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Cover image of Distrust that Particular Flavor

 

Title: Distrust That Particular Flavor

Author: William Gibson

Publisher: Putnam

Copyright: 2012

ISBN13: 978-0-399-15843-8

Pages: 256

Price: $25.00

Rating: 95%

I'm a fan of William Gibson's fiction, from his classic Neuromancer to his most recent trilogy ending with Zero History, so I was very happy to learn of this volume collecting examples of his non-fiction work. I expected a quality book and that's what I got.

I've had good luck with non-fiction books written by science fiction authors. I enjoyed The Transparent Society by David Brin, Raw Spirit by Ian M. Banks, and The Hacker Crackdown (among other works) by Bruce Sterling. Each author brings their unique voice to their subject: Brin postulates a future with ubiquitous surveillance by both government and private parties, Banks describes his tour of Scotland's whisky distilleries and throws in the occasional (and well-marked) political commentary, while Sterling transitioned from the cultural impact of law enforcement's actions against computer hackers to more futuristic work.

Distrust That Particular Flavor collects 26 of Gibson's non-fiction pieces published from 1989 to 2011. The group includes "Disneyland with the Death Penalty", which is almost certainly the best-known of the bunch. It is, Gibson notes, the article that got Wired magazine banned from Singapore for a time. I enjoyed reading "Disneyland" when it was first published, but I must admit that I suffered a bit of temporal vertigo when I revisited it in 2012.

I appreciate Gibson's penchant for patterns in preference to character. His focus on the overall feel of a concept or location stands in stark contrast to the so-called Wall Street Journal approach to newspaper journalism, which presents an individual's story and uses it as a springboard for more general information later in the piece.

Gibson's last science fiction trilogy took place in the very near future, almost literally "the day after tomorrow". It's easy to see, in retrospect, how his non-fiction work corresponded to his fiction research. For example, he moves into a film phase, which is highlighted by the arrangement of articles within the book. His postulation of a character he calls the "Garage Kubrick", an artist that whiles away in his garage searching for higher forms of cinematic art, evolved into a character in Zero History. Following on that theme, it's fun to see how Gibson uses his then teen-aged daughter Claire as a mine canary to see which Oscar-nominated short features appealed to her and which didn't.

There is some repetition of theme and wording, as you might expect, but part of that is due to inclusion of invited talks and introductions to others' projects that reflected his previous work. In one instance, though, the repetition occurred because Gibson experienced a serious clash between his fiction and non-fiction writing. As he states in the postscript to one piece: "Rereading this makes me feel I owe Wired an article about Tokyo." He says that the fiction area of his brain was so consumed with processing Tokyo for the purposes of his novel Pattern Recognition that he was unable to form that same information into a reasonable non-fiction piece. As a result, he ended up rehashing another article, which he duly submitted to Wired. They ran it as "My Own Private Tokyo".

Distrust That Particular Flavor provides a wonderful glimpse into the mind of William Gibson, giving the reader a perspective on how he views the world and, by implication, how he incorporates what he learns into his science fiction. Highly recommended.

 

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