The Art of the High-Stakes Pranks

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Filed under: Pranksters

William Gibson is appearing at Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington D.C.; Fri., August 17, 2007, 7 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Tenleytown-UDC). Bob Massey, contributing to FreeRide at Express writes about his latest book:

Present Tense: Cerebral Cyberpunk William Gibson
Express: A Publication of the Washington Post
by Bob Massey
August 16, 2007

spookcountry-200.jpgWe didn’t get the future we wanted. Like the “dot matrix printer for photorealistic tattoos,” says William Gibson, wistfully. “It seemed like such a natural” when he dreamed it up for an early novel. Instead, we got Moore’s law: a future that changes so fast that even the man who prophetically coined the term “cyberspace” has given up prognostication to write about the weirdness of right now.

But Gibson’s gift for pattern recognition - the title of his previous novel - continues in the themes of Spook Country.

Both artists and spooks deal in pattern recognition, and in Gibson’s world it’s a fuzzy line between job descriptions. The novel concerns “America’s smallest underground crime family,” says Gibson. “I decided these guys were a boutique operation who could get information in and out of anywhere you wanted - if you could afford to do it.”

And who can afford to do it? Essentially, artists. For Gibson, the best weapon against serious men bent on choreographing profitable, meaningless wars is the art of the high-stakes prank. Paging Banksy.

Characters? Hollis Henry, indie rock icon turned freelance journalist. Hubertus Bigend, who’s Jeff Koons as an ad man. Odille, a curator of site-specific virtual reality artworks. A cranky, mischievous, ex-CIA operative, “Someone who would’ve been in charge of something, in America when grown-ups still ran things.”

All aggregators of information, professional pattern recognizers bearing down on one “lost” shipping container bearing mysterious contents. It’s barely fiction.

“My work,” says Gibson, “is dependent on ridiculous found objects of journalism that fall below the consideration of serious journalists.”

The random news pixels that merge to form a portrait of North America circa now, where everyone feels adrift. Endless variables changing at an exponential rate. “Technology is really built like an anthill. It’s unplanned. People don’t legislate cellphones into existence; they just come along and change things.” But faster.

So when we Google-map a route on an iPhone, we laugh and say: Man, it’s so good to live in the future. With that twinge of dislocation, of ambient weirdness.

“I do feel that. It’s the characteristic feeling of our era. The weirdness of the ’60s happened within a more stable context. The old world was still there.” But turn-of-the-century weirdness occurs at sea, with no compass.

“But that’s one of the things about aging. It becomes impossible to distinguish the one from the other. I’ve noticed contemporaries - science fiction writers who’ve been writing for 30 or 40 years - say, ‘Everybody who comes after us is some pale deformed shadow of humanity.’ But I’ve been hearing that since I was 5 years old. I don’t want to go there.”

“I have no idea what the world was like before television,” says Gibson. “Television really changed things. But now we talk now about TV as if it were not technology but part of the natural world.” Or part of an older future.