The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

Iconic science fiction novelist William Gibson wishes he could be a modern day coolhunter

In this first of a two-part special, the Neuromancer author answers the Proust Questionnaire.
William Ford Gibson is an American-Canadian speculative fiction writer and essayist. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

This interview originally aired on March 28, 2020.

William Gibson is considered the father of cyberpunk, a branch of science fiction. He has won sci-fi's three biggest prizes — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo Award. The American-Canadian author also coined the term cyberspace and wrote about the Internet and virtual reality before they even existed. 

His novels have included NeuromancerThe Peripheral and Zero History. His latest, Agency charts the human reaction to technology and creates worlds that feel both near and far as well as very much of the current moment.

When he stopped by The Next Chapter to take our version of the Proust Questionnaire, he had so many thoughtful answers, we've divided it into two parts. 

Below, is the first part.

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

"I don't think I have a favourite character in fiction, per se. The closest thing I have would be J.G. Ballard's authorial voice. Not his characters, who are often indistinguishable. They are men with very ordinary names and matching personalities. But the voice in which Ballard describes what they're experiencing is really haunting, and in some sense is always with me. 

"I don't really have that with any character, my own included, in the conventional sense."

If you could change something about yourself what would it be?

"If I could change something about myself, I would decrease my general level of anxiety — and be able to live more in the moment."

What phrase do you most overuse?

"The word, 'very.' When I complete a novel, I have to do a word search for the word, which I have used very, very, many times. I remove almost all of them. I'm willing to allow maybe three uses per novel. I'm horrified by the idea that, in my speech, it's no doubt completely larded with the word."

If I could change something about myself I would decrease my general level of anxiety — and be able to live more in the moment.

What do you value most in your friends?

"I think I value emotional intelligence most in friends. I probably value it more than intelligence in the conventional sense. Because an extremely intelligent friend who has no emotional intelligence still isn't, to my mind, capable of being that good a friend."

What is your favourite occupation?

"My favourite occupation, and in terms of something I'd love to be able to be, doesn't really have a name. The only person I know who fully has that occupation is a Japanese coolhunter, I guess you could call it, named Hiroshi Fujiwara. He doesn't have an equivalent in American culture or North American culture rather — there's nobody who does what he does. It's difficult for me to explain it. He finds things — it could be music, it could be some sort of hat — that's a traditional thing that people have forgotten about, and he signifies it as cool.

My favourite heroes in real life are systematically disadvantaged people who articulate the societal causes of their disadvantaged merits — and continue to do so until that changes.

"It becomes part of the pantheon of cool. But he's very talented that way. I think the thing that certified him, earned him the throne in Japan, is that he brought hip-hop back to Japan. He was the first person to turn up with hip-hop records and deejay them and people worship at his feet. Now his job is being Hiroshi Fujiwara.

Who are your favourite heroes in real life? 

"My favourite heroes in real life are systematically disadvantaged people who articulate the societal causes of their disadvantaged merits — and continue to do so until that changes."

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

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now