Number 17, January 1997
Spider and Jeanne Robinson
The View From A Chair
News From The Merril: The Old
and The New
1996 Member Survey: The Results Are In
Post Modern Sublime: William Gibson, Virtual Light,
and the "perfect mingling of ecstasy and dread”
A Voyage To Mars: Event Report
1997 Academic Conference on Canadian Science
Fiction and Fantasy
to SOL Rising page
Spider and Jeanne Robinson
by Mici Gold
creative marriage of the writing team of Jeanne and Spider Robinson works
so well, in their opinion, because they appreciate each other's artistry.
In fact, that is what brought them together in the first place.
reminisced during an interview at a Toronto-area convention where she and
Spider were guests (Primedia, 1995).
Jeanne: "We met in the woods in Nova Scotia. Literally. I'm from Boston. I had bought a piece of
property with two other people. We were like twenty-three years old. We
heard of a friend of ours who'd gotten married and gone up to Nova Scotia for her honeymoon and she
came back saying: `The land is cheap! The land is cheap!'
went up there, it was the early seventies, and found fifty acres on the Bay of Fundy for twelve hundred bucks. The
three of us put in $400 each. We built this little cabin called the
"T.A." (for Total Anarchy). Eventually I
came to Canada and started to dance in a
dance company. I went home for the weekend to my property and Daniel was
there, my ex-husband, with his new lady, Amy, and his sister Mary. And
Spider came with his friends from college."
Spider: "I was visiting friends about ten miles away, and they
brought me to meet these interesting folks who lived up the road. And I was
a little confused. It was one of those kerosene-lit hippie shacks late at
night, so I couldn't really see anybody's face, but I was aware there was
this guy and then there were these three women. And they all seemed to
relate to him as though they were some sort of partner or mate-"
Jeanne: "Or friends."
Spider: "I didn't get the
relationship, so I wasn't sure who it was safe to make a pass at. I just
decided to stay in reserve. I took out my guitar and I started a scadded blues, with no lyrics, just one of those scads, and across the room came back an answering blues
voice that had as much loneliness in it as mine did. 'I've got to find out
who that is when the sun comes up.' So when I got home that night, I said
to my friends, `Who's the one who was singing?' And they said, `Oh, that's
Jeannie, she's in a dance company."'
explained that Jeanne was Daniel's ex-wife, and Spider got excited.
Spider: "She's eligible! Ah!
Ah! Damn! So, there was one other meeting, there was a party at which we
bumped into each other. Jeannie tells me that I inserted myself between her
and her new boyfriend, completely ignoring him. I never saw the poor
bastard. I honestly never, I was not aware he existed."
Jeanne: "He was so arrogant."
Spider: "It would have been
arrogant if I'd known he existed. I just saw you and drifted toward you and
there may have been some obstacles in the way... At that party I said, `And
what do you do?' And she said, `I dance.' I said, 'Oh, well, where do you
dance?' And she said, `Well, I'll be dancing near here in a couple of
knew immediately that I wanted to sleep with her. My intentions were purely
dishonourable. It was in the course of chasing
after her in order to seduce her, in order to ingratiate myself, I went to
a dance performance that she was appearing in, thinking this would give me
points. Halfway through watching her do her first solo that evening, my
plans changed and I suddenly realized I was going to have to marry this
woman. And then it was a question of persuading her."
Jeanne: "I was not interested
in dating. I was just interested in my career at that point. And finally he
gave me a couple of short stories and he said, 'I really do, I write
science fiction.' Uh-huh. Okay. So what? 'So, here why don't you read these
stories. I've sold them to this magazine called Analog. They haven't seen print yet
'cause there's like this year delay by the time they get out there.' Once I
read them, I saw this guy as a genuinely talented kid. I mean, I really was
impressed. So I sort of took a different look at him."
Spider: "For both of us, it was
seeing each other's art that made us fall in love."
was the creative bond that kept them together when Jeanne's dancing career
inevitably came to an end.
Jeanne: "It was devastating to
stop dancing. I tell you, I was nuts. I didn't do Prozac. It was before
Spider: "It was a disaster for Jeannie, it was a God-send for me. When we write
together, it's better than when I write by myself. I can't define the
difference, I can just point to it and say, `Look, those three books that
we did are better than the eighteen I did by myself."'
Jeanne: "There's something
about the broader spectrum of creativity, I've been an artist all my life
in one shape or form, and it's kind of interesting to make this segue into
writing with Spider. It's equally as delicious as being a choreographer,
without some of the bummer stuff along with it because you have to
collaborate with so many people.."
Spider: "And I have to please
one editor. Or when we're writing together, we have to please one editor
and we're done."
