There’s a scene in Wild Palms, Oliver Stone’s hallucinatory TV miniseries about the future, in which science-fiction author William Gibson is introduced as the inventor of the term cyberspace. A narrow, dreary man looks up and intones, ”And they won’t let me forget it.”
In truth, the mantle of cyber visionary doesn’t weigh on Gibson that heavily. ”It’s a very cool thing for a writer to have introduced a word into common parlance,” says Gibson, 46. ”But people expect me to know about further extensions of this theory, and that’s not what I do. Science-fiction writers are just court jesters for a technological civilization.” Ten years ago last month, Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, was published, and the world was introduced to cyberspace: ”A consensual hallucination abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.” With its breathless pace and dense, techno-hip prose, Neuromancer, the story of a maverick computer jockey who jacks his consciousness in and out of cyberspace, became an instant sci-fi classic. ”It was one of those books that redefines the consensus of what the future will be like,” says Gardner Dozois, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine.
The book swept all the major sci-fi awards, but more impressively, Gibson’s concepts began to seep into mainstream culture. Cyberpunk, the term invented to describe his style, became synonymous with radical chic. Fans ranging from U2 to the painter Robert Longo praised Neuromancer for inspiring new works. Gibson remains astounded at what he has wrought. ”What I tried to do was give people a future that is the world of the Reagan ’80s carried five steps forward and the volume turned up 20 clicks,” says Gibson. ”That made the future feel real.”
So real, that it seems the lurid grunginess of Neuromancer becomes increasingly familiar. ”The world has grown sufficiently weird that I should be able to write a mainstream novel without making anything up and have it feel just like a William Gibson book,” says Gibson. ”That is really what I’d like to do.”