Five Fascinating Facts about William Gibson

Interesting William Gibson facts

1. William Gibson popularised the term ‘cyberspace’ in a short story of 1982. Defined as ‘the notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs’, cyberspace first appeared in fiction in William Gibson’s 1982 story ‘Burning Chrome’ (no relation to Google Chrome, we’re told), a story about a couple of freelance hackers. (Before it was published, Gibson read this story out at a science fiction convention – to an audience of four people.) But contrary to a widely held belief, William Gibson did not actually coin the term: it had originated, surprisingly, back in the 1960s when two Danish artists styled themselves as Atelier Cyberspace, after ‘cybernetics’, a term invented by Norbert Wiener way back in 1948 in his book Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. (‘Cybernetics’, by the way, comes from the Greek meaning ‘steersman’ or ‘pilot’.) Gibson, however, helped to bring the term ‘cyberspace’ to a much wider audience, especially after the success of his smash-hit cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, in that uncannily dystopian year, 1984.

2. However, he wasn’t the only cyberpunk author of the early 1980s. Indeed, another American author, William GibsonVernor Vinge, had published a novel in 1981 which explores similar terrain to Gibson’s fiction, particularly Neuromancer. Titled True Names, Vinge’s novel focuses on a group of computer hackers.

The NET is a waste of time, and that’s exactly what’s right about it. – William Gibson

3. Critic Norman Spinrad had commented on the cleverness of the title of Gibson’s defining novel Neuromancer. Spinrad pointed out in 1986 that the title contains not one, but three puns: ‘neuro’ (as in neurology, nerves, the human impulse); ‘necromancer’ (bringing to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s famous observation that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’); and ‘new romantic’ (this was the 1980s, the era of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, after all). The point is that Gibson’s fiction fuses the human with the technological, highlighting the romance of the machine, if you will – a sort of new Romanticism. Whatever you want to call it, it proved extremely popular: Neuromancer sold 6 million copies and was awarded the triple crown of the Nebula, the Philip K. Dick, and the Hugo awards.

4. Gibson is a keen user of the internet. He tweets as @GreatDismal, and here at Interesting Literature we’ve even had the privilege of appearing on his radar a couple of times, when he has retweeted us.

The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed. – William Gibson

5. He is ultimately responsible for The Matrix. The Matrix trilogy of films starring Keanu Reeves took its cue from William Gibson’s work, something Gibson approved of – citing this as the kind of chain of influence that went on in writing, including his own. The term ‘Matrix’ is even used in Gibson’s fiction, from his novel Neuromancer onwards. Fittingly, Keanu Reeves, star of The Matrix, had already taken the titular lead in the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic, which was adapted from a 1981 short story by Gibson about a man who has had a data storage system implanted in his head, like a human Google (but three years – or, in the case of Gibson’s original story, seventeen years, before Google was launched). But Gibson’s work extends beyond Neuromancer, of course. His novel Pattern Recognition says much about our present-day world by taking an ingenious idea and seeing what happens, like the best of Philip K. Dick’s fiction – it focuses on a marketing consultant who is allergic to brands and logos.

If you enjoyed this list of literary trivia, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.

Image: Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his 60th birthday; March 17, 2008 (author: Gonzo Bonzo), Wikimedia Commons.


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  2. Fun fact: The Matrix is a bar in hippie-time San Fransisco that is featured in Gonzo Highway, a collection of letters by Hunter S. Thompson (page 167 if my memory is correct).

  3. I have read over 20 of Asimov’s novel but I could’t finish Neuromancer in fourteen years. That is not to say I was not blown over by Matrix, at least the first part of it. Thank you for featuring the iconic science fiction writer. Incidentally, that was a great line retweeted by Mr Gibson.