William Gibson is a bare, harsh, striking, humorless writer. His prose is blunt and oddly dynamic, his ideas visionary, yet his plots remain dry and uninterested--and further end in ways that seem wholly unfulfilling and inexplicable. His technological cynicism stands up to the likes of Crichton, his pace seems to never slow, and his characters stand both interesting and honest; his stories however never seem, to me at least, to be complete. Gibson is probably the best prose writer I've ever read, yet I feel I can classify his novels only as good.
Gibson starts his books with lines like "The sky above the port was the color of a television, tuned to a dead channel" (Neuromancer) and brashly matter-of-fact paragraphs like
They set a slamhound on Turner's trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the colour of his hair. It caught up with him on a street named Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT. (Count Zero)
that, to me, are the literary equivalent of the same "recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT." He knows how to pack style and punch into a dozen words, and he's far too skilled a writer to diffuse his flow in a fit of scenic rendering
. I can think of a dozen writers who would have taken the "television, tuned to a dead channel" image and turned it into a conceit
: half-a-page describing the ear-piercing buzz of electricity and the dark, threatening anonymity of a world that's piped into a cable going nowhere--because that's "genius
," that's "art"; I have described Gibson as skilled rather than a genius, I've been talking about his use of prose rather than poesy
, because I see him as a man hunched over an old, manual typewriter
, cutting and cutting and cutting. He's a man with a craft, the way sword-making is a craft, and I'll bet while he's working his tools burn bright red, because when his stuff comes out in the end, it shines
I can't say his plots always work, because they don't. I can't say his science is perfect. But the science is not the point, even the plots aren't the point. This is what separates Gibson from the mainstream in Science Fiction: These devices are tools. If you want to see his point, give stories like "The Belonging Kind," "Dogfight," and "New Rose Hotel" (from Burning Chrome) a try. I could talk about alienation and frustration and fifteen other concepts filling fifteen pages and I'd never do them (or him) justice. I try to abide by the rule that you make sure to keep your writing at least as interesting as your subject; I'm not going to describe these things when he's already written them tighter and darker and better.
Note: The first paragraph of this writeup was posted in this node on 8/22/2000, the day after I joined e2, as my first writeup. Due to an inadvertent deletion, I've rewritten and re-posted this piece.