Jeanne: "If I have the
opportunity to use Spider's vehicle for my visions rather than the medium
of dance for my visions, I'm satisfied. But I think that I would go bananas
or bonkers as a human being, if I didn't have some way to satisfy that
aspect of who I am. I don't mind going to the grocery store and changing
the sheets and doing maintenance, if every once in a while, I get to use
that other part of me that's been used since I was five."
Spider "And I've gotten plenty
out of the deal. I won a stack of awards. Frankly, it's since the time of Stardance
that it's become totally possible for us to support ourselves on what comes
out of the damn word processor. Up until that point, it was touch and go,
and we were living in a place where $2,000 a year was a lot of money. We
grew our food, we cut our firewood."
Jeanne: "We cut a cord of wood
in order for him to write his first novel. We were paid three grand."
Spider (beginning a new tale):
"And a silly little technological story: when we were married, it was
a triple wedding ceremony. There was Jeannie and me, there was her
ex-husband and his new wife, and there was his sister and her new husband,
they were all living together in a commune, that's how weird we were in
those days. We all got married in an outdoor, hippie wedding. Hundreds of
hippies came from miles around. And there was a passing video crew,
vacationing from New York, who brought over video gear,
which in those days wasn't easy. Golf-carts and massive back packs, five
guys had to carry all those
Jeanne: "It wasn't portable, but it was called a portable video in
Spider: "'They video-taped our outdoor wedding and we ran into the
kitchen afterwards and had in instant-replay in the house. But it never
occurred to any of the three couples, me included, the science fiction
writer, to ask them for a copy of the tape. What the hell were we going to
do with a video-tape twenty years ago? Go down to the local TV station and
ask if we could borrow their equipment to run it? We had no idea that three
years later, there would be home, consumer VHS's in every house. So
somewhere out there, there's some idiots with a tape of our wedding and we-'
Jeanne (wistfully): "We'll never see it again."
Spider: "Can't say science fiction is good for prediction. Even
science fiction writers don't know what's going to happen two or three
years down the line."
Books by Jeanne & Spider Robinson
Stardance (Dial Press, 1979)
Books by Spider Robinson
Telempath (Berkley, 1976)
Saloon (Ace, 1977)
Armageddon 2419 A.D. (Ace, 1978)
Antimony (Dell, 1980)
The Best of All Possible Worlds
(Ace, 1990) (Anthology)
Strictly Cash (Ace, 1981)
Mindkiller a novel of the near future (Holt,
Rinehart and Winston, 1982)
Melancholy Elephants (Penguin, 1984)
Night of Power (Baen, 1985)
Callahan's Secret (Berkley, 1986)
Callahan and Company. The Compleat Chronicles of the Crosstime
Saloon (Phantasia Press, 1987)
Time Pressure (Ace, 1987)
Callahan's Lady (Ace, 1988)
True Minds (Author's Choice #12,
Copyright Violation (Pulphouse, 1990)
Kill the Editor (Axolotl, 1991)
Lady Slings the Booze (Ace, 1992)
The Callahan Touch (Ace, 1993)
Callahan's Legacy (TOR, 1996)
to top Home
The View From A
by Jody Hancock
At the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles this past Labour
Day weekend, one of the panels was entitled, "Has SF Killed the Space
Program?" The majority of the panelists were professionals in the
aerospace industry and, to a man, they replied that, in fact, just the
opposite was true for them. Each cited examples of how science fiction
inspired them as children to become engineers and scientists and how it
continues to inspire them in their work as adults. Indeed, the panelists
urged science fiction writers to continue imagining the unimaginable and
challenging the rest of us to turn today's fiction into tomorrow's fact.
By the time this column is published, a new push to
further explore Mars will have begun. It will be an international, multi‑year,
multi‑mission program, aggressive in scope and expectation.
Earthlings sent their first successful probe to Mars in 1965, eighteen
years after Werner von Braun proposed his "Mars Project" which
would send ten manned ships to explore the red planet, and 267 years after Christiaan Huygens first speculated about the
possibility of intelligent life on Mars.
While the speculation of intelligent life on Mars has
since proved false, science fiction has preceded science fact again and
again in the past three centuries. Astronomers in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels detailed the
orbital mechanics of two Martian satellites 150 years before the two moons,
Phobos and Deimos, were
discovered by Asaph Hall. In 1880, Percy Greg
published Across The Zodiac, a
two volume novel about a trip to Mars, while the late 1890's brought us War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells and Edison's Conquest of Mars, published by Garrett Serviss.
Stories involving travel to and living on Mars are
part and parcel of twentieth century popular culture and, while there are
no Martians‑bug‑eyed or otherwise‑we have witnessed the ability
to travel to Mars (via robotic probes) unfold from science fiction into
science fact. Manned missions and human habitation are poised to make that
same transition, perhaps in our lifetime. The fiction of the past has
become reality in the present. Why should today's tales of thriving
colonies and terraformed worlds not become the
reality of tomorrow?
