In his latest work, the spawner of cyberpunk has become unstuck in time and has come face to face with nuclear apocalypse.
By Brian Merchant | MOTHERBOARD
William Gibson has become unstuck in time. After defining cyberpunk and coining cyberspace, Gibson retreated from ventures further afuture in the 00s, penning a trilogy of closer-to-now works. His 2014 novel The Peripheral was widely hailed as a return to science fiction, and at its heart was, well, time itself. The book took place in two futures, one nearer, one far, and used an inventive speculation about time manipulation to explore, among other things, how they might be linked. His latest, Archangel, a screenplay-turned-graphic novel co-created with Michael St. John Smith and illustrated by Butch Guice, features a similar mechanism, exploring present calamity through „split“ realities and alternate timeline nuclear follies.
Those early books—including the legendary, genre-defining Neuromancer—pioneered the art of approaching digital worlds as if they were physical spaces. His latest (as well as an incoming third work, which he tells me he’s finishing now) seem to, in my reading, at least, take a similar tack with time itself. What if the progression of time, and the reality attached to it, was anything but immutable? What if alternate timelines, or forks, or ’stubs,‘ could be visited and explored, with the right technologies—and the right resources, as only the megarich and world governments have able access—as if incomprehensibly detailed software programs?
It makes for a much more implausible narrative arena than cyberspace, the threads of which were already fast spooling together while Neuromancer was granting them a vernacular. But it’s also a good vehicle for thinking about the future, and which factors do or don’t influence our arriving there. In the case ofArchangel, the focus is on nuclear weapons—a topic, that unfortunately, has become of utmost and terrifying relevance again. I had a chance to conduct an interview over email with the author of a not-inconsiderable swath of our future, and we touched on all of the above. It’s been lightly edited for continuity.
A few spoilers below, but one that isn’t, in any case, is that Archangel opens in 2016 on a world, almost ours, that has been decimated by nuclear annihilation.
MOTHERBOARD: It’s an interesting choice to ground the action in an alternate dystopian present, and to specifically timestamp it 2016. The move pays off in a narrative sense in the end, but beyond that, what motivated the choice in opening the work with scenes of total collapse in the here-and-now?
William Gibson: Anyone my age lived about half their life so far with the daily and very real possibility of nuclear apocalypse. For anyone under thirty or so, that’s only been an abstract idea. Boomers lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and some of us were traumatized thereby. I know I was. So opening on a nuked Pax Americana isn’t particularly about now, for me. Or rather, it wasn’t, a few years ago, when we wrote our screenplay.