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"But the really new thing is that the authorities are coming to our attention."

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The science fiction blog io9 has a great interview up with cyber/steam/techno-punk novelist William Gibson, touching on everything from the surveillance state to Godzilla. Here's Gibson's response to being dubbed a "dystopian" writer:

None of us ever live in dystopia. That's an imaginary extreme. They just live in shitty cultures. And these societies [in my books] seem dystopian to middle class white people in North America. They don't seem dystopian if you live in Rio or anywhere in Africa. Most people in Africa would happily immigrate to the Sprawl.

Whole thing here. reason's legendary look at the upside of "zero privacy" here.

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  1. “Sprawl”, the codeword of certain leftist elites concerning communities of single family homes of a look that they do not appreciate.

    Nice to see this fellow speaking truth to power.

  2. “Most people in Africa would happily immigrate to the Sprawl.”

    And most people in North Korea would happily immigrate to Air Strip One.

  3. See also ‘McMansion’.

  4. Which of course does not make it good. One imagines that every occupant of Dante’s Inferno would really rather be on the layer just above the one they occupy, but it’s all still hell.

    There is something, on the fringes, to the notion that dystopias are particularly scary to folks who have had really cushy lives…but that does not diminish the warnings the extremity of those social situations provide to illuminate current trends.

  5. Uh, Guy, that’s not the sprawl he’s talking about.

  6. “And most people in North Korea would happily immigrate to Air Strip One.”

    Speaking of North Korea, anyone read The Reluctant Communist? It is truly shocking. It is by an American Soldier who defected to North Korea and what he went through there.
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520253337/reasonmagazinea-20/

  7. Guy – in Neuromancer/Count Zero/Mona Lisa Overdrive, The Sprawl is the sort of agglomerated east-coast cities from Boston to maybe DC. It’s not related to McMansions too much. In fact, there are a lot of people living in archologies in The Sprawl, which is almost directly antithetical to the ‘McMansion’ sense of the term.

  8. BTW, not to nitpick Gibson’s grammar, but shouldn’t they be emmigrating to the sprawl?

  9. Ravac,

    Sure looks like urban “sprawl” is what he is talking about in both the quote above and the article. The quoted text is the only instance of sprawl in the article, but it also appears in comments.

  10. lunchstealer,

    I was using McMansion as another example of a “codeword” that certain people use for homes they do not like.

  11. Ah, but point taken for those of us who have never read his work and may read this without that context, i.e., knowing these specific uses and contect to common terms of the modern day.

  12. Life in the U.S. in 2008 is utopian compared to most other times and places.

  13. No seriously, “the Sprawl” (capitalized even) refers to something specific in a fictional setting. If you read Tolkien refering to “Middle Earth,” that is not a code-word for the Middle East.

  14. Lunchstealer,

    No, you only emigrate from somewhere. I dunno about emmigrate…

  15. Yep, lunchstealer got it. Gibson’s Sprawl is the farthest thing from suburban neighborhoods as you can get.

    San Francisco in the movie Blade Runner, is a very good example of what Gibson’s Sprawl would look like. In fact, seeing the movie before Neuromancer was published really shook Gibson up, as someone had ‘scooped’ his idea.

  16. Um, Zubon, I would not confuse Middle Earth with Middle East. But I could easliy confuse Middle East with “Middle East”.

  17. The Sprawl was officially known as BAMA, the Boston/Atlanta Metropolitan Axis. It was a city that was the entire Eastern seaboard. Large sections of it are domed. It was always presented as an organic artifact, not something built solely by government edict.

    Basically, it’s not far off of what high-density urban living advocates want. High speed subway connected it all up.

  18. The Sprawl was officially known as BAMA

    Oh, here’s Mr. SciFiExpert to tell us all about it. Maybe you can tell us the name of the AI while you’re at it?

  19. My favorite Gibson factoid: He wrote Neuromancer on a 1933 typewriter.

    As anyone knows who’s ever looked at any bio notes on me, Neuromancer was written on a typewriter. This is often presented as evidence of weird lotek eccentricity on my part, but in 1981 I didn’t know anyone who wrote on a computer. All the hotshit professionals had the IBM Selectric, which turned out to be the endpoint of typewriter evolution. Stephen King may have already had his Wang, which was the first I heard of anyone writing fiction on a new-fangled “word processor”. Me, I was writing on a Hermes 2000 . Mine was identical to the 1933 example mid-way down the page. It was built by E. Paillard & Cie. S.A., Yverdon (Suisse) with all the precision of a Swiss mechanical watch. That precision, plus the rigidity of the small but heavy steel frame, made it one memorably fine writing tool. I had inherited it from my wife’s step-grandfather, who’d been a journalist. I wrote all my short stories on it, Neuromancer, the first half of Count Zero, and then some crucial doohickey broke. There were absolutely no NOS 1933 Hermes parts available, in Vancouver. I made do with a really horrible manual office machine, all I could afford at the time, until Bruce Sterling’s dad gave him an Apple II and I started hearing really a lot about that. But if the 2000 (I’ll bet they were thinking about the year, Gernsback Continuum style) hadn’t broken, I’d probably have gotten into computers even later.

