William Gibson Talks Sci-Fi and His Next Novel at New York Public Library

By Wesley Fenlon

Gibson talked influences and his next novel, tentatively titled "The Peripheral," which will be a "SF turducken."

Last week, sci-fi author William Gibson made a special appearance at the New York Public Library to talk for an hour and a half about writing, his life, and science fiction. Gibson wasn't there to promote a new book--his next novel, tentatively titled The Periphery--so the talk ranges from one interesting subject to another. The first 40 minutes of Gibson's discussion with the NYPL host often mirror the personal essays in his nonfiction collection Distrust That Personal Flavor--growing up disassociated from the culture of Virginia he grew up in, reading William S. Burroughs, and the "literary DNA" that informed his life and writing.

Around the 40 minute mark the subject moves towards how Gibson developed his concept of cyberspace. He talks about how, as he began writing, he knew he didn't want his sci-fi to follow the same path of the science fiction he'd been reading as a kid, with a focus on space travel. His observations of the world around him--arcades, Apple II computers, and how people interacted with those things--led him to imagine a more immersive virtual space. Cyberspace, as he'd go on to name it.

Photo credit: Flickr user Gilly Youner.

Gibson also talked about how music and rock musicians gave a "voice" to his protagonists and writing.

"I came to science fiction as to an abandoned but handsome municipal building, and going, 'Huh, this could be a nightclub,' " he said. "Really, in the late 70s, I hadn't been reading science fiction except for a few favorites who I felt transcended it...and when I thought, maybe I should try writing science fiction, I went and bought a bunch of contemporary science fiction. I felt like somebody who'd grown up on Texas swing discovering Nashville country. I was going, damn, this used to be a viable pop form, you could kick ass with this stuff in the 1960s. What the hell happened? And I thought, well, it's an opportunity...But then when I started trying to put my own science fiction together, it wasn't as though these characters were springing fully-formed from my brow. I couldn't even figure out how to do characters. But Springsteen, who's a superb writer of fiction as a lyricist, and an absolute master of terse but intense characterization, gave me that. Lou Reed as well. And David Bowie's album Diamond Dogs."

At around 75 minutes, Gibson revealed that he's about "a third of the way through a novel that's probably called The Peripheral. He broke from his tradition of secrecy while working on new books to not only talk about The Peripheral, but to read from it. The concept sounds as ambitiously layered, if not moreso, than Gibson's previous novels: Gibson recently tweeted that the novel is about "drones, outsourcing, telepresence, trailer parks, kleptocracy, fabbing...New novel's an sf turducken: it's got sf *inside* its sf, and arguably a loosey-goosey science-fantasy core."

Skip to about 77 minutes in Gibson's talk at the New York Public Library to hear a passage from the new book. Gibson will alternate between two "voices" in the book--two different central protagonists--which is a common narrative structure in his books. But here's something different: while one character will be set in a world about 30 years ahead of our own, the second character is set far further in the future, which Gibson says is much harder to write. We can't wait to read it.