I finished listening to the audio version of Neuromancer for the, yes, 16th time this afternoon on my way to Frank’s house. Well…I suppose I’d finished listening to Neuromancer proper yesterday on my way back from Smokey. But it leads right in to the Jack Wolmack afterward titled “Some Dark Holler.” (Also…who the fuck titles an afterward?)
It’s a great little read and while I think Wolmack is a little impressed with his own cuteness with words and a bit smug in his authorly perspective, it really is that good so maybe I should give him a break.
What I found pretty shocking when I first listened to it was that both Gibson and Wolmack are from Appalachia. Now I don’t know Wolmack from a hole in the ground and don’t think I’ve ever read anything else he’s read, so my surprise can only be so gassed up.
For the progenitor if not actual creator of Cyberspace (remember, Neuromancer was written a decade before the world saw the first web page, something that can’t really be grasped by the modern youngins) to be from the mountains in Virginia shocked the everloving fuck out of me.
But upon consideration of Wolmack’s essay and more than a little bit of my own cogitation it occurs to me that it could only be thus.
As a product of New York City, having been born in Brooklyn and spent about half my life living there, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of how absolutely magically Gibson nailed “city”ness.
The palate he paints with is instantly recognizable to anyone who’s spent enough time in Manhattan. He was there. Those bars and shops, hotels and airports are all the more clear because they’re not specific entities he just lifted off the literal streets and dropped into his novel.
No, he knew how to tell it, how to describe those things such that the stacks of old paperbacks in Metro Holographics were able to communicate the whole of The Finn’s den.
If I were to describe the night life (rather than the Night Life) of Gotham I doubt I could do it in such a way that anyone NOT of the place would be able to smell it off the page.
But how? The vascular ebb and flow of crowds going back and forth past shops in which Case (and a couple books later, Mona) hide themselves or tread water through are just so perfectly Modern City, be it Chiba or Manhattan with so very few words.
It finally occurred to me what must be true.
It could only be because he’s not from anything like that.
What I think is true is that Gibson saw in whatever visits he took to major metropolitan areas, and his depictions smell wholly NYC to me, were the things that I necessarily take completely for granted, and that it’s those things that when pointed out provide the real back drop. They’re the real underpinnings of the setting.
In contrast, to ask me to describe New York would be like interrogating a fish to learn more about water. I’d have an awful lot to say about it to be sure. But if I spent a full day telling you what it was like, describing things and giving anecdotes and then you went there you would be shocked immediately by the things you took for granted that I didn’t even think to mention. I couldn’t have known to even say it. It’s SO true that I can’t even think what those things would be enough to even put them here. The smell maybe? The horns? The cabs? That’s all pretty NYC 101.
As far as all the neat shit tech he writes, the AIs, the space station spas and cybernetic implants, street samurai stuff. I suppose he could be he’s siphoning a lot off of his predecessors and I’m just functionally illiterate when it comes to the heritage of Science Fiction. Actually…scratch that. It’s ABSOLUTELY the case that I’m functionally illiterate when it comes to Science Fiction. I can’t say I’ve likely read more than 30-40 books in the whole genre and almost all of it is post Gibson, to be sure. But that’s a digression.
So then the general principle: How necessary is it to have cultural contrast, to really be able to see from the outside of things, in order to describe them owing to that which is taken for granted. Does a fish have to live on land a bit in order to describe it? And, while my mind is going that direction, does a fish need to live on land in order to describe water adequately?
Plus, how does that jive with one of the most oft-cited platitudes of writerdom “Write what you know?” Likely there’s no conflict. Gibson sure as shit knows what he’s writing about.
It makes me wonder about living here in middle Tennessee. It’s really not THAT different from a moderately affluent New York suburb, rather surprisingly so. Nashville itself, as much as I like it, isn’t anything really special and for all my five years living downtown proper I didn’t really get a sense of it as much more than an entertainment hub. I mean Broadway is just 8th Avenue in the mid 40s.
I’m going to have to give this some thought. The gimme down here is the way people talk. I don’t mean the accent. That’s just too played out to even be interesting. Plus, Tennessee is a distinctly American cultural hub, so the strength of the regional peculiarities people might otherwise expect really aren’t that pronounced here.
And how does this apply to other things than local cultural settings? Big families or different economic strata? I’ll bet pretty starkly. I know a lot of people, especially here, who think nothing of the fact that they’ve never spent any meaningful time away from The Nominal South.
It tickles my brain with the seeds of an experiment, to see what it is I can see that people around here just straight up miss in their day to day immersion in the place.
I don’t think I’m done with this topic. It dovetails into far too many other categories, dimensions, and facets of life to be consigned to a quick 1100 word blog post on a Monday night.
Because THAT’S what I need, another project.
Ah well. My curse I suppose.