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.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Crackerjack Heart September 13, 2010 at 6:09 am

I used to just like you, Erin, now I love you.

I plan on spending all next weekend reading Zero History. I’m sure my character will see your character, at least “off screen.”

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Elissa September 13, 2010 at 7:08 am

I’d hate to work at a place with “no visible brands, patterns, colors or loud jewelry allowed” like the one mentioned in that forum post you linked to. The no brands rule I could handle, but how boring would it be to not have patterns, colours or interesting jewellery? As if the genre of ‘office wear’ wasn’t limited and boring enough already!

PS – I love Gibson. I’ve just finished Zero History & I put in a request for Pattern Recognition at the library today…

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DragonPoodle September 13, 2010 at 8:12 am

I’ll be looking for Gibson.
Back in the 1990′s I lived on the Babylon 5 space station. I was just on Earth to conduct some training.

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jeny September 13, 2010 at 8:48 am

I love you Erin!
Can’t wait to read Zero History :)

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apeppermintpenguin September 13, 2010 at 10:16 am

Wow, you are way, way too cool for me. I am not worthy.

Cheers,
AJ

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Sheila / Out of the Ashes Collectibles September 13, 2010 at 10:41 am

Thanks for the reference – I just spent a ton of time researching Mr. Gibson and gonna get some of his books!

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evalyn September 13, 2010 at 10:42 am

I will never leave The Enterprise (unless I get a spot on Serenity).

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Eirlys September 13, 2010 at 2:52 pm

In my erstwhile ridiculous job as a book publicist (I won’t grace that with a link), I once met Mr Gibson (c. 1988). He was both extremely, unassumingly nice and very, very, very tall. Both qualities made him remarkable.

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Elizabeth September 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Speaking of book people coming to life and/or crossing into books themselves, you must read (if you haven’t already) the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.

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LadyT September 13, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I had thought that it was not possible for me to enjoy you and this blog more.

Thanks for proving me wrong!

I have not read this particular Gibson, but have read some others and enjoyed them. I look forward to seeing you in one someday!

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Samsara September 14, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Hilarious! What a terrific post. Now I will definitely have to check out this book.

Gibson’s terrain seems like a fertile place to be as a character. I have the sinking suspicion that I am trapped in an interminable Ionesco play.

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grace September 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm

i found your blog by googling “meat fabric” (random, i know), and then when i went to the front page saw this post. i am on a MAJOR william gibson kick right now, and just finished re-reading the bridge trilogy. zero history is on my bookshelf as i type…

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Kae September 16, 2010 at 6:01 am

I love this blog post more than I probably should…

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Lisa Simeone September 18, 2010 at 4:12 am

Erin, then you must read the Jasper Fforde novels! Hilarious, witty, and deliciously literary. (Then again, maybe you already have.)

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Becky September 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I can’t believe I’m just now finding your blog. Seeing this post about William Gibson clinches it for me–I’m adding you to my blogroll so I can keep an eye on you. Not to sound stalkery.

I love Pattern Recognition–I think I’ve read it three times.

Can’t wait to dig into your archives!

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Helaine Koch October 10, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I thought you’d be interested in a new book coming out on November 9th. The Party Dress Book is by Mary Adams, an amazing designer/artist in NYC who makes one-of-a-kind wedding and party dresses. (http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780823033300)
Her book includes not only her ideas, inspirations and techniques, but a pattern, too. CHECK IT OUT!

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