A Bill Gibson Moment

(Originally Posted Monday, September 17, 2007)

Neil Gaiman has already blogged about this, but what the hell. There were only two moments when the Western guests at the 2007 International Science Fiction and Fantasy Conference in Chengdu baffled our hosts with our inscrutable Occidental ways. One was when Neil and I were on a bus with editor Jenny Bai and our interpreters, Heather and Cecilia. There were only two seats available, and the ladies wanted Neil and myself to have them. “No, no, no,” I said, “there is no way I can possibly take that seat and leave you standing. It’s simply not going to happen.” And Neil amplified, “It’s a cultural thing. There’s nothing you can do about it” So two of the women sat, although it was clear they had no idea why we insisted on it.

The other moment was when we came upon what looked to be a scavenged videophone carefully set alongside a stack of cardboard and some glass and plastic bottles by a curbside recycler. “It’s a Bill Gibson moment!” Neil and I said in unison, and we began dancing about, snapping photographs.

“Why are you taking pictures of that?” somebody asked, almost forlornly. And it was hard to explain. But back in 1984, when Neuromancer came out, Bill’s trademark combination of high tech and street scavenging was a vivid snapshot of the future. And now here it was, in Chengdu, an industrial city of eleven million people inside a China whose economy is booming, and suddenly it’s not the future anymore.

It’s just the present.

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