The power and the beauty of science fiction, and of
all speculative fiction, arises from its ability to imagine the
unimaginable, to take readers to seemingly impossible places and leave them
thinking, not impossible, just
not possible yet. No other literary genre takes hold of
the accepted view of reality, turns it inside out, and dares the reader to
see new possibilities. The renewed exploration of Mars is one example of
what can happen when those possibilities are not only seen but acted upon.
I suggest we all celebrate this union of fiction and
fact, of dreamer and doer, by reading, or re‑reading, one or more of
the many excellent works of Mars‑related fiction which the genre has
to offer. When you've finished, share that work with someone who doesn't
usually read speculative fiction and show them what they've been missing.
to top Home
News from the Merril: The Old and
by Lorna Toolis
Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 1997. As I
write this, Collection staff are celebrating the
first full year of operation in the new site. In October 1995, the Merril Collection opened in the new Lillian H. Smith Building at 239 College Street. In many ways, the new
facilities have been wondrous.
As the longest surviving staff member (just over 10
years; members of the Friends need not club together for a walker and
hearing‑aid just yet), I am deeply moved whenever I go into the new
stacks and find a book where it is supposed to be, rather than someplace
odd where it will fit.
The staff always understood the theory of
alphabetically filing the collection, but the application was difficult in
the old building on St. George. Those of you who used the Collection then
will remember that the old building was strangely constructed: crooked as a
dog's hind leg and the only building I have ever known wherein heat refused
Ah, the good old days. "Don't you ever miss the
old building?" patrons ask me.
Well, actually, no. Without wanting to disturb
anyone's sentimental memories, the old dump was too hot in the summer, too
cold in the winter and the air was filled with crud year round. When I
think of it as it is now, the West Annex of the University of Toronto Engineering Faculty, I think of it filled with
cold engineering students and even colder staff, all wondering why the heat
doesn't rise. Except for the people in what used to be the Osborne Collection;
in that section of the building the temperature was usually over 90 degrees
in the winter. They roasted, while the rest of us froze.
Some aspects of the new building pose more of a
challenge than others. People either like the stainless steel bulkhead, as
the staff refer to the surprise
"architectural feature" that we found when we moved into the
building, or they dislike it quite a lot. After careful consideration, the staff have decided to act upon the recommendation of a
member of the Friends (who shall remain anonymous). Looking at the
stainless steel bulkhead, she said, "It makes me think about fridge
magnets‑a lot of fridge magnets." The staff and Friends are
therefore inviting donations of science fiction or fantasy magnets for
are sorry to contribute to the overall blur of internet information,
however, staff insist upon recommending the following web sites:
• The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5: www.hyperion.com
• My Word's Worth, for a librarian's point of
• The L‑Space Web,
for Terry Pratchett fans: www.lspace.org
of Dave Langford's writing: www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF‑Archives/Ansible/
• Little Tencton, for fans of Alien
• The Evil Overlord is necessary reading at: world.std.com/~olorin/peter_overlord.html
still read books. Authors currently hot with the staff and offered as
recommended reading for 1997 are: Jane Liskold,
Terry Pratchett, Rebecca Ore, John Barnes, Lois
McMaster Bujold, Tim Powers, Caroline Stevermer, Philip Pullman, Terry Green and Martha
the cat listened carefully to what the mice wanted for Christmas. Then he
ate them, each and every one. I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas
to top Home
Survey: The Results Are In
by Theresa Wojtasiewicz
"1996/97 Strategic Plan
Objective: To build and strengthen the Friends of the Merril
Collection as a prelude to offering increased programming, financial and
outreach support to the Merril Collection...
This year, the executive committee has undertaken a
strategic plan to revise the structure and orientation of the Friends'
organization, a transformation made necessary by the changing fiscal
climate at every level. At the same time, the Executive Committee considers
among its priorities continuing to provide the members with the best
benefits for their membership dollar.
As the first step towards achieving these goals, we
compiled a survey targeted specifically for our membership, covering as
many areas of information as we could so that we could get a sense of where
our members were at vis‑à‑vis their interest and support of the
Friends. The response was overwhelming, with 42 returns out of 95 surveys
sent; a 44% return rate, which indicated very clearly that the Friends were
ready and willing to share their thoughts with us.
We are pleased to publish a précis of the results so
that you can see what your fellow members had to say.
Those responding were nearly evenly split between male
and female (52%, 48%). The majority of the respondents were 35‑50 years
old (58%). A significant percentage (71%) had incomes over $30,000. They
were employed in every occupation we had listed in our survey, with a
majority identifying themselves as professionals, followed by those
employed in the computer/electronics field, and in arts/entertainment.
