Distrust That Particular Flavor

Distrust That Particular Flavor

4.3 13
by William Gibson

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William Gibson is known primarily as a novelist, with his work ranging from his groundbreaking first novel, Neuromancer, to his more recent contemporary bestsellers Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History. During those nearly thirty years, though, Gibson has been sought out by widely varying publications for his insights into

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William Gibson is known primarily as a novelist, with his work ranging from his groundbreaking first novel, Neuromancer, to his more recent contemporary bestsellers Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History. During those nearly thirty years, though, Gibson has been sought out by widely varying publications for his insights into contemporary culture. Wired magazine sent him to Singapore to report on one of the world's most buttoned-up states. The New York Times Magazine asked him to describe what was wrong with the Internet. Rolling Stone published his essay on the ways our lives are all "soundtracked" by the music and the culture around us. And in a speech at the 2010 Book Expo, he memorably described the interactive relationship between writer and reader.

These essays and articles have never been collected-until now. Some have never appeared in print at all. In addition, Distrust That Particular Flavor includes journalism from small publishers, online sources, and magazines no longer in existence. This volume will be essential reading for any lover of William Gibson's novels. Distrust That Particular Flavor offers readers a privileged view into the mind of a writer whose thinking has shaped not only a generation of writers but our entire culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
William Gibson, best known for cyberpunk classics such as Neuromancer, gathers close to 30 years of nonfiction writing into Distrust That Particular Flavor, adding to each previously published piece a short epilog that explains his thinking at the time the essay was composed. The result is a grand collage of nonfiction forms, ranging from a travel piece on Singapore that explores that city-state’s contradictory mix of totalitarian authority and a technology-savvy society, to an essay on George Orwell and our modern movement toward a complete lack of privacy. Getting lost in Gibson’s nonfiction, a gripping mix of image, lyricism, philosophy, and startling clarity, is somewhat akin to reading his fiction—it is a dazzling and immersive prospect.

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Pagan Kennedy
In Distrust That Particular Flavor, Gibson pulls off a dazzling trick. Instead of predicting the future, he finds the future all around him, mashed up with the past, and reveals our own domain to us as a science-fictional marvel…Gibson's writing enters the bloodstream like a drug, producing a mild hallucinogenic effect that lasts for hours…Such is the power of his prose that when I glanced up from the pages of this book and surveyed the street-side around me, I felt as if I were wearing Gibson-glasses.
—The New York Times Book Review

William Gibson, author of numerous fictional speculative masterpieces, is a superlative storyteller, able to mint fresh, intriguing characters and propel them through compelling plots. He limns postmodern and futuristic venues with a keen eye. He taps the zeitgeist and spins out its skein of probable trajectories.

But beyond all these skills lies something numinous, something that can only be termed a "sensibility." Gibson is one of those writers who invariably and ineluctably project a signature affect, diffusing an emotionally charged nanotech utility fog of perceiving. He's adroit at conveying a mood, an impressionistic ambiance unique to his specific, peculiar three pounds of grey matter. Employing a lens or filter of prose, he creates a world, a Gibson Zone, which you inhabit for the duration of his tales.

Distrust That Particular Flavor, his first book of nonfiction, representing over twenty years' worth of occasional journalism, book introducing, and speechifying, features sizable and rewarding dollops of his other talents: narrative, portraiture, cultural analysis, speculation. But its main charm lies in the way the collection takes over your senses and tastes and attitudes, substituting Gibson's sensibility for your own, allowing you, willy-nilly, to channel the man.

Gibson professes an uncomfortableness with autobiography, but really he's exposing himself nakedly all the time. Whether he's writing about his trip to Singapore ("Disneyland with the Death Penalty") or the future of Hollywood ("Up the Line"), he's really laying bare his own quirks, tastes, hopes, biases, dislikes, and loves. Although Gibson acknowledges the influence of an early role model, William Burroughs, and ostensibly emulates Burroughs's cool, removed, unruffled, almost alien dispassion, I kept thinking of a different boho writer, Henry Miller. Although Gibson displays none of Miller's manic, volcanic, high-volume fervor, both men place themselves at the secret nucleus of all their writings, whatever the topic. And, sure enough, he does name-check Miller glancingly at one point.

