Thoughts on William Gibson’s Descriptions

Since 2013, I have in one way or another been professionally focused on improving my skill as a novelist. I just looked at that date, looked at today’s date, and felt a shiver of horror, but those are the facts. My success to date has been actually completing a few novels–as a ghostwriter and on my own–and somehow managing through the generosity of others and my own form of hard work to be continuing to do it.

Through the last few years, one of the novelists I have come most to admire and analyze has been William Gibson.  While I am well-read compared to the average person but not well-read enough to be impressive to someone who is professionally well-read, I feel comfortable in expressing the opinion that Gibson possesses some qualities that put him on the top tier of novelists writing in English today.

The first thing people tend to talk about with Gibson is that he coined the term “cyberspace” in his first novel, Neuromancer. They take this to be some indication that is a prophet or a genius at imagining where the world is going. The counterpoint to this tends to be something to the effect of Gibson not so much being aware of where the world is going as where the world is at the moment. One of his most famous quotes is “the future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

It takes a particular type of person to be able to write this way. Another example of someone who can remain perpetually a stranger learning about the world so he can imitate it and shift it is Thomas Pynchon. Knowing just a little about both authors, one common thread I can draw is a friendly relationship with drugs at least at a point in their lives. It’s easily seen in their writing.

The aspect of Gibson I find most interesting as someone trying to learn from him is his description of materials. His descriptions of Ratz’ ugliness, especially his pink plastic arm, stick with me. The nylons and synthetic fabrics, the bright colors (see how many paragraphs have a color in a row in that book!) and even the surfaces just jump out. While I don’t think it’s necessary to have experience with drugs to do this, I do think the associated disassociation probably helps. ¬†When things seem alien, they are more noticeable, and in thinking about them more deeply a person can then describe them in a more interesting way.

Cultivating this voice has been one of my focuses in writing my own novels, though at this point I do not have the skill or frankly balls to push it as far as Gibson does. Beyond the density of Gibson’s descriptions, where he excels is in describing things poetically: descriptions of things you cannot quite put into words, but rather circle around so that the reader gets a general idea. Does Brazilian Dex sound like it would be an intense drug? Sure. The color of the sky being that of a television tuned to the wrong station? Means different things to different generations, but yeah I know what color he means. Can’t you just see the old trailer in The Peripheral, not even cleaned but just with a clear plastic coating on the inside that has locked in the detritus of a previous era like a fly caught in amber for eternity?

Isn’t that just the whole god damn world he created in a detail? How good is that?