“When I started to try to learn to write fiction, I knew that I had no idea how to write fiction. This was actually a plus, that I knew I didn’t know, but at the time it was scary.”-“American Thumb Piano” by William Gibson
“Distrust That Particular Flavor is a collection of non-fiction writing by the speculative fiction author William Gibson. It consists of twenty-six pieces written over a period of more than twenty years. The anthology includes a range of formats, including essays, magazine pieces, album reviews, and forewords from other published works.”
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m a big fan of William Gibson’s fiction. I love his 1984 debut novel Neuromancer, and have got something different from it each time I’ve read it, (three times so far:-) Here are links to my two posts on the book: Neuromancer, posted in 2015; and Neuromancer, A Third Reading, posted in 2017. Not so much “proper” reviews, they are a mix of my thoughts plus quotes from other authors and from the novel itself.
It’s not easy to put into words, but there is something about Gibson’s writing style that connects with me. His stories are considered complex, complicated, full of neologisms that don’t come with explanations. It’s easy to get lost in there. When you enter a Gibson story, there’s no manual provided. You are dropped into the world and expected to keep up. This can put a lot of readers off. But I enjoy this feeling of not quite knowing what is going on, because Gibson’s ideas and imagination pulse with an electric, almost hallucinogenic beat.
In Distrust That Particular Flavor, readers can enjoy a different side of Gibson. He is much more restrained in these selections of non-fiction writings. We get a glimpse of the man behind the author, as he shares his thoughts on topics including becoming a writer, international travel, eBay, memory, Disneyland, The Net, Japan, music, film, and more.
“And they do happen, movies, because through the window, past the palms and the shadow of the Marlboro Man, you can see the billboards down Sunset, the ones announcing all the new films. Yes, but movies are quite impossible to make. Utterly. It cannot be done. And yet. And yet….”-“Johnny: Notes on a Process”, William Gibson, July 1995
Here is another quote which hints at an unmade movie I would love to see:
“I once wrote a screenplay which featured a stoical, traditionalist Yakuza boss, exiled, in my near-future scenario, to the frozen, cockroach-ridden wastes of a dystopian Newark, New Jersey. Clenched like a fist around his grief at the loss of his daughter, he soldiers on, like a Roman legionary with a death wish the size of a Volkswagen on his shoulder. Meanwhile, his decadent, hotshot young understudy, a bio-tech dandy with a lethal thumb implant, watches for the earliest, easiest opportunity to kill him.”-“The Baddest Dude on Earth”, William Gibson, April 2002
And I had to include a quote about Japan:
“Tokyo has been my handiest prop shop for as long as I’ve been writing: sheer eye candy. You can see more chronological strata of futuristic design in a Tokyo streetscape than anywhere else in the world. Like successive layers of Tomorrowlands, older ones showing through when the newer ones start to peel.”-“My Own Private Tokyo”, William Gibson, September 2001
And so they go on. I could keep offering quote after quote, but I won’t. The 26 pieces are short and easily digestible. Most of them have something worth the brief investment of time it takes to consume them. I found them fascinating. I’ve been re-reading parts as I compose this review. I quickly found myself getting drawn back into the book and reading more than I intended as I looked for quotes.
Here is a quote from Jesse Hicks’ excellent review of Distrust That Particular Flavor taken from The Verge:
“Gibson’s vision is always tuned to this uncanniness just beneath the surface of everyday experience. He will probably forever be introduced as the man who coined the term “cyberspace,” giving name to a then-infant concept. And the concept came to him through careful observation, when he noticed the rapt attention arcade gamers devoted to the notional spaces in front of them. They were stepping into that space of memory, which is also a space of possibility.”-Jesse Hicks, The Verge, 2012
Recommended, especially for fans of Gibson.
Thanks for reading!