Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012. 259pp)

Born in 1948, William Gibson is an American-Canadian science fiction writer. His debut Novel, Neuromancer (1984) effectively predicted the internet. He has also written for TIME, Wired, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times. He has been awarded the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, Ditmar, Seiun, and Prix Aurora awards.

Science Fiction: A Future Truth

The future is always something that has amazed me. What’s coming next? How will humanity change for the better? Or for the worse? All these questions find potential answers in the realm of science fiction. Though I’m not a hard-core science fiction fan by any means, I’ve been known to dabble in shows like Star Wars and Star Trek from time to time. As a science fiction writer, William Gibson has made several predictions about the future, including coining the term “cyberspace”.

While successful in the world of science fiction, Gibson’s Distrust That Particular Flavor serves as a collection of essays and journalistic articles compiled over the years. These articles are presented amidst the backdrop of a savvy retrospective, much like a postscript, which Gibson paints at the end of each chapter; he recollects with either distain or contentment the articles he wrote seemingly long ago. As a science fiction writer, he is often asked “What do you think will happen?” Gibson states,

“The day I reply with anything other than a qualified ‘I haven’t got a clue,’ please shoot me. While science fiction is sometimes good at predicting things, it’s seldom good at predicting what those things might actually do to us. For example, television, staple window dressing for hundreds of stories from the Twenties through the Forties, was usually presented as a mode of personal communication. Nobody predicted commercials, Hollywood Squares, or heavy-metal music videos” (15).

The Nostradamus Quality 

A careful investigation of Gibson’s writing and articles through this collection provides evidence that Gibson has a certain Nostradamus quality (though he wouldn’t admit this) about his predictions regarding technology and the future (the best example would be his prediction of the internet). But, he also has incredible insights about the current state of today’s affairs. Take this quotation as an example:

“People my age are products of the culture of the capital F-Future. The younger you are, the less you are a product of that. If you’re fifteen or so, today, I suspect that you inhabit a sort of endless digital ‘Now’, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory. I also suspect that you don’t know it, because, as anthropologists tell us, one cannot know one’s own culture” (44).

Will We Have Computer Chips in Our Heads?

Photo by Eyemage

Gibson seems to view the world, both present and future, with the fresh eyes of a child. As a result, Gibson’s writing is able to make countless predictions, as well as intriguing commentary. When asked “will be have computer chips in our heads?” he writes in TIME magazine,

“It won’t, I don’t think, be a matter of computers crawling buglike down into the most intimate chasms of our being, but of humanity crawling buglike out into the dappled light and shadow of the presence of that which we will have created, which we are creating now, and which seems to me to already be in process of re-creating us” (218).
So, if these quotes seem a little arrogant to you, let me caution you. I’ve cherry-picked these out of an entire book, so they are a little out of context. Gibson doesn’t claim that he predicts the future well, or that he’s influenced the development of products. He doesn’t claim that without his fiction business wouldn’t have been creative enough to innovate. Rather, he claims that somehow he had an idea where technology would go in some cases.
This collection of essays shows an eye for the uncanny and the unperceived. From observations on film technology, to why Japan is so seemingly ahead of the curve, this collection serves as a great reminder of our past, as well as something to foster a curiosity for the future. Distrust That Particular Flavor would be a good read for anyone wanting to see stories of an autobiographical nature that map thinking about technological advances at the same time.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5
Posted by: Andrew Jacobson
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