William Gibson On How Ignorance May Keep Your Novel From Becoming Dated

Illustration for article titled William Gibson On How Ignorance May Keep Your Novel From Becoming Dated

The 2006 anniversary edition of Neuromancer starts with an introduction by William Gibson, in which he muses on how the novel stayed fresh during over two decades of frantically evolving technology. The answer might be ignorance.


William Gibson is renowned for his futurist insights, but arguably his most prescient work owes a lot to the past. Gibson explains in an introduction to the twentieth anniversary edition of Neuromancer that as a kid in the 1960s, he read science fiction from the 1940s, and was happy to use his imagination to cover for the author’s lack of accurate predictions for the future. Then he turns his eyes on his own work, and when it does and doesn’t hold up. Surprisingly, he concludes that ignorance may be the key to longevity, explaining:

In hindsight, I suspect that Neuromancer owes much of its shelf-life to my almost perfect ignorance of the technology I was extrapolating from. I was as far from the Sixties author who knew everything about cell-phones as it was possible to be. Where I made things up from whole cloth, the colors remain bright. Where I was unlucky enough to actually have some small bit of real knowledge, the reader finds things like the rattling keys of a mechanical printer, or Case’s puzzlingly urgent demand, when the going gets tough, for a modem.

What do you think? Does knowing what you’re talking about, and getting into specifics to prove your knowledge to current generations, shut out future generations?



There’s a commentary track for one episode of the HBO prison drama Oz, where Tom Fontana talks about how a lot of the slang he used was made up and how some of the cast who had more knowledge of street slang offered to help him make the language more accurate. Fontana declined because he felt that slang changes so much that the show would become horribly dated if he used slang which was too on point.