WILLIAM GIBSON Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » william gibson


Gene Wolfe once said that being an only child whose parents are dead is like                   
being the sole survivor of drowned Atlantis. There was a whole civilization                     
there, an entire continent, but it's gone. And you alone remember. That's my                   
story too, my father having died when I was six, my mother when I was eighteen.                 
Brian Aldiss believes that if you look at the life of any novelist, you'll find                 
an early traumatic break, and mine seems no exception.                                         
I was born on the coast of South Carolina, where my parents liked to vacation                   
when there was almost nothing there at all. My father was in some sort of middle               
management position in a large and growing construction company. They'd built                   
some of the Oak Ridge atomic facilities, and paranoiac legends of "security" at                 
Oak Ridge were part of our family culture. There was a cigar-box full of strange-looking       
ID badges he'd worn there. But he'd done well at Oak Ridge, evidently, and so                   
had the company he worked for, and in the postwar South they were busy building                 
entire red brick Levittown-style suburbs. We moved a lot, following these                       
projects, and he was frequently away, scouting for new ones.                                   
It was a world of early television, a new Oldsmobile with crazy rocket-ship                     
styling, toys with science fiction themes. Then my father went off on one more                 
business trip. He never came back. He choked on something in a restaurant, the                 
Heimlich maneuver hadn't been discovered yet, and everything changed.                           
My mother took me back to the small town in southwestern Virginia where both she               
and my father were from, a place where modernity had arrived to some extent but                 
was deeply distrusted. The trauma of my father's death aside, I'm convinced that               
it was this experience of feeling abruptly exiled, to what seemed like the past,               
that began my relationship with science fiction.                                               
I eventually became exactly the sort of introverted, hyper-bookish boy you'll                   
find in the biographies of most American science fiction writers, obsessively                   
filling shelves with paperbacks and digest-sized magazines, dreaming of one day                 
becoming a writer myself.                                                                       
At age fifteen, my chronically anxious and depressive mother having demonstrated               
an uncharacteristic burst of common sense in what today we call parenting, I was               
shipped off to a private boys' school in Arizona. There, extracted grub-like and               
blinking from my bedroom and those bulging plywood shelves, I began the forced                 
invention of a less Lovecraftian persona - based in large part on a chance                     
literary discovery a year or so before.                                                         
I had stumbled, in my ceaseless quest for more and/or better science fiction, on               
a writer name Burroughs -- not Edgar Rice but William S., and with him had come                 
his colleagues Kerouac and Ginsberg. I had read this stuff, or tried to, with no               
idea at all of what it might mean, and felt compelled - compelled to what, I                   
didn't know. The effect, over the next few years, was to make me, at least in                   
terms of my Virginia home, Patient Zero of what would later be called the                       
counterculture. At the time, I had no way of knowing that millions of other                     
Boomer babes, changelings all, were undergoing the same metamorphosis.                         
In Arizona, science fiction was put aside with other childish things, as I set                 
about negotiating puberty and trying on alternate personae with all the urgency                 
and clumsiness that come with that, and was actually getting somewhere, I think,               
when my mother died with stunning suddenness. Dropped literally dead: the                       
descent of an Other Shoe I'd been anticipating since age six.                                   
Thereafter, probably needless to say, things didn't seem to go very well for                   
quite a while. I left my school without graduating, joined up with rest of the                 
Children's Crusade of the day, and shortly found my self in Canada, a country I                 
knew almost nothing about. I concentrated on evading the draft and staying alive,               
while trying to make sure I looked like I was at least enjoying the Summer of                   
Love. I did literally evade the draft, as they never bothered drafting me, and                 
have lived here in Canada, more or less, ever since.                                           
Having ridden out the crest of the Sixties in Toronto, aside from a brief, riot-torn           
spell in the District of Columbia, I met a girl from Vancouver, went off to                     
Europe with her (concentrating on countries with fascist regimes and highly                     
favorable rates of exchange) got married, and moved to British Columbia, where I               
watched the hot fat of the Sixties congeal as I earned a desultory bachelor's                   
degree in English at UBC.                                                                       
In 1977, facing first-time parenthood and an absolute lack of enthusiasm for                   
anything like "career," I found myself dusting off my twelve-year-old's interest               
in science fiction. Simultaneously, weird noises were being heard from New York                 
and London. I took Punk to be the detonation of some slow-fused projectile                     
buried deep in society's flank a decade earlier, and I took it to be, somehow, a               
sign. And I began, then, to write.                                                             
And have been, ever since.                                                                     
Google me and you can learn that I do it all on a manual typewriter, something                 
that hasn't been true since 1985, but which makes such an easy hook for a lazy                 
journalist that I expect to be reading it for the rest of my life. I only used a               
typewriter because that was what everyone used in 1977, and it was manual                       
because that was what I happened to have been able to get, for free. I did avoid               
the Internet, but only until the advent of the Web turned it into such a                       
magnificent opportunity to waste time that I could no longer resist. Today I                   
probably spend as much time there as I do anywhere, although the really peculiar               
thing about me, demographically, is that I probably watch less than twelve hours               
of television in a given year, and have watched that little since age fifteen. (An             
individual who watches no television is still a scarcer beast than one who doesn't             
have an email address.) I have no idea how that happened. It wasn't a decision.                 
I do have an email address, yes, but, no, I won't give it to you. I am one and                 
you are many, and even if you are, say, twenty-seven in grand global total, that's             
still too many. Because I need to have a life and waste time and write.                         
I suspect I have spent just about exactly as much time actually writing as the                 
average person my age has spent watching television, and that, as much as                       
anything, may be the real secret here.