About one‑third of the respondents were self‑employed. Only 26%
of respondents had children, with only a few of those having children under
the age of 13.
Most had computers (93%), although not as many said
they were computer literate (86%). Two‑thirds (66%) had access to the
Respondents were also active in clubs and activities
other than the Friends (83%), being involved in SF&F related groups
such as SFWA, SF Canada, Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Foundation,
media SF fan clubs, and various writers/readers groups. 55% never attended
club meetings, and 57% went to 1‑3 conventions per year.
About half the respondents (48%) went to the library
at least twice a month, with the average number of books read or borrowed
about 5‑6. Most respondents considered themselves to be readers
(83%); about half (55%) accumulated books and about one‑third (31%)
collected books. There were other types of collectors (60%), who collected
a wide range of items including music CD's and tapes, movies (on various
media), comics, art, stamps, post‑cards, models, quotations, Trek
stuff, coins, melmac, buttons, dolls, porcelain,
model cars and paperweights.
Respondents liked to read materials other than
SF&F as well, with a majority (43%) reading between 5 and 10 books per
month and between 5 and 10 magazines per month (40%). They also liked to
buy between 5 to 10 books per month (43%), and between 5 to 10 magazines
per month (36%).
The respondents preferred reading SF books and
magazines (38% read quite a lot, while 55% read some). Readers of fantasy
preferred reading the genre sometimes (57%), while only a third (33%) read
horror sometimes. Non‑fiction books and magazines read sometimes were
more popular (40%, 52%).
A majority (57%) of respondents watched 13 movies a
week, and half (50%) said they watched specifically SF&F movies.
Respondents watched an average of 5 hours of television in general per week
(27%), and an average of 5 hours of SF&F specific television (31%).
Informational: Since there were so many topics to cover in
this section, we will mention only the highlights.
Overall, the favourite past‑time
for Friends when it comes to programming was the Author Readings (69%). Some
authors specifically suggested as future guests were Connie Willis, Robert
J. Sawyer, Spider Robinson, Elisabeth Vonarburg,
Neal Stephenson, Tanya Huff, Guy Kay, Harlan Ellison, Joe Haldeman, Stephen King, Charles de Lint, Gene Wolfe,
Samuel Delaney, Tanith Lee, Kathe
Koja, Robert Charles Wilson and Joan Vinge. Book launches were also popular (45% strongly
interested and 33% somewhat interested). There was some interest in art and
artists (43%); suggested guests included Bob Eggleton,
Michael Whelan, Kelly Freas, Tom Canty, Kevin Davids, Jim
Burns, Tom Kidd and Taral Wayne.
Respondents were also somewhat interested in the
library of the future (31%), fantasy (45%), and the Internet (33%, topics covering
SF and SF related material). Horror was more or less evenly split between
interest and no interest (33%, 36%). Japanimation,
fantasy miniatures, gaming and filk singing held
no interest for more than 50% of the respondents.
Respondents also expressed some interest in Canadians
in space (45%), Bob MacDonald's Quirks
and Quarks (36%), Rick Green (38%), science topics in general (38%),
and the science in science fiction (33%). Highlights of
the Merril Collection was also a very
popular topic among the respondents (43%).
A majority (60%) preferred Saturday afternoons from
September to May for regular program events.
Social: Again, author readings with reception following had
the best response (52% strongly, 24% somewhat). The December cream tea had
a less favourable response (24% strongly, 29%
Special Events: Here there was some interest in walking tours
with an SF theme (40%) or a horror theme (cemetary
walk, 29%) or in events held off‑site (45%). A book fair was also
popular (38% indicated a strong interest, while 33% indicated some
interest), as was a mini con (31%, 24%).
Author interviews were the most popular among the
respondents (76%), followed by highlights of the Merril
(67%), SF fan and author news (52%), upcoming books (48%), upcoming events
(45%), Friends programming (40%), and information on SF groups (19%).
Most people (76%) read all or most of their copy of SOL Rising, but didn't like to share
Respondents indicated an almost 50/50 split between
interest and no interest in Merril logo mugs and
t‑shirts, with a slight increase in interest in the book bags. Less favourable were the same category of items with other
graphics. Some suggestions were made for other merchandise, including note
cards, bookmarks, mouse pads, sweat‑shirts, jewellry,
art prints, plastic portable insulated coffee mugs or tumblers, lapel pins,
Metropass holders and scarves.
SF‑related stuff (including Merril
merchandise) that respondents bought over the last three years were t‑shirts (36%), buttons/pins (28%), mugs
(19%), greeting cards (19%) and book bags (12%). They also bought mousepads, model ships and software.