  20. Just read Neuromancer and I can’t remember. Brain. . .must. . .be. . .revived.

  21. Before or after I merged with my counterpart, Neuromancer?

  22. Ah. Now I remember.

  23. Because after, I went insane for awhile and pretended to be voodoo gods…

  24. ” … touching on everything from the surveillance state to Godzilla.”

    That’s a “false range.”

    Info here.

    You did the same thing earlier.

    “On issues ranging from eminent domain abuse to the restriction of civil liberties during wartime …”

    Please don’t!

  25. And then I emailed myself to Alpha Centauri.

  26. Yeah, in Gibson’s future history, “the Sprawl” is a less-formal nickname for the region also known as BAMA — the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis. Basically all the Eastern US cities from Boston to Atlanta have grown together into one big contiguous urban area.

    This is established in Neuromancer.

  27. But, at the same time, I can’t remember my locker combination at the gym. I had to write it on my ID.

  28. Oops, cross-post and pile-on. This is what happens when I take 10 minutes to compose a three-sentence comment. (I was interrupted during.)

    Anyway, are we now all clear on what “the Sprawl” refers to in the context of Gibson’s works? Good.

    Now for some trivia questions!

    1) On what kind of machine did Gibson write his first novel Neuromancer

    2) What is the name of the AI in Neuromancer?

    You’ll never get these!

  29. I am stumped.

  30. However, I think I can remember the Litany Against Fear. To be fair to my declining mental abilities, I wasn’t all that excited by Neuromancer, though it was certainly a decent book.

    Stevo,

    Hell if I know.

  31. But, at the same time, I can’t remember my locker combination at the gym. I had to write it on my ID.

    NutraSweet, I may have to kick your nerd ass at some point. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You are on record stating that you’re not a virgin, correct?

  32. Anyway, are we now all clear on what “the Sprawl” refers to in the context of Gibson’s works? Good.

    Unfortunately, it wasn’t fast enough to prevent the predictable “leftist elite” pile-on.

  33. Neuromancer aside, I would really like to see an experiment where we take a few thousand African villagers and plop them into a modern sprawling suburban setting and see what happens over time. To be fairish we would want to pick a warmer sprawl (say Atlanta or Phoenix) over a colder one (Boston or Minneapolis).

  34. You are on record stating that you’re not a virgin, correct?

    Your mom counts, right?

  35. Uh, Guy, that’s not the sprawl he’s talking about.

    Yeah, the Sprawl* is a specific place described in Necromancer. From what i read it did not have any Mcmansions. In fact it most resembled to me a industrial area in Oakland along the rail where punks had decided to make residence in old warehouses….but with a really nice mall.

    *Note the capital letter.

  36. Episiarch,

    I suggest responding to SugarFree in the following manner: “Dude, my mother is a man.”

  37. Your mom counts, right?

    You getting violated by a strap-on counts as sex now? This is Bill Clinton’s fault.

  38. Assuming, of course, that your mother does not read this blog.

  39. Assuming, of course, that your mother does not read this blog.

    She posts as “joe.” She and Epi have a very complicated relationship.

  40. She posts as “joe.”

    Well then I guess she is a man. Dude. Or joe’s a woman.

  41. I JUST BLEW YOUR MIND, DIDN’T I?

  42. That Crith Angel ith pretty thort, isn’t he?

  43. To be fairish we would want to pick a warmer sprawl (say Atlanta or Phoenix) over a colder one (Boston or Minneapolis).

    Isnt there a very large Kenyan community in Maine?

  44. My favorite Gibson factoid: He wrote Neuromancer on a 1933 typewriter.

    Intimidating Neal Stephenson factoid: He wrote the Baroque Cycle with pen and paper.

  45. R C Dean,

    Have you ever seen the stack of paper?

    I can’t seem to google it up, but it was like 5 feet tall.

  46. “San Francisco in the movie Blade Runner”

    I think you mean Los Angeles, don’t you?

    Never could get past 20 pages of any Gibson book I ever picked up. My loss, I suppose, but I did get a couple of good naps out it, anyway.

    BTW, I wrote this on a computer keyboard with my FINGERS!

  47. Intimidating Neal Stephenson factoid: He wrote the Baroque Cycle with pen and paper.

    The idea of writing any Neal Stephenson novel with a pen and paper makes my wrist hurt.

  48. Dystopia? I can’t be the only person who read Neuromancer and thought it would be kind of a cool place to live…

  49. Would you rather live in Dystopia or Dattopia?

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