William Gibson

William Gibson began predicting the future almost 20 years ago. His 1984 “cyberpunk” novel, Neuromancer, coined the term cyberspace long before the Internet was commonplace. His most recent work, Pattern Recognition, is his first set in the present.

Q. Why did you set Pattern Recognition in the present?

A. I had been maintaining for years that I wasn’t actually writing about the future. I would always have people saying, “Oh, it’s wonderful, how do you know what’s going to happen?” And I would say, “Well, I don’t.” It all just seems familiar because I am using what’s right in front of me.

Did you do a lot of research into trend spotting and coolhunting?

No, that’s all based on life experience. My assumption was that the way people think in advertising and marketing isn’t that different from the way people think in movies, the music business or publishing, all of which arguably are forms of marketing. And the product is less important than the story one comes up with about the product.

A character says, “More creativity goes into the marketing of products than into the products themselves.” Do you think that’s true?

As often as not. That’s just my experience as a civilian and a consumer.

What does that say about marketing?

Most of the stuff we buy in the West is manufactured by people in other places who are only now becoming industrial. Having heard for the past 15 years that we have become a post-industrial society, I began to wonder what exactly it is that we do. We buy most of this stuff, but we also make up the stories that induce us to buy the stuff. I think that a lot of people feel ambivalent about that. It’s probably a source of occasional anxiety.

At one point in the novel, people go into bars to mention a certain product. Did you base that on real life?

I had assumed that was an urban legend. I thought it would be fun to present it as an actual viral-marketing scheme. After I turned the manuscript in, people started sending me clippings and I realized that it has actually been tried. The best article suggested that the public reaction had been so violently negative that it was immediately dropped. It went on to describe more subtle ways of doing it that didn’t involve actual individuals lying to actual other individuals, which seemed to be the problem.

Have you gotten feedback from the brands that cause Cayce’s allergic reactions?

No, those are quite random. I always thought the Michelin man was benign and jolly, although for some reason my daughter, who is 20 now, had always found the Michelin man horrifying and terrific, so that was why I chose him. Cayce could be reacting to anything.

What do you think about the state of advertising in the U.S.?

I don’t see this book as a critique of that, in spite of having my trillion-dollar adman genius be the bad guy. I consider myself to be amiably complicit in the whole thing. What I do is market, too. Writers become, in effect, a brand if they stick around long enough, so I am a part of it.

What marketing do you think is smart?

When I go to England or Europe or Japan, I notice that the advertising gets past my unconscious defenses much more easily, because it’s weird and alien and grabs my attention. British advertising seems to take for granted that the consumer knows that advertising is telling a story. They can work with a kind of conscious irony. In North America, advertising still depends on the idea that the transaction between the advertiser and the consumer is invisible. I have a very strong sense that the younger you are, the less true that is. The 12-year-olds are terrifyingly hip to the fact that they are being marketed to.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading an incredibly eccentric 1920s biography of a completely crazy and obscure English novelist. I am also reading a book called Boonville, by Robert Mailer Anderson, which is an excellent, funny first novel by a young writer.

Do you read any magazines?

My favorite magazine is a peculiar English magazine called Fortean Times. It looks like it’s about Bigfoot and flying saucers, but it’s actually this brainy philosophy magazine. It’s my absolute favorite.

How often are you on the Web?

When I am home, pretty much every day, and it’s hard to say exactly what I am doing. Mostly just Googling and following up and getting lost and finding wonderful things. It’s no more purposeful than sitting on the couch, flipping through 60 channels of television, but the randomness factor of what you can find and that weird inner connectivity provide a whole different kind of vitamins.

What do you think about Googling?

You can make connections effortlessly in a few seconds that would have taken someone back in a library 20 years of brutally boring labor. I don’t know where that’s going to take us, but it changes things. It leveled the playing field in a very interesting way.

Are you working on anything now?

No, I am traveling around and being a marketing tool for my publisher. When that’s over, the whole process will begin again.