William Gibson Is Freaking Me Out

Seriously. I just finished Spook Country and it’s brilliant, of course…but it’s also really creeping me out, because little bits of it are weirdly mirroring my life over the last year or so.

Random example: whilst in Berlin in December for the CCC, I had this moment where I was sitting in the window of my hotel room, looking down at the nighttime streets, my little German cellphone glowing in the dark, and I realized I was, in that moment, utterly a Gibson character. I was reading Norman Cohn’s In Pursuit Of The Millennium, that night, an obscure 1961 treatise on medieval apocalyptic sects. It’s not a well-known book, and it was fairly hard for me to track down, though I think it’s in print again now. It’s part of my whole thoughtcluster on religion and gnosticism and postmodernism, which would take too long to explain here.

In Spook Country, one of the main characters — a drug-addicted translator who’s been kidnapped and press-ganged into working for a shadowy spy who may nor may not be part of the US government —  keeps having strange dreams and hallucinations, most of which center around the book he’s reading…an unnamed book, published in 1961, about obscure medieval apocalyptic sects, one chapter of which — dedicated to the Brethren of the Free Spirit — is entitled ‘An elite of amoral supermen’.

Guess what the chapter about the Brethen of the Free Spirit in Cohn’s book is called?

A couple of other little things — the notion of using augmented reality coupled with GPS to create art projects, something I discussed with Adam Greenfield way back in the day, and some of the business about ex-intelligence folks — were also really specifically weird.

All coincidence here, of course, and I don’t think otherwise for a moment. But it’s coincidence that’s just obscure enough to be deeply creepy, for a moment or two.

I’ll tell Gibson about it when I talk to him next week. I meant to ask him about this stuff anyway. There’s an entire subculture of people — myself being one of them, Adam being another, Gibson’s friend Bruce Sterling, maybe even you, my dear reader — who are, for all intents and purposes, Gibson characters — global travelers, immersed in the tropes of technology and bleeding-edge culture, deeply postmodern in our lives and in many ways unrecognizable to earlier generations of people. And most of us became that way because in some way or another, consciously or not, we wanted to be Gibson characters — the console jockeys and corporate mercs and razorgirls of Neuromancer and “Johnny Mnemonic”.

Except now, Gibson’s not writing about console jockeys and razorgirls anymore. He’s not even writing about the future anymore. His stories take place in the present, and his protagonists are media consultants and virtual artists and post-rock musicians, and he bases them, so far as I can tell, on real people who are the way they are because of his work.

Which is perhaps the most postmodern thing I can think of.

(Seriously, though, the thing with the Cohn book is just weird, though I suppose it mainly just suggests that Gibson and I are thinking about a lot of the same things.)

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