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In this last excerpt of our William Gibson interview (see parts one and two), we talk about the challenges (and benefits) of writing fiction in the age of Google. For even more Gibson talk on such matters as whether he's still a science fiction writer, the death of space travel, and a world becoming more and more Victorian, see the complete transcript of our interview. You can also read another lengthy advance interview on the book at the College Crier Online. Spook Country is out on August 7.

Amazon.com: How do you research? If you want to write about, say, GPS, like you do in your new book, do you actively research it and seek out experts, or do you just perceive what's out there and make it your own?

Gibson: Well, I google it and get it wrong [laughter]. Or if I'm lucky, Cory Doctorow tells me I'm wrong but gives me a good fix for it. One of the things I discovered while I was writing Pattern Recognition is that I now think that any contemporary novel today has a kind of Google novel aura around it, where somebody's going to google everything in the text. So people--and this happened to me with Pattern Recognition--would find my footprints so to speak: well, he got this from here, and this information is on this site.

Amazon.com: You're annotated out there.

Gibson: Yeah it's sort of like there's this nebulous extended text. [For one deeply involved annotation, visit Joe Clark's PR-otaku site--and see if you ever come back.] Everything is hyperlinked now. Some of it you actually have to type it in to get it, but it's all hyperlinked. It really changes things. I'm sure a lot of writers haven't yet realized how it changes things, but I find myself googling everything that goes into the text, and sometimes being led off in a completely different direction.

Amazon.com: So are you able to google during your writing day, or do you have to block that off and say, all right--

Gibson: No, I've got Word open on top of Firefox.

Amazon.com: That's very courageous.

Gibson: It's kind of the only way I can do it. It's replaced looking out the window, but I have to have--

Amazon.com: You need a certain stimulation to work off of.

Gibson: Yeah, I need a certain stimulation. It kind of feels like when you're floating underwater and you're breathing through a straw. The open Firefox is the straw: like, I can get out of this if I have to. I can stay under until I can't stand it anymore, and then I go to BoingBoing or something.

Amazon.com: I think for some writers, they'd never get back in the pool with Google open to them.

Gibson: It's not that interesting for me. I'm okay with it because it doesn't pull me in that much. The thing that limits you with Google is what you can think of to google, really. There's some kind of personal best limitation on it, unless you get lucky and something you google throws up something you've never seen before. You're still really inside some annotated version of your own head.

[Later in the interview I asked about setting part of the book in Vancouver, his home. His globe-trotting books have mostly been set elsewhere.]

Gibson: I never had this experience before: I'd go and look at a setting, or more often than not I'd remember one, and go, oh, okay, we could do that, go ahead and write it, and then I'd go down at some later point to make sure I was right, and I'd be way off.

Amazon.com: Did you feel obligated to change it?

Gibson: In some cases. The Vancouver stuff is less one-on-one than the Manhattan stuff, for instance. The places, the restaurants are in different neighborhoods, things like that. The New York stuff I somehow stuck closer to the real thing. The New York stuff is more googleable.

Amazon.com: Yeah, everybody knows New York, every inch of it.

Gibson: You can google it at a higher resolution.

--Tom 

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About this blog

Mix one part casual anthropologist with two parts avid reader, add the occasional culinary inspiration and a penchant for haiku, and what you end up with is Anne Bartholomew. When she's not working her way through the books on her nightstand, Anne tests new recipes and wishes she could write like Billy Collins.

Dave Callanan is a full-contact reader. A quick glance at him immersed in a book will always reveal the title's genre. He grins broadly with comedies, furrows his brow at dramas, and nervously bites his lip during thrillers. It's no surprise that even on a crowded bus, the seat next to Dave is rarely taken.

Daphne Durham: Rarely seen without a book, she reads while walking to work, at red lights, and before the movie starts. She keeps a "just in case" book in her purse for emergencies (like an extra long line at the grocery store). Reading taste ranges from literature to pure trash.

Jon Foro is not ogling you; he just wants to know what you're reading. A word freak since age six when he ordered his first Big Boy Book with a coupon clipped from the back of a Cheerios box ("Hardy Boys 53: The Clue of the Hissing Serpent"), Jon enjoys ancient history, literary stylists (Nabokov and Amis), true-life adventures & nature writing (Abbey, J.W. Powell), and books about bears.

Lauren Nemroff insists on carrying her own bag (purse, suitcase, backpack, or beach bag). Not because she thinks chivalry is dead, but because it usually contains several pounds of books. The contents: new fiction, the latest art and photography books, mysteries and thrillers, a section of the Times book review, and a vintage Amazon bookmark (ca. 1998).

Tom Nissley knew he wasn't like the other kids when they assigned Thomas Hardy's "Return of the Native" in 10th grade and he spent dreamy afternoons in Wessex with Clym Yeobright and Eustacia Vye (Eustacia Vye!) and then came back to school to find that everybody else thought it was "boring."

Once called "the Cameron Crowe of the food world," Brad Thomas Parsons balances his pursuits equally between all-things literary and culinary. He has interviewed Mario Batali, Danny Meyer, Ina Garten, Anthony Bourdain, Giada De Laurentiis, and Marco Pierre White, along with Jon Stewart, Amy Sedaris, Don Rickles, Sarah Vowell, and Chuck Barris, among others. He is a regular guest on Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen where he offers commentary on trends in cookbooks and food lit.

Other Contributors:

Heidi Broadhead and Paul Hughes have just started raising their first child, Silas, amidst piles of well-loved books. In utero, the little guy heard a steady stream of plays (including Macbeth and King Lear more than once) and poetry (by the likes of Elizabeth Bishop and Frank O'Hara). Now Silas is more likely to have Entertainment Weekly, the Sunday New York Times, or some random blog post read aloud to him, as his parents try to catch up on sleep and rejoin the world. (Until he can read on his own--and hopefully not even then--Silas will not be exposed to the NYT Sunday Styles section.)

Mike Smith reads a lot about geology, languages, and British history, and is working his way through an ad hoc self-made syllabus of British literature to cover up the gaps from his feckless undergrad days. As an adolescent he read way too much Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Alistair Maclean. He is a staunch supporter of the Oxford comma.

Jeff VanderMeer's sense of adventure is so strong that as a kid he hoped hed lose his eye in a tragic accident so he could wear a pirate patch. Maybe that's why as an adult he likes fantasy, SF, horror, magic realism, slipstream, interstitial, and whatever-you're-calling-it- over-smokes-and-coffee-this-morning. An author inspired by everything from Nabokov through Hindu superhero comics and Hong Kong cult action films, he has been known to write about squid, frogs, and fungus. Once, he wanted to be a marine biologist, but only so he could putter around in tidal pools.



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