American Literature William Gibson
by
Mathias Nilges
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0203

Introduction

Canadian-American author William Gibson was born on March 17, 1948, in Conway, South Carolina. In 1968, Gibson moved to Toronto, Canada, to join the emerging counter-cultural scene in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood. In 1977, Gibson graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English literature. In the same year, Gibson published his first work of fiction, the short story “Fragments of a Hologram Rose.” In the early 1980s, Gibson published a series of short stories, including “The Gernsback Continuum” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982). These and other stories, which were integral to Gibson’s development of a cyberpunk aesthetic, were collected in the volume Burning Chrome (1986). Gibson is most well-known for his debut novel, Neuromancer (1984), which achieved global success and established him as one of the pioneers of the cyberpunk genre. Gibson followed Neuromancer with two sequels, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). Together, these novels form the first of Gibson’s three trilogies, the Sprawl Trilogy. In 1992, in collaboration with Bruce Sterling, Gibson published the novel The Difference Engine, a central work of the steampunk genre. Throughout the 1990s, Gibson published his second cyberpunk trilogy, the Bridge Trilogy, which is comprised of the novels Virtual Light (1993), Idoru (1996), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999). The 1990s were a decade of notable artistic activity for Gibson. In addition to his novels, Gibson wrote screenplays and teleplays, published a wide range of nonfiction essays, and collaborated with artists and publishers. The early 2000s marked a turning point of sorts in Gibson’s work and saw a new stage in the engagement with the relation between genre and history in Gibson’s oeuvre that culminates in his most recent works, the 2014 novel The Peripheral and the 2016–2017 comic book run Archangel. His 2003 novel Pattern Recognition sparked a wave of critical and public discussions of Gibson’s work. Gibson’s turn to literary realism raised the question of his continued connection to cyberpunk: Had he abandoned the genre that he helped establish, or did Gibson’s novel show that cyberpunk no longer designates a near future but rather the globalized present? Gibson’s third trilogy, the Blue Ant Trilogy, consisting of Pattern Recognition, Spook Country (2007), and Zero History (2010), traces the logic of the globalized, branded, digital world in which we live, deploying some of the trademark strategies of cyberpunk to examine the present.

General Overviews

There exist a range of valuable points of entry into the work of William Gibson. Shorter articles like Easterbrook 2010 provide basic information on Gibson’s life and work. Collections of essays like Slusser and Shippey 1992 contain several essays on Gibson’s early work and importance for the development of cyberpunk that remain useful resources for beginning researchers. There exist four book-length studies of William Gibson, Olsen 1992, Henthorne 2011, Miller 2016, and Westfahl 2013, which offer detailed information on his life and work and include a range of resources such as critical bibliographies, pedagogical resources, and contextualizing chapters on all aspects of Gibson’s oeuvre. While these books are aimed primarily at researchers, they are arranged in an assessible manner that a general readership will find useful. Both researchers and general readers will also find the information contained in a documentary on Neale 2011, and the volume that collects some of the most notable interviews with Gibson, Smith 2014, an invaluable resource. One of the earliest and most widely cited interviews with Gibson, McCaffery and Gibson 1988, is of particular significance and offers helpful insights into the origins of Gibson’s work.

  • Easterbrook, Neil. “William [Ford] Gibson (1948–).” In Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction. Edited by Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint, 86–91. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Basic, brief introduction to Gibson’s life and work; a good place to start for general readers and beginning scholars.

  • Henthorne, Tom. William Gibson: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    Contains a wide range of resources, as well as detailed bibliographical information and commentary on Gibson’s work, beginning with his earliest short stories up to his 2010 novel Zero History; also covers cultural contexts and main themes and subjects in Gibson’s work.

  • McCaffery, Larry, and William Gibson. “An Interview with William Gibson.” Mississippi Review 16.2–3 (1988): 217–236.

    E-mail Citation »

    Early interview with Gibson that addresses important aspects of his relation to cyberpunk; also anticipates McCaffery’s 1993 collection of essays.

  • Miller, Gerald Alva. Understanding William Gibson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv6wgdb5E-mail Citation »

    Examines the life and work of Gibson, situating him in the history of science fiction (SF) and in the context of contemporary American fiction; provides biographical information, historical context, and influences; surveys major works, including obscure short stories as well as Gibson’s screenplays, nonfiction essays, and major collaborations.

  • Neale, Mark, dir. No Maps for These Territories. DVD. Amsterdam: Reel23, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    Interview-style documentary on and with William Gibson that contains helpful and fascinating information on his life and work; suited for a general audience and scholars alike.

  • Olsen, Lance. William Gibson. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    First book-length study of the work of William Gibson that contains helpful information on Gibson’s life, his early short fiction, and detailed discussions of the Sprawl Trilogy.

  • Slusser, George, and Tim Shippey, eds. Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    One of the earliest collections of essays on cyberpunk; includes several essays dedicated to Gibson; includes Gary Westfahl’s widely cited essay on Gibson’s short story “The Gernsback Continuum” (pp. 89–108).

  • Smith, Patrick A. Conversations with William Gibson. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    Brings together twenty-three previously published interviews; focuses on Gibson’s thoughts on technology, genre, writing, culture, branding and consumerism, and background on Gibson’s life.

  • Westfahl, Gary. William Gibson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037801.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Assembles a vast amount of biographical and bibliographical information, including a comprehensive list of early critical sources and information about largely unknown and obscure works by Gibson; thoroughly researched and contains a bibliography for beginning researchers; also contains an interview with Gibson that offers additional information on Gibson’s contribution to SF.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Article

Up

Down