Academic journal article Extrapolation

From Fanboy to Modern Master

Academic journal article Extrapolation

From Fanboy to Modern Master

Article excerpt

From Fanboy to Modern Master. Gary Westfahl. William Gibson. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2013. 224 pp. ISBN 9780252037801. $23 pbk.

Reviewed by D. Harlan Wilson

William Gibson is the second book published in the University of Illinois Press's new Modern Masters of Science Fiction series after Jad Smith's inaugural John Brunner. Each book is a biocritical study of a renowned, post-WW2 author in the genre that provides an engaged overview and analysis of his or her life and works. While Westfahl does not appear to be a prolific Gibson critic, he is certainly a prolific sf scholar that readers of Extrapolation and other sf journals doubtless know well. Since the 1960s, he has published a staggering abundance of books, articles, reviews and encyclopedia entries; most notably, perhaps, he is the chief editor of the three-volume The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works and Wonders (2005). Given such a longstanding career, he is qualified to write books on any number of sf authors (not surprisingly, he is currently writing a second entry for the MMSF series on Arthur C. Clarke). Westfahl's study of Gibson serves its purpose, shedding light on some influential aspects of Gibson's early life as an sf fan, then exploring his literary output from his first poems and stories to his most recent novel, Zero History (2010), and nonfiction collection, Distrust that Particular Flavor (2012). I have some reservations about Westfahl's critical methodology and inevitably some texts receive more attention than others. Overall he achieves an impressive balance, however, and he makes a concerted effort to produce new and unique readings of Gibson, an increasingly daunting task given the vast pool of Gibson scholarship.

Dividing his study into seven chapters, Westfahl moves chronologically throughout Gibson's career. He states his terms in a short introduction, calling Gibson "his generation's equivalent" to Robert A. Heinlein despite Gibson's dislike of Heinlein and reference to him as a "crazy old fucker" in a 2006 interview (1, 2). Nonetheless Westfahl explains how both authors functioned as unique sf revolutionaries who pointed the genre in new directions. Importantly, he also justifies his study of Gibson, noting the "surprising paucity of books devoted to this thoroughly examined author" (5). There are only five books, according to Westfahl. Most are limited to specific concerns, whereas Lance Olsen's 'William Gibson (1992), an exceptional primer for Gibson's early work, is over twenty years old; his main competitor is Tom Henthorne's recent William Gibson: A Literary Companion (2011), which has a similar scope but is more encyclopedic. As he promises, Westfahl delivers some original material, examining obscure and ignored texts as well as the masterworks, namely the trilogy of trilogies (Sprawl, Bridge, Blue Ant) that began with Neuromancer, one of the most written about texts in sf criticism over the last two or three decades.

For me, the most interesting parts of this book were those that didn't deal with the novels, especially the first three chapters, and the back material, which includes a recent interview with Gibson and an extensive bibliography. Westfahl contextualizes Gibson's authorship in the first chapter, "Journal to the Future," a biographical sketch that compiles information from the fragments of Gibson's restrained disclosures of his life and writing in his nonfiction (e.g., interviews, reviews, articles, introductions), although Westfahl also makes an effort to biographize Gibson by way of his fiction too. The result, inevitably and appropriately, is a pastiche (schizography?) that in essence reflects and points to Gibson's own fictional style. While Gibson experienced a somewhat troubled, traumatic youth, he eventually started a family and settled into proverbial territory: "Since the 1980s, Gibson's life has been remarkably uneventful ... [T]he most interesting events in his life have surely been his writings, which this book will now describe" (20). …

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