Respondents liked to buy their stuff mostly at
specialty shops (78%), World's Biggest Book Store, Coles and conventions
(43% for each), and via mail order (38%).
Bakka had the highest usage of
member discounts (43%), while Sci‑Fi World had the lowest (7%). 60%
said they would like more discounts, and suggested the Science Centre, theatres,
museums, art galleries, book clubs, SF organizations, convention
memberships and comics retailers.
Respondents were cautious about answering this
question, as evidenced by the high incidence of no responses. However,
about 50%* of those who did answer said they would respond best to a direct
solicitation for funds, 64%* favoured an auction
and about 43%* were amenable to indirect solicitation (such as sponsorship
opportunities). (*Note: these are unweighted
response ratings and should be considered as very broad indications.) Other
fundraising events suggested were contests, lucky draws, book launches with
an admission of $20‑25, book sales, social events, author dinners at
a dollar value per plate, and donations for specific purposes.
Although the results of the survey have not yet been
fully reviewed by the Executive, there are some conclusions that can be
inferred from the preliminary results noted above.
Programming: Although author readings and book launches are
high on the list of preferred events, it is interesting to note that
attendance at these types of events has been going down steadily over the
past couple of years. This disparity in what events are preferred versus actual attendance will be
studied by the Executive and possible solutions to correct the situation
Merchandising: It is interesting to note that
sales of Merril merchandise have taken place
largely outside the membership. T-shirts and mugs have sold particularly
well at the conventions and other off‑site events we attended this
year. One of the goals in the Strategic Plan is to bring in new members. Merril merchandise is a method of outreach which
generates interest in the Friends and Friends' activities as well as
raising funds, and so, although it does not need to rely solely on sales to
the existing membership, we would still like to encourage our members to
support this venture.
Fundraising: The Executive is presently drafting a
fundraising plan; the cautious response to fundraising from the members
will certainly be considered before the plan is finalized.
Verbatim comments: Some of the respondents had
some very strong statements to make about what was being asked in the
survey. Summarized, the most frequently made query about programming was
about the possibility of scheduling events on Sunday. In response to this,
Loma Toolis, Collection Head, says: "Having
any events in the building on Sunday would require the friends to pay a
custodian to come in (double‑time). It would also require a change in
the building insurance, even more expensive." Among the comments
regarding what respondents liked least about the new building, the one
which came up most often was that of not being able to browse the stacks. Toolis explains: "There are two concerns here
about why the stacks are now closed stacks. First: The stacks are kept
temperature and humidity controlled in order to extend the life of the old
paper. Constant and regular access to the stacks would make this precaution
a waste of conservation effort and money.
"Second: At 40 St. George, we didn't have room
for all of the books in the reading room, so we put the really valuable
books in the back out of harm's way. We lost books from the front room but
relatively few of the rare and valuable ones. In the new building, our
usage indicators have gone up dramatically. We have gone from having around
5,000+ patrons in a year to over 13,000. Something I am sorry to bring to
your attention, folks, but not all people are as concerned for the welfare
of the Merril Collection as the members of the
Friends. Not all people are honest, either. A lot of the books in the
collection have become valuable over the passage of time. A study
commissioned by the Board once estimated that if the collection circulated
we would lose all of the valuable books within the first six months. We
anticipate that the same thing will happen if we make the stacks open
"It isn't fair that some people can spoil a fun
thing for everyone. I know. We are all really lucky to have access to these books at all. You can come to
the desk and ask for any SF book, no matter how rare or valuable and it
will be delivered to you in minutes. (Unless someone stole it from the open stacks at
the old building.) Limited access is better than none. Sad but true."
Respondents also were unhappy with the meeting space
in the basement, stating it was "cold" and "sterile"
with "bad acoustics."
What did respondents like best about the building? The
griffins, of course!
About why the respondents joined the Friends, the
overwhelming majority said, generally, that they wanted to support the Merril Collection, as one respondent described it,
"a world class collection," and that they had sought (and found)
a sense of community, shared interests and friendship among the Friends of
the Merril Collection. It is interesting to note
that with the cautious response to fundraising from our respondents, we
will need to explore the nature of this support in further detail.
The Executive Committee would like to thank all of you
who responded to the survey. Your voices have been heard, and now the task
of putting it all together into the Strategic Plan begins. The Friends of
the Merril Collection will improve thanks to your
continuing support and interest: we can only become stronger.
Postscript: The winner of the survey draw was Terrence
M. Greene. Congratulations, Terry!
to top Home
Sublime: William Gibson, Virtual Light, and the “perfect mingling of
ecstasy and dread”
by Mark Shainblum and Matthew Friedman. Originally Published in
Listen carefully: William Gibson is not a guru. If you
want to understand anything about him, you have to understand this basic
"My sense of what a guru does involves a kind of
give and take with the guru figure, something no one can honestly claim to
have with me," he told Hour in
a wide ranging interview. "I think the whole idea is a terrible,
pathological, social problem."
