Q&A with William Gibson
You are famous for having coined the term "cyberspace" in 1982,
how did you hit on it and did you think it would stick like it has?
It didn't seem momentous at the time. I wrote out a list. The only two I
remember were "dataspace" and "infospace" and neither of
those was going anywhere. Then I hit on "cyberspace", and I thought,
"Ooooh, cyberspace. That sounds like something people might actually
You seem to have stopped using the word in your two latest novels, Idoru
and Virtual Light, why is that?
There's something funny going on with the prefix "cyber-". It's
become not fashionable. Somebody told me recently that the proprietors of the
Cybercafe have taken cybercoffee off the menu and I can understand exactly why.
While we're discussing that particular prefix, what about "cyberpunk?
You've been hailed as the king of cyberpunk since your first novel, Neuromancer.
Where did that term come from and what does it mean to you?
I can never remember who coined the term "cyberpunk", but it was
the title of a short story which wasn't itself cyberpunk and had nothing to do
with what was subsequently called cyberpunk. It's something to do with bohemia
and computers ...... it's the underground with computers.
You are famous for writing about virtual reality before it really existed.
Do you accept this visionary status?
I think I wrote about VR because in some way I sensed its larval presence. It
was already there. But when the VR builders got hold of Neuromancer they loved
it - what they were doing was so hard to describe - when people asked "What
is VR?" they would reply, "Well, read this."
Does this mean that you are in favour of VR and of, say, a world where VR
is the norm/has taken over our lives?
I want to counter the kind of wacky Utopian tendency of some of these VR
guys, who appear on TV and say, "Yes, virtual reality will cure all human
ills!" I think some people do live in virtual reality now. We're already in
a relatively virtual environment but we're not aware of it because we've grown
up in it.
What do you mean by that?
We're surrounded by VR - when you turn on the TV and can watch a bomb
exploding on the other side of the world. That's what I call "CNN
moment", when you get lost for a minute with the dread and ecstasy of what
you're seeing. And that's what I'm trying to give people in my novels.
Would you describe your novels as SF then?
Making distinctions between genres is very inelegant. Most writers I know
delight in blurring the borders. Look at Martin Amis, look at J.G. Ballard, the
great saint of blurring boundaries.
Turning now to your novel, Idoru, which tells how a world-famous
rock-star, Rez, wants to marry a virtual Japanese media star, the idoru of the
title. Can you clarify what an idoru is?
She's a multi-media construct - there's no woman there at all. It's like
Milli Vanilli times ten.
I understand idoru's already exist within Japan's pop culture.
Yeah, I read a description of one in a Tokyo magazine a few years back.
Everyone knew it was one girl's face, somebody else's voice, someone else's
dance moves and the fact that she didn't exist at all seemed only served to
heighten the appeal. By the end of her career, she was publishing books on
poetry and having shows of her watercolours. She had quite a following. I loved
that story, so in a way, Idoru just grew out of that.