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William Gibson Interview

January 2003


William Gibson Interview
mf: Your illustration of Cayce's branding and fashion sense is quite intricate and evidences the amount of research you must have done to portray that.

William Gibson: You know, I didn't really. I mean, I didn't do that. I just know that. I'm interested in that stuff. I really like that stuff, and I didn't have to research it. The stuff about branding I just made up. I've never been in an advertising agency in my life. I've had a couple of friends who've worked on and off in advertising. But because I'm interested I guess in the culture of that kind of business, and as long as I can remember I've always been interested in design - why products look the way they look. And I've always been interested in strategies of advertising - and, how shops are designed. Not that I've really thought of myself that way, and I don't usually. That's just a lot of the stuff I've always been interested in. It's actually there in my earlier work too I think, but it's not as noticeable because by and large I'm actually making up all the brands, I'm making up all the products. And, I'm probably one of the only people who write science fiction who would bother to make up the packaging for the imaginary technology that people buy in the future, you know? I'm describing what it comes packed in, like you know, what's the equivalent of the bubble pack. So that that's sort of where I live as a person. Like if I go to a new city and I walk around in the city, I'm picking up a lot of different information. At the same time, I'm getting what people of different ages are wearing, and consequently what they're buying, and how the shops are set up, and whether it's a mall culture or a street culture. You know, it's just a big and almost unconscious part of how I look at things.

mf: Perhaps you're the ultimate natural market research tool?

William Gibson: Well, I don't know. I'm probably not, to judge by my 20-year-old daughter; because only about 50% of the time can I second-guess her taste. Like, I'll say 'Ok, she's gonna think these shoes are cool," and I'll say," are these shoes cool?" And she'll go, "Very cool." And I'll say, "Well, this jacket is cool, too," and she'll say," No. It doesn't have a fashionable silhouette." And, I can't see the difference, that way. If it's not something that I personally have some consumer stake in, I don't think I can do it, and that's where what Cayce does becomes a little more imaginary for me. Because she can apparently do it when she has no stake in it. The only thing in that book that's inherently fantastic and totally unexplained is the physiological extremity of her sensitivity to fashion or marketing. And it remains like… I don't know. Like I thought it might be revealed to me during the course of the narrative how she got to be that way, that it was part of the back story, but it just never arrived, and at the end I thought, "OK, I'm just going to accept this as a given." That this will be the book's aspect of fantastic realism. I think it works because it's something that we all have a little bit of. We don't break out in hives, but I think we experience sometimes a kind of sub-clinical nausea from marketing.

mf: Is your love of design a big factor in your appreciation of Japanese culture?

William Gibson: Probably. I remember when I was a teenager reading Roland Barth's "The Empire of Signs," in which he was talking about the semiotic intensity of the Japanese - how it was all symbolic. And I thought that was really cool, but then I just kind of looked around at the world of human artifacts and decided that it was all symbolic anyway. It wasn't just the Japanese. They were just kind of more elegant at doing it sometimes than we were.

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