Co‑founder of cyberpunk, the sub‑genre of
science fiction which took the SF world by storm in the early '80s, Gibson
also flatly denies any affinity for the technoculture
phenomenon which seems to have spilled out of his books and onto the streets.
Gibson views cyberpunk as an example of what academics
might call a "meme." "Memes are these little free floating
bits of ideas that get out," he explains. They become processed,
packaged commodities, like Big Macs. But unlike fast food, memes have a
life of their own.
"Fast food restaurants have a kind of DNA,"
Gibson continues. "You don't walk down the street and see a McDonald's
selling Cajun Sushi. That's what memes are like. Part of one thing
attaches itself to something else, and what keeps it going is the need to
To make sense of his reluctance to claim credit for
what may be the defining cultural trend of the age, one has to understand
where the Virginia‑born Gibson is coming from as a writer. In
"The Gernsback Continuum," his second
published story, published in 1981, Gibson gleefully, almost viciously,
deconstructs many of the tropes of modern science fiction.
On the surface, the story is a simple Twilight Zone‑ish fable about a photographer who gets trapped in a
series of terrifying visions. While doing a photo study of 1930s
architecture, the protagonist is repeatedly thrust into the world that
might have been: that streamlined, art deco vision of the future,
popularized by '30s pulp magazines. But on a deeper level, Gibson was
massacring many of the ingrained conceits of the science fiction world.
I was trying to make fun of something that I felt had
remained in play in American science fiction," Gibson explains.
"The idea that science fictional futures tend to lend themselves to a
sort of fascist thinking.
"I wanted it to have a contemporary
reverberation," he continues. "I hoped that people would think
about Star Trek and contemporary science fiction."
Another basic truth: William Gibson is not a prognosticator,
or, at least, he says he isn't. He flatly refuses to claim any special
insight about the future.
"That's not what I do," he insists, when
pressed to discuss the future of the nation state. "I am absolutely
not about predicting the future. I just mess with the present."
Moreover, Gibson's masterful use of technology in his
novels is not an end in and of itself, but rather, he claims, a smokescreen
for his true intentions.
"I'm less concerned with the increased velocity
of technology than with science fiction's prison, its historical inability
to predict anything," he says. "I'm not very conscious of it when
I do it, but I suspect a lot of what I do is actually making fun of science
And it is the image of Gibson as satirist which seems
to have gone over the heads of many of his readers, particularly those
strutting, techno talking keyboard surfers who see him as their prophet.
"It's only in North America and Japan that I've been taken
absolutely seriously," Gibson chuckles. "The British and the
French assumed from the beginning that I was to a very large extent a
humorist, and that's from Neuromancer on.
There are things in Neuromancer that were deliberately written to
be funny, and my North American readership, by and large, never got
The future is now. If Gibson's novels deal with a
future at all, then it's the one we're currently living.
"This is Post‑Modern. We're living at the
beginning of something else," he says. "Modernity is not
something that goes on indefinitely. T S Eliot and James Joyce were modern,
and I know, intuitively, that I am something else. This is not Mr Eliot's world. This is a whole different ballgame.
We're at the end of an era, not just at the end of a century."
When Neuronumcer was published in 1984, it was
embraced as the most eloquent expression of the spirit of the nascent
information age. The revolution in personal computing suddenly gave
business people, students, homemakers, and criminals
access to the kind of technological power that for decades had been the
province of governments and multinational conglomerates. The rapid opening
of international data networks, like the Internet, unlocked the information
At the same time, the social and economic
relationships which buttressed the unprecedented affluence of postwar North America seemed to be coming apart.
Between Reaganomics, deregulation, and rejuvenated monopoly capitalism lay the grey spectre
of growing economic and social crises.
And there was Gibson, hacking away at a futurist genre
with the biting satire of a swiftly changing present.
Gibson's work has provided both the vocabulary and
much of the identity for the cultural scene which has coalesced around
digital technologies. Indeed, "cyberspace," one of the most
important technocultural concepts, is itself
For a media establishment trying to keep up with
changing times, and desperate to pigeonhole the technoculture,
the language of Neuromancer and Count Zero has been a convenient model.
"Cyberpunk is this thing that infected
journalism," Gibson says. "In the sense that it exists, it's a
symptom of the need to publish Sunday Supplement articles about
To the computer underground hackers and computer whiz
kids whose activities range from cybernetic joy riding to high tech crime,
cyberpunk and the mythology and imagery of Gibson's "Sprawl"
Count Zero, and Mona Lisa
Overdrive) are something more. Many self styled cyberpunks have adopted
the names of Gibson's characters for their on line person, and point to
the hacker heroes of his first three novels as their prototypes.
