Asked what piece in Distrust That Particular Flavor — his new collection of essays, articles, talks, and other nonfiction works — was the most surprising commission he received, William Gibson said, "they were all fairly unexpected. I was never really open for business." And although the legendary sci-fi writer admits in the book's intro that "writing nonfiction, I've often felt as though I'm applying latex paint to the living room walls with a toothbrush," his efforts have appeared in an impressive and eclectic range of publications, from Time to Wired to Forbes to music 'zines like Addicted to Noise and Ugly Things.
The title of the book comes from "Time Machine Cuba," originally hatched as an introduction to a new edition of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, but which ended up in science fiction magazine The Infinite Matrix because Gibson, who reads on Friday, January 20, at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland), couldn't get past his uncharacteristically autobiographical urges. "The 'flavor' in question," said Gibson, "is when futurists decide the world is ending, or over. Which generally happens when they notice they themselves are getting older."
Unsurprisingly for the author of Neuromancer — the man who coined the word cyberspace in 1981 and in a 1989 Rolling Stone article described a "Net" connecting us, all before he (or the general public) had ever put three w's together for any reason at all — most of the pieces in Distrust feature Gibson exploring aspects of technology. And some of those pieces are deeply prescient: In "The Net Is a Waste of Time," for a 1996 issue of New York Times Magazine, Gibson compares that year's Internet to early TV test patterns, hailing it as a delicious modern equivalent of staring into space, a valued procrastination amid a world of striving hustle. He also foresees its less random, more powerful future. But when he disconnects from technology, Gibson's writing can be just as successful. "Mr. Buk's Window," written for The Globe and Mail in reaction to 9/11, is a concise description of his own reaction to the attacks and the start of his healing process. Writing that piece also affected the trajectory of his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition; Gibson said that many of the other works in Distrust relate to his fiction work, as well, "in more mysterious ways, ways I don't really understand myself.
"Every few years I'd be asked to give a talk, or write some sort of meditation on what I really thought about the future, blah-blah. And the only way I could make that at all interesting was to try to figure out what I really thought about the future. And doing that would then have some subtle but powerful effect on my subsequent fiction."
Gibson's music writing, such as the included pieces on Steely Dan and Skip Spence, is charmingly idiosyncratic, although he has perhaps the least amount of confidence in it. "I love music," Gibson said, "but am not at all musical. So I have absolutely no language able to directly describe the music itself, which is actually not that uncommon a predicament. Lester Bangs never technically described music itself, but he wrote wonderfully about his experience of it. But it still bothers me that I can only allude to what musicians are actually doing." 7 p.m., free. 510-653-9965 or DieselBookstore.com