed for sale. It's just designed to do what it does. It's a kind of personal architecture, wearable architecture and I spend too much on checking out developments in that field. Although I actually, over the years, sort of inadvertently wound up making enough money to cover my habit simply from being interested in it."

What is your greatest achievement?

"I think my greatest achievement has been, to whatever extent I've been able to do it, balancing the needs of creativity against the needs of having a family with the caveat that I've only been able to do this with a great deal of help." 

William Gibson's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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