"When I wrote Neuromancer, I didn't know that there were any hackers," he says.
"I was sort of imagining them. Or there certainly weren't any hackers
who had good black leather jackets."
For law enforcement officials involved in the recent
crackdown on computer crime in the US, however, a suspect's
possession of a copy of Neuromancer is
almost enough to identify him as a high tech criminal. In their eyes, too,
Gibson is a kind of hacker literary guru.
"It's actually kind of depressing," Gibson
protests. "It should be clear after reading Virtual Light what I think of that, simply by the way I've
depicted the Republic of Desire. Virtual Light is, in one way, a much more naturalistic take on
what that sort of thing would be like. Real life gangsters aren't
As significant as the nascent technoculture
to which he helped give form has been, Gibson sees it as a primarily transient
"What we think of as cyberpunk is an incoherent
precursor phenomenon," he explains. "My hunch would be that
historically, looking back from the 21st century, the only thing that
would be interesting about cyberpunk would be that it preceded something
else. I have no idea what that would be, but I think it would be something
that comes with ubiquitous computation and very, very, transparent user
Gibson argues that as the technology which, over the
last decade, has revolutionized the way we work, communicate, and play
becomes ever more a way of life, it will fundamentally change. The
penetration of the technoculture will subvert the
technology upon which it's based.
"The interfaces will be infinitely more
transparent," he says. "There's that odd thing that even though
Case [the hero of Neuromancer] can plug the jack right into his
head, he's always typing. It's because I was typing as I was writing
However, Gibson bristles at the suggestion that his
novels offer any kind of technological prescience. "None of these
things that I've written were ever intended as blueprints for anything,
particularly technology," he says. "People who take it that way
are incredibly naive. They're really only about what we're doing now.
Science fiction can't predict the future. Anyone who thinks science fiction
is a hot ticket to the future, deserves what they
What is important to Gibson's work is the relationship
between humanity and technology. The cyborgs of
his novels are an expression of what he sees as a real union between man
and machine today. Technology is an essential element of the human
experience, not a contradiction of humanity.
"Technology's not something you can put back in
the black box and return to Radio Shack. It's the vaccinations you've had
and all that metal in your teeth. It's everything, the whole thing that
makes us what we are. There is absolutely no option. Whatever it is, we're
going there. We can't say `Oh no, back to nature!' because nature no longer
exists. We messed with it too much."
Fascinated with how we live with technology, the
fiction of Gibson's novels is both a powerful affirmation of how we create
and recreate our environment, and an acknowledgment of how dependent we
are on our works.
"It always just seemed to be to me so much of
what we're about as human beings," he says "Certainly in the time
that I've been alive. It's not like there's `us,' and then there's the technology.
Technology `R' Us. Already we're sort of half machine."
Gibson doesn't write about the future, he writes about
the present. But it's the present to the nth power. The world of the
Sprawl, and of Virtual Light's San Francisco, are places where current
technology and social trends are amplified into a hyper kinetic now.
"The only things in Virtual Light that aren't real are nanotech and the VL
glasses," he says. "I made up almost nothing. It's either stuff
that you can get FedExed to your house right now,
if you've got the money and a license for it. Or, it's
stuff that someone's proposed in the course of the last decade."
Listen carefully: We know what Gibson isn't. What he
is, however, is less clear. Satirist? Social critic? Or something else for
which this Post‑Modern world yet has no word?
"I sometimes get the feeling," he says,
"that I'm trying to connect people with what the present really is, as opposed to what we
need to feel that it is, in order
not to lose it and start screaming. There are those rare moments when you
get a feeling of what the present is and those moments for me are what
Frederic Jameson calls the `Post‑Modern sublime:' a perfect mingling
of ecstasy and dread."
coined/inspired by Gibson
Cyberpunk: Generally, the technoculture. Specifically, the '80s and '90s hacker
culture. The term was originally used to describe the SF genre which Gibson
Ice: Intrusion countermeasures
electronics. More generally, on line computer security systems. In Neuromancer, Gibson's hero has to break through
ice to steal corporate data. (Similar
usage of the term "ice" was used in an episode of the short‑lived
series, Max Headroom.‑ed.)
Jacking in: The act of entering
cyberspace. Gibson's "console cowboys" accomplish this through a
direct neural interface. Contemporary cyberpunks have to rely on their keyboards
Lo Tek: A pejorative term to describe the technologically impaired. Anyone
who refuses to learn how to use a computer is a Lo Tek
(contrast with Hi Tek). In the short story
"Johnny Mnemonic," Gibson's Lo Teks are
an urban tribe of latter day Luddites.
