"That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace."
-- William Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties
Gibson is a Prophet

Yesterday was William Gibson day.

Philadelphia's Free Library was his last stop on his paperback release tour for Pattern Recognition, and the place was packed. We showed up an hour and a half early, and our group took up about half the third row.

After an essay read by some woman from Rutgers (which admittedly was a good essay, and captured a lot of the hard to describe things about Gibson's work), he seemed to sway out onto the stage.

The podium is bronzed, shaped like a large tome. He leans on it heavily. The man himself is 6'6", 6'7", with his hair all messed up, eyes squinting out behind round frames. He looks exhausted.

He read the first chapter of PR, with much laughter from the crowd in all the right places.

The Q&A session was interesting. He rambled a bit, but always brought it back and managed to make a point. A third of the questioners had British accents, which I thought was odd.

One of the questions related to how print is apparently dead (again? someone should probably mention it; people seem to claim print is dead just as often as people claim Apple's marketshare is about to completely collapse), and the questioner asked if printing books was a rebellious action on Gibson's part.

(possibly paraphrased, I wasn't taking notes)

"Hell, I don't know. Ask Barnes and Noble or Borders. Why are there more book stores and books being printed than ever before? Why does selling books have such a huge retail slot, bigger than it ever has?"

I've long maintained that there is some undefinable thing about a book, something that can't be replaced by a digital copy. Reading long pieces of text on a display of any sort invariably gives me a headache (including, unfortunately, code). Even when smart paper becomes marketable, and business-viable, it'll still have to be shaped, I think, in some way not entirely unlike a book.

"I'm sure there are some people who read books on their PDAs, but I don't know them."

We all looked pointedly at Andrew, who is the gadget freak of the group. He gave us a What?! look in return. :-)

The crowd itself was perhaps 10% geek, the rest lit people, most of them old. Back in the day, reading Gibson was part of what being in the scene was (not that I've ever been in the scene, just on the fringes of it, enough to know that everyone'd read Neuromancer at least), at least for the cyberpunkish kids.

It was the same mix at the Stephenson signing, in fact. Most of them were literature people; a sprinkling of computer or EE dorks.

The signing itself is where the only really good story comes in.

O'Donnell had decided to give Gibson a copy of Hacker's Challenge 2, a computer/network security book series he co-authors. There's a Gibson quote in the front, and one of the stories O'Donnell wrote is very cyberpunkish. So he marks the cpunk chapter with his business card.

We mocked him relentlessly for this, calling him many names.

However, Gibson thanks him and said it could be useful, and that he'd put it on his research shelf.

Afterwards, we all agreed it was cool and a nice thing for Gibson to say, but remained adament that O'Donnell is just a big dork.

So this morning O'Donnell gets a call, waking him up:

"Uh, hi, Adam? This is William Gibson."

Needless to say, a very cool way to get woken up. Gibson had a couple compsec questions for him, for a friends book. Adam can answer just about any security question you have, so.

The moral of the story here is: Being a superdork pays off.

Have you exercised your inner nerd today?

February 18, 2004 11:01 AM

I excercise my "inner nerd" all the time, but I fail to see how this will result in any sort of payoff. Beyond the confines of that cancer-fighting study they released last year, of course.

Posted by: Dan at February 19, 2004 2:10 AM

Baby, you're so weird you should be on television.

Posted by: bda at February 20, 2004 1:18 AM
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