Thank You, William Gibson

by Erin on September 13, 2010

I am pretty sure there's a recognized psychological disorder where the sufferer believes that he or she is actually a fictional character, living inside a novel, and subject to the whims of the author. I can't find the name of it, although while looking — no research effort is ever truly in vain — I did turn up the (really disturbing) Cotard delusion. (And thinking about the reverse, people who think they're real but turn out to be fictional characters, reminded me of one of my favorite SF stories, "You're Another."

But anyway.  Last Tuesday afternoon I came to the realization that I am not (in fact) an actual person, but a character in a William Gibson novel.

I came to this realization while reading Zero History. I was sitting on a plane, en route to a "Big Data" conference (!), having been unexpectedly upgraded to first class (!!), reading the book on my iPad (Apple fetishization — very Gibson). I'd downloaded it at the gate at the last minute, when I found out there was no wifi on the flight. I was wearing a new skirt. It was blue digital camouflage, and I made it myself. (Gibson enough for you yet?)

It was the new skirt that tipped me off to my unreal status. Camo and the blending of military and street fashion is a — I don't know, not really a theme, but maybe a motif — in Zero History and there I was, deeply immersed in the book, when I shifted in my seat, glanced down at it, and realized that I wasn't a real person, but just a Gibsonesque character.

I mean — really. Look at the evidence. Gibson's characters are post-fashion: they're defined by being post-fashion. Sometimes the plots are driven by the process of discovering what it means to be post-fashion and post-brands (but never post-style). They're insanely picky (well, insanely picky compared to people who aren't Gibson characters) about what they wear. They have self-imposed uniforms; they hate logos. (I make my own clothes, in part, because I hate logos.) They're obsessed with certain iconic brands. They scout for long-discontinued items on eBay. 

Gibson's characters have ridiculous jobs. (I also have a ridiculous job.) 

Gibson's characters, if not digital natives, are usually digital immigrants, living a sort of twilight existence between the online and the off. (How are we interacting RIGHT NOW?) Are you sure I'm real? Video of me could be faked, these blog posts created by some bored AI, all sorts of traces inserted stochastically deep in those layers of the internet which are rapidly turning into digital peat … 

You'd think that I'd be disturbed by this, but I'm really fine with it (as a Gibson character would be, after the initial freakout). I mean, it could be worse: I could be a character in a Dan Brown novel, right, or in some book with "Shopaholic" in the title? And Gibson's books do mostly have happy or happy-ish endings, after all. 

(Weirdly, my sartorial obsessions began in 1983-4, right around the time Neuromancer was published. That's when I learned to sew and also when I became fixated on penny loafers, initially classic Bass Weejuns. )

I haven't finished Zero History yet, but I'm very close to the end, and there's not really time for me to make an appearance before the denouement. Maybe in the next book … I'm really looking forward to meeting Bigend. I hope he's still wearing that blue suit.

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