It’s my own fault. I followed William Gibson on Twitter and found his tweets and retweets interesting. I ignored the fact that his novels have left me cold and hoped that the American expat’s first book of non-fiction, Distrust That Particular Flavor, would reflect his occasional 140-character missives.
I was wrong, but only slightly. As a science-fiction fan, I recognize that Gibson now holds a seat among the canon of writers that includes Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein if only because Gibson imagined the Internet and coined the term cyperspace. No small feat, of course.
I also ignored the fact that books of essays by novelists are often compiled by publishers to keep readers happy between novels. Maybe writer’s block has stifled the author’s muse and the next book is simply not ready. Regardless, the publishing maw must be fed, so editors meet with authors over coffee to figure out how to fill the void. They opt to dig out introductions, speeches, prefaces, and essays, then finesse them, write an introduction, and they’re off to the races. The PR machine cranks up to let the fans know that they will be satiated. None of this is the author’s fault, of course. Publishing is a business and units must be moved.
Sometimes these compilations gel as cohesive works and sometimes they don’t. Unfortunately, the latter applies in this case; however, as stand-alone essays, Gibson’s bits and bobs do their respective jobs as prefaces, short magazine articles, and so on. Each of the twenty-six pieces culminates with the author’s present-day reflection to put it into context. His short bio “Since 1948” tells us a bit about him if you hadn’t already clicked on Source Code on his website. “My Obsession” reveals his proclivity for watches. He expounds on his love for Jorge Luis Borges in “An Invitation,” Gibson’s preface to the author’s book, Labyrinths.
While we get some insight into what makes Gibson tick, the chapters end abruptly, as though he ran out of things to say, or more likely met his word count. This is where most of these compilations fall down. Perhaps fan would get more satisfaction from reading the article, or the introduction, or the whatever in the very thing for which it was intended. Then we can read it, finish, and move on to something completely different, satiated and looking forward to the author’s more complete work. Or just go back and re-read his novels to find out what I have been missing.