Welcome to the present

I’m currently reading William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, his new “cyberpunk” novel set in the post-9/11 modern world. Apparently, Gibson decided that the real world is a sufficient stage for his critiques of contemporary culture, that there is no more need for him to create fictional ones.

Reading it, I’m struck by the idea that if you were to send this book back in time to 1990, the year I first read Gibson’s Neuromancer, it would undoubtedly be taken as science fiction. Gibson’s characters interact extensively with technology, employing the jargon of Internet communication -- IRC, message boards, and websites. We never got the jetpacks, flying cars and atomic supermen predicted by science fiction’s golden age, but we did get the cyberspace worlds of William Gibson. Which is not bad, considering that at the time he wrote Neuromancer, he famously didn’t even own a computer.

When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted to “jack in” to the net and experience the universe that Gibson’s characters inhabited. And now, 13 years later, I inhabit that kind of universe, but it’s so normal and mundane I rarely stop to think about it. I have friendships with people I’ve never met, flung around the globe, communicating via internet forums, voice-over-IP chat rooms and through the abstract violence of online gaming.

So the science fiction world of Pattern Recognition is our world, yet it’s also the world of Gibson’s past “speculative” efforts. With so few science fiction universes overtaken by reality, I think it’s interesting to note that in this case, it’s really happened. So much so, that Gibson is now considered a literary author, casting off the ghetto of genre fiction and now firmly entrenched in the mainstream. Pattern Recognition sits in the display window at Kramerbooks and Afterwords, an arty bookstore/cafe in Washington, D.C. that has a dreadful science fiction selection (in fact, they seem to be embarrassed they stock the genre at all).

I never thought I’d see that. But then again, I never thought I’d have my own online pseudonym either, much less several of them.