William Gibson vs. the Kindle

September 28, 2010

Author William Gibson
Science fiction fans have a special affection for William Gibson. The 62-year-old author coined the term “cyberspace” nearly 30 years ago, and, according to Wikipedia, later popularized the idea in his 1984 breakthrough cyberpunk novel, “Neuromancer.” In 2007 he finally reached the mainstream best-seller lists with a science fiction novel called “Spook Country.” That novel was continuing a contemporary, post-9/11 storyline which finally culminated in the book “Zero History” — a brand new novel that Gibson released just a few weeks ago.

It’s currently the Kindle’s #1 best-selling science fiction ebook — though there’s no evidence that Gibson himself has ever used an e-reader. But something very strange happened last week at a book signing in Washington…

At the headquarters of Microsoft’s campus at Redmond, Gibson was asked how he felt about signing printed books in what may be a new age of virtual books and tablet-sized digital reading devices. Gibson told the audience he could always etch his signature into the back of a device, by using an industrial-strength carbide tip. (The man who asked the question, Dave Ohara, described the historic event on his blog.) Gibson later discovered that his questioner was also the second person in line for a book-signing. And instead of bringing a book, they’d downloaded an ebook of the latest Gibson novel — and now wanted the author to sign the back of their Kindle!

Gibson acknowledged it was the first time he’d ever signed a Kindle, and then, using a black magic marker, autographed it in big, curvy letters. Later, Gibson’s fans discovered he’d commemorated the moment on Twitter. He’d “tweeted” a status update which announced, “Signed very first Kindle at Microsoft. Actually, *touched* very first Kindle. Appealing unit, IMO.”

“Is this a trend yet…?” joked another blog. “It certainly offers an interesting work around to the inability to get author signatures in the front covers of eBooks.” In fact, last year in Manhattan someone requested an autograph on their Kindle from humor writer David Sedaris. “In mock horror,” The New York Times reported, Sedaris signed their Kindle with the perfect epitaph.

“This bespells doom.”

But I think it’s even more interesting when the device is presented to the visionary science fiction author who first popularized the “cyberspace” concept. Gibson’s original story defined cyberspace as “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation… Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

Now we’re living in a world where there’s a second invisible ether that’s also always around us, and always being accessed for its virtual repository of 700,000 ebooks.

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