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Cyber Prophet William Gibson

We talk with sci-fi visionary William Gibson about his new book “Zero History” and what happens when the future is now.

For all of the Internet era, and even before, novelist William Gibson has been the ultimate science fiction guru of the age. He invented the notion – the word – “cyberspace” before the Web even existed.  He took us to dystopic futures that became nows in “Neuromancer,” “Burning Chrome,” and “Virtual Light.”

Now, when whole lives – or big pieces – have migrated to the Web and beyond, Gibson is beyond as well. He’s watching the culture from new angles. We speak with Gibson about his latest novel, “Zero History,” and where our world – and his – stand now.

-Tom Ashbrook


William Gibson, author of “Neuromancer,” “Count Zero,” and the Bridge Trilogy. His new novel is “Zero History.” You can read an excerpt.

UPDATE: Check out this amazing video of the Festo AirPenguin, which figures prominently in “Zero History,” and was mentioned by William Gibson on our show today.

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  • Al Dorman

    Tom, what an amazing 2 hours, yet again!

    My questions for Mr. Gibson:
    1. Can ordinary people defeat Facial Recognition software in use by our law enforcement organs?
    2. How can we protect ourselves from Data Warehouse Corporations, who make money compiling lists for sale to marketers, but never ask our permission or pay for our trouble?

  • http://www.venturacommenter.org F. William Bracy
    Does, “Everything that has ever happened, and everything that ever will happen, is happening NOW?” mean anything to you, SciFi friends?

    It’s called The Eternal Now and it has profound implications for human understanding (and certainly Mr. Gibson’s) of time and eternity.

    For one thing, the axiom means that history cannot be changed once it has been set down, so in that sense there really is no history. It’s a smooth continuum … the “history” of the past is the same as the history of the future. It puts the “Grandfather’s Paradox,” so-called, to rest once and for all. If you need convincing, think on this:

    Our “present” is, with every NOW that passes, someone’s history … some future person’s history. We create it and they will study it. I’ve never read Mr. Gibson’s SciFi, but I’d hate to think he hasn’t thought through all the intricacies of time, space and space/time.

  • http://cotellience.com Sarah

    This interview is painful. Just awful. Worst of the year.

    For those blessed without access to a radio, Mr. Gibson sounds quite uncomfortable. The “On Point” producers should make a token effort to assess whether a prospective guest is clinically depressed prior to booking that person. It’s not fair to the guest … people should read William Gibson’s work and be content with that. He is un-interviewable.

  • g

    Slightly on the point of the caller talking about race and how it will not matter in the future.
    There is a book by Strugatsky brothers, Russian sci-fi writers, called “The Time Wanderers”, they somewhat deal with that idea.
    The main character uncovers a new “race” of people: “The Ludens are born human, but possess latent mental powers far beyond those of normal humans. ”
    And the main question of the novel is what makes us human and at what point do we stop being called human.

    Very interesting.
    Most of Strugatsky brother’s work is fascinating, as well as Mr. Gibson’s work. They mostly write about human mind and humanity, rather than cyberspace and technology, but they also deal with technology and how it affects humans. I highly recommend their work to anyone who is a sci-fi fan.

  • John

    Clothing styles may take 10+ years to reflect the wars however auto styling has been much quicker. Tank-like styling can be seen on many trucks and SUV’s. Few people in the United States seem to be aware of or care about the wars our country involves itself in. Marketing war however is rampant in video games, TV shows targeted at young males and auto styling.

  • Cat

    Cheers for having Mr. Gibson, and thank you for taking Sheila’s call.

  • Julie

    Enjoyed the insight on young people wanting to make genuine and honest things. I’ve noticed this too, for example, increased interest in crafts, gardening, and food; also in the career choices of younger people I know. It’s one of the few things that gives me hope for the future.

    Very interesting interview, and I’m really looking forward to reading the new book, as always.

  • http://lon@athenet.net Lon C Ponschock

    Two words: Bruce Sterling.

    A followup show with this former co-author and writer for Wired magazine of non fictional technology would be much appreciated.

    Sterling in his book “Hackers” gave a quote to the effect that though the internet is a place of “unreal estate” we migrate all of our real world problems into it.

    The collaboration of Sterling and Gibson was called “The Difference Engine” an alternate world in which Babbage’s first computer became a cultural reality in Victorian England.

    The penguin is great.

  • the tile ninja

    I had never heard William Gibson speak, nor had I ever heard of him! I guess I’ve been living under a rock. He sounded like this generation’s Kurt Vonnegut, mixed with Norman Mailer, with a William S. Burroughs growl. His dry wit intrigued me. I was impressed with his knowledge of the mundane, as well as his quantum logic of the world around us. You have definitely made a fan of him out of me. Thanks for having him on, i disagree with Shiela that the interview was painful and unlistenable. True eccentrics often get misunderstood by the hunter/gatherer sociological psychoanalytical Darwinists of our society. Too bad for them. They miss the larger point in that these men are true prophets of our age. I could tell this man’s scruffy brilliance with every progressive thing he said. And who am I? Just a tile guy. But it made me glad I had tuned in to NPR after forgetting it existed for a spell. Thanks a bunch! A very enjoyable show.

  • Alan

    Not to attempt to “out Gibson” a genius, but Mr. Gibson has not been alone in foreseeing the current cultural malaise. I read his first trilogy (“Neuromancer,” etc.)when it was published decades ago and realized that there are writers who see clearly the drift of human inventions. Gibson stands out, if not alone, in articulating the situation in a brilliant literary manner. As usual, “On Point” is at its best when it leaves the arena of squabbling politicians and enters into a study of our culture, which is where the core of our challenges have resided for at least 2,000 years. If you have not held a discussion with the authors of “Vanishing Voices; The Extinction of the World’s Languages,” please do so. Such a discussion will shock and enlighten. It is all part of the same fabric . . . and that fabric is tearing.

  • it’s a logical emotion

    He’s correct, of course, North Americans have “sold the farm” right out from under future generations. The generation that laughed, “we’re spending our children’s inheritance” is dying, and their children are scrambling (with no direction from the previous generation because the majority were too busy working hard and playing hard) to innovate and pay the bills in a world that has the jump on them, because all of tools/skills/proprietory secrets have been given away to other countries to secure short term profit. The focus on youth has been a superficial one…we should have cherished age and wisdom after a certain point in our development, and quit searching for the eternal fountain. My western civ teacher always said when the people who were credited with founding western civilization quit growing their beards and started spending a lot of time shaving, the fall of the empire was next. BUT, is the fall that bad? I think no. Because of globalization, I am happy for my three young children. My family’s culture will always be American, but my children can go and do and work and create anywhere they desire…much like my ancestors who left Ireland had the opportunity to do, because when they leave America, there won’t be much of a sacrifice in order to do so.

  • david

    1st time Ive cut off a program before it was finished. 20 minutes on the sources of american fashion? from a science fiction novelist? very tedious.

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