What was it like watching something that had only existed in your mind
gradually transformed into physical being?
It's very very strange, and interesting.I think what was most intense for me was physically walking into the main set.
It completely flipped me out for about two hours the first time I was on the
set. Seeing it up on the screen in some ways a little more academic because you
can then look at how it plays. But actually being there on a very meticulously
realized set was extraordinary very spooky and wonderful.
How much input did you have in the actual filming?
A vast and by Hollywood standards, completely abnormal amount. It's the
directors film but I bear a terrible degree of responsibility as well. Because
Robert and I are both outsiders, absolute beginners we both invent our own
collaborative relationship, which in terms of my involvement went far beyond
what the Hollywood culture expects or allows the author to do. I was in the art
department helping to build props at one point. That was wonderful.
After your experiences with Johnny Mnemonic, which do you think is more
surreal: Hollywood or Singapore?
I would have to say Singapore because it is not leavened by the erie glamour
that still sometimes manifests itself in Hollywood. There is some strange
tricky glamouring lure in Hollywood that's still here. It's kind of amazing
you just kind of glimpse it in the corner of your eye occasionally. Singapore
doesn't have that. What Singapore suffers from a kind of terminal banality in
Singapore's problem is that's its just really boring. It really is kind of like
Disney Land with some kind of mean agenda. Mean and not very interesting
Do you consider yourself a futurist?
I think of what I do artistically as exploration of new ways to
apprehend the present. The present is so shatteringly weird the day to day
moment by moment at the end of the 20th century. It's actually so much stranger
than we can grasp that we need that we need the tools that have traditionally
been the tools of science fiction to get a grip on it, and in some ways to push
back. I think I'm pushing back against what the late 20th century is doing to
me. Better than trying to extrapolate or map where we're going. I never think
of the things I write as being literally predictive. I think science fictions
predictive capacity I chronically overrated. We just never get it right
historically, if you check it out.
Science fiction was predicting television almost since the beginning of the
century. The principle of it was understood, yet there are only one or two
examples of anyone having predicted anything remotely like the culture of
broadcast television that has completely altered our world in my lifetime.
You weren't a big computer user when you wrote ""Neuromancer"." Are you
I'm not a power user by any means, but I wouldn't want to go back to
writing on a typewriter. To me, a word processors a power tool. It' like having
an electric drill, an electric saw. It's the same job, it just makes it go
What kind of computer do you have?
I use a Macintosh SE/30 which is kind of like driving a 1948
international Harvester truck, it's obsolete in a sense, but it's a very good
Are you on the net?
I don't have an email address, I don't even have a modem. My kids are,
but that's another matter. They spend hours strapped in there and sometimes I
go and look over their shoulders.
I'm a big fan of the Internet in theory. I love the idea of it. But at this
point in my life, the last thing I need is more information. More messages. The
very thought of it makes me want to scream.
Is the ability to find and own information starting to play too big a
That's sort of like saying sunlight is starting to play too big a role.
It's just there, it's what we do. Information is what we do that distinguishes
us from other species. For a long time we've coming up with ways of
disseminating it, mechanizing the process of the dissemination of the
information. Sometime in the second world war when the Allies built the first
electronic computer to crack the german enigma codes at that point we became
post-mechanical. I think that was the point when we actually entered the
Do you think print has a future.
Well, I hope. It's depressing to a writer to think that it might not. We
do have the example, in fact a rather scary example of Brazil, an enormous
country with a predominately illiterate popluation who get all of their
information from the world's largest television network. So that can be done,
I've never been there, but from a distance it looks like a rather scary
society. It looks sort of the societies in some of my books where there doesn't
seem to be a middle class.
