Anxious by Nature: William Gibson on Cellphones, Star Wars & The Apocalypse

If William Gibson is so famous for predicting the future in his dystopian science-fiction novels, why are there no cellphones in his classic Neuromancer?

“I think if a 12-year-old were reading Neuromancer today, she’d get to page 20 and she’d go ‘Ok, the whole plot hinges around what happened to all the cellphones’,” says Gibson, then chuckles, I’m not prescient.”

His interview at the Chicago Humanities Festival is slow to start, but packed with gems once he gets going.

Gibson suggests that if a writer from the 1960s had written a science-fiction novel that accurately predicted the future, publishers would reject it on the basis that a world where everyone walks around glued to a mobile digital device is unrealistic.

“The solitude would be incomprehensible,” he comments.

Honestly, the first time I heard someone use ‘interface’ as a verb, I fairly swooned… That’s so hot.”

He also comments that we may already be living in a kind of “multi-causal apocalypse”, and “that fact might account for the creepy feelings that some of you have been having”.

In another highlight, he recounts how the first Star Wars film was an “appallingly retro-grade, nostalgic future,” going on to say: “It was everything I didn’t want science fiction to be.”

He speaks about his excitement the first time he heard someone use the word “virus” as something a computer could get.  For him there was a genuine thrill in “working with the poetics of an emergent language around the digital.”

“Honestly, the first time I heard someone use “interface” as  a verb, I fairly swooned… That’s so hot.  I went right home and put it in a story.”

William Gibson’s new novel The Peripheral is out now.

Featured image by PHATandy on