The Matrix: The sum of all of the
interconnected networks joined to the Internet. In Neuromancer, Gibson's Matrix attains sentience,
and in Mona Lisa Overdrive, Count
Zero is consumed with a metaphysical quest to find "the shape of the
The Sprawl: The megalopolis setting of
Gibson's first three novels, officially referred
to as the Boston Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.
Terms used in Virtual Light
Nanotechnology: The proposed application of
microscopic devices with a capacity to self replicate and to perform a
variety of tasks, including microsurgery, construction, and industrial
The Republic of Desire: A subversive hacker group in Virtual
Virtual Light, Virtual Reality: Technology which, with the use of visors and other sensory input
devices, allows the user to experience a complete, three dimensional,
computer generated world. Virtual Light is the proposed technology which
would use light to directly stimulate the optic nerves.
William Gibson was born in Virginia and currently lives in Vancouver, BC with his wife, Deborah
Thompson, and their two children. His first three novels Neuromancer (1984), Count Zero (1986), and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988) are often
referred to as the "Sprawl" trilogy.
Books by William Gibson
Burning Chrome (Arbor House, 1976) (short stories)
Count Zero (Gollancz; Arbor House,
Mona Lisa Overdrive (Ace, 1988)
The Difference Engine (with Bruce Sterling)
Virtual Light (Bantam, 1993)
Idoru (Putnam's, 1996)
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A Voyage To Mars:
by Theresa Wojtasiewicz
A VOYAGE TO MARS, the Friends event held on November 30, 1996 was a different kind of event than the usual
Christmas Tea we have each year, in that we had a theme we could build our
event around. The Merril Collection was one of
the sources of reference for the Visions
of Mars CD‑ROM, which, unfortunately didn't get to Mars as
anticipated on the Russian launch. Nevertheless, to celebrate the Merril's
contribution, the Programming Committee decided that a Martian theme was
appropriate (not to mention the upcoming release of the Warner Bros.' film,
The event opened with Ivan Semeniuk, an astronomer
with the Ontario Science Centre, who gave a talk, accompanied by audio‑visual
materials, about Mars. His lecture was entertaining and informative and
very well received by those attending.
Following Ivan's lecture, the party moved upstairs to
the Collection for the Martian Cream Tea, where guests were greeted with
gift‑packs consisting (variously) of Mars bars and copies of Mars Attacks books, pins and post‑cards.
The second annual Turkey Reading by Michael Skeet raised over $100 (yes,
even bad SF has value!), and a raffle for various prizes, including (among
others) the Visions of Mars CD‑ROM,
the Science Fiction Encyclopedia CD‑ROM
and hard cover editions of Kim Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars, raised $65.
We would like to thank the following people for their
efforts in making the event a success: Merle von Thorn for the food (it was
superb and there was lots of it), Jody Hancock for the displays and
decoration (the displays will be remain in place until the end of February
for those of you who missed the event), the staff of the Collection and TPL
for allowing us to take over the Merril's space, the Costumer's Guild for
providing us with the costume display, Ivan Semeniuk for his lecture,
Merle's Minions (who were indefatigable) and the members of the Programming
Committee who contributed many hours of planning to bring the event to you.
We also extend our thanks to those who donated the
items we used as prizes and giveaways:
- Ballantine/Del Rey
- Bantam Spectra
- Effem Foods
- Grand and Toy
- Grolier Interactive
- HarperCollins UK
- Mrs Exploration Program,
- Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Romtech (Virtual Reality Labs)
- Warner Brothers
In its turn, the Programming Committee would like to
thank all of you who came to A Voyage
To Mars. Your ongoing interest and attendance is very much appreciated
and we look forward to bringing you more exciting events in the future.
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Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy
The 1997 Annual Academic Conference on Canadian
Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held this year on Saturday, June 7 at
the home of the Merril Collection in the Lillian
H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library (basement program room). It
is a one day academic symposium at which guest speakers will be giving
papers on topics of their choice in the field of Canadian science fiction.
Subject matter is sourced from any media, such as print, television, film,
and comis/graphic novels, as long as it has
Past speakers include Allan Weiss (co‑curator of
the Out of this World exhibit at
the National Library in Ottawa), Robert Runte
(co‑editor of Tesseracts6), Nancy
Johnston, Trevor Holmes and Paula Johansen. Attendance at the conference is
open both to academics and to a general audience. There will be a small
If you are interested in attending the conference, or
would like more information, please direct your enquiries via e‑mail
to email@example.com, or write to: Allan Weiss, Academic Conference on
Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy, c/o English Department, York University, 4700 Keele
St., North York, Ontario M3J IP3.
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