Do you think that at some point "Neuromancer" is going to be a true
I could imagine that the Internet will evolve into something akin to the
cyberspace of "Neuromancer". But "Neuromancer" is sort of already fouled with
the kind of quaint anachronisms that science fiction novels accumulate as they
travel through real time. The Soviet Union is still in the background. On the
basis of what the characters do sexually, there is no AIDS. ""Neuromancer""
looks to me as very much like an '80s novel. The parts of "Neuromancer" that I
really like are sort of like fables of Reganonmics. I see it as a kind of
cautionary socio-political tale in some ways.
Why does AIDS play such a big role in virtual light?
It was the biggest story happening. When I wrote "Neuromancer", I'd never heard
of it, nobody had ever heard of it. I think I got through "Count Zero" while it
was kind of an emerging phenomenon. But by the time I wrote "Mona Lisa
Overdrive," I had a character who was a teenage prostitute and it was necessary
for me to kind of hedge a little bit. At some point she offers to show somebody
her "blood works certificate," to get approved, to show her customer that she's
When I wrote "Virtual Light" I was very concerned about it. A very good friend
of my wife's and mine had turned out that he was positive. In fact, the guy I
dedicated the book died shortly before its publication from aids-related
complications. To me it's a very serious part of the book. The whole story
shapely and what he does and how he dies. I saw that as the rock in the
snowball. "Virtual Light" is in some ways a overtly comic novel. But at its
core it's this hard hard thing, which to my mind is very much at the core of
our reality today.
Why do you thank Laurie Anderson at the end of it?
I read an early version of virtual light in New York. The first time I read
part of a new book, or a work in progress to a live audience is kind of a very
critical point for me. She came an introduced me at this reunion. It made me
feel much better about myself and about the book. I tend to get very
discouraged in the course of writing books. Because once I get to a certain
point I can see that it will never be as good as I want it to be. I'm never
satisfied with it. So part of this is sort of helped by this because I'm in the
middle, and in that case, Laurie got me over the hump. And Brian Eno got me to
finish which is why I nod to him in the back. He told me that some art is best
done quickly and go on to the next thing.
Now the three of you are all involved with GBN, correct?
My involvement with GBN is pretty passive. The fact that I don't do email
probably shuts me out of the most interesting aspects of that group. I've gone
to a couple of meetings. That's about it for me. My distrust of my own
abilities as a futurist kind of throws me down. Because GBN is actually a
futurist group. They do futurism quite well and interestingly but it's a
different kind of imagination than what I do, as far as I can tell.
Why are you involved then?
I was invited actually. Honestly, what happened was I was asked to join and
somehow managed to ignore the invitation because I was busy with something else
and they asked me again and I said 'I have to decline this, I'm a little too
busy,' the next thing I knew, I was "a member." It's very interesting and I
enjoy being a member and getting the mailing and books and things that are sent
to the members because it's a kind of prime source of good rip for my novels. I
see a lot of material that I wouldn't see otherwise.
Have you been following the U.S. Government trying to regulate the
It's going to be tough because the Internet doesn't come from anywhere and it's
trans-national. There aren't any borders anymore. My hunch is that they can't
regulate it without crippling it, causing it to cease to happen.
On the other hand, I'm in favor of law in cyberspace. I think we should have
law in cyberspace but should also have civil rights. We should have
constitutional rights with regards to this territory.
A cyberspace constitution?
The problem with the technologies that create these sort of quasi territories
the innovation jumps ahead of legislation. And in this case, I wanted to say is
that the thing that fascinates me most about the Internet is that it really is
global. It doesn't live anywhere. It doesn't emanate from any country. I know
you know in the absence of some sort of world government I don't see how you
can control the sort of end-user access because it's happening all over the
world simultaneously. Every place in the world has an Internet site. One
country's idea of pornography is anothers' Saturday morning cartoon.
Do you think its possible that politicians might be afraid of the power of
I don't think politicians, by and large, have remotely begun to grasp what's
going there. I think they knew, they might be frightened.
What do you think about hackers?
I'm kind of interested in what they do, socially, as an observer. But it sort
of doesn't turn me on. It really depends on what they're doing on an individual
case by case basis.