This is not to say that Gibson's essays are all contentless paeans to self. Far from it. Each contains a plethora of insights into our current condition. In fact, one could extract a slim book's worth of unforgettable apercus from this outing that would function much like the volume J. G. Ballard: Quotes. It would be a cyberpunk Bartlett's. This is, after all, the man who famously observed: "The street finds its own uses for things" and "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

"The Walkman changed the way we understand cities." "We are that strange species that constructs artifacts intended to counter the natural flow of forgetting." "The description of an underlying, literally occulted order is invariably less complex than the surface reality it supposedly informs. Conspiracy theories and the occult comfort us because they present models of the world that more easily make sense than the world itself and, regardless of how dark or threatening, are inherently less frightening." "We are all curators, in the postmodern world, whether we want to be or not."

There's at least one such pithy gem of brilliantly phrased insightfulness on almost every page of this book, and each reader will find themselves compiling their own idiosyncratic Sayings of Chairman Bill. Because Gibson is often writing about technological change — the driver of all cultural change, he asserts — and because these essays extend across three decades, they often involve scenarios which form "yesterday's tomorrows," timelines now divergent from what we actually came to experience. Sometimes these scenarios are presented just as they were written, as little time-capsule snapshots.

At other times, Gibson deliberately references such obsolescent visions as instructive lessons. This can be seen in "Time Machine Cuba," which looks at how H. G. Wells, late in his career, managed to undermine his earlier insights. (This piece provides the volume's title, which turns out to refer to suspicions about a certain kind of hectoring science fiction.) And the theme manifests most acutely in "Googling the Cyborg," which conflates Gibson's childhood understanding of SF with futurist Vannevar Bush's midcentury visions with the realities of the internet age as we are currently embodying them (at least as of the piece's 2008 publication date).

This multivalent, kaleidoscopic depiction of multiversal history, with eternally branching futures (cue Borges, one of Gibson's acknowledged idols), promotes a sense of instability, of perpetually shifting foundations, of no real certainties. It's a feeling of both limitless freedom and limitless danger, of potential and constraints, of infinite joy and limitless sadness. "This perpetual toggling between nothing being new, under the sun, and everything having very recently changed, absolutely, is perhaps the central driving tension of my work." ("Dead Man Sings.")

And, ultimately, that sensation of the world as doomed and redeemed, eternal and fleeting, is what it's like to live in William Gibson's head, a space the lucky reader will share after emerging from this potent trip.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

From the Publisher
"A provocative, surprising look at the lesser-known parts of a sci-fi superstar's writing career." —Kirkus
Kirkus Reviews
Cyberpunk's patron saint of prose proves that his reality is every bit as trippy as his fiction. Gibson's gift for language is such that banal discussions of Steely Dan and even eBay easily take on otherworldly aspects. In his universe, Singapore is left of Pluto, London lies in the Crab Nebula and Tokyo, of course, might well have its own extra-dimensional zip code. Fans of Mona Lisa Overdrive, Neuromancer and Gibson's other popular sci-fi novels will not find this at all strange. There is an element of exclusivity to Gibson's writing that almost lies at the polar end of exposition—or as the author might write, "geared in some achingly complex sphere within sphere way." The illumination in this text comes from the extent to which the complex author reveals himself to be entirely ordinary, just an average Joe trying to make a living off his writing. Recollections of learning the craft, avoiding the Vietnam War, meeting a woman and getting married show that the man who pioneered "cyberspace" (while actually coining the term) is actually just a normal guy. The welcome humanity seeping through the cracks of this matrix serve as an intriguing counterpoint to the esoteric musings heaped on everything from Japanese movie stars to curious storefront windows. Other targets of the author's wonder include the Internet, Futurism and one dude's particularly snazzy pair of jeans. Gibson bolsters the good feelings even further by following up each of these original entries with a brief explanation of what he was thinking about at the time of their creation. In this case, understanding the writer a little better makes the fantastic thoughts emanating from his head all the more captivating and strange. A provocative, surprising look at the lesser-known parts of a sci-fi superstar's writing career.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.10(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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From the Publisher
"A provocative, surprising look at the lesser-known parts of a sci-fi superstar's writing career." —-Kirkus

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Distrust That Particular Flavor 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
GordonF More than 1 year ago
I remember reading a lot of these articles in the original context of their time frame. Now, years later, the paint a picture of a society that was so excited about the future of social technology that it ran headlong into a kind of guarded curiosity. Gibson's collected articles and insights here point us at a weirdly optimistic past that was simultaneously mildly frightening. On the other hand, it is only one science fiction authors view of the idea of the future, not any actual predictions. Which is some relief. Whether you're looking back at your own recent history - as I am - or grew up towards adulthood (you'd only be 22 if you were born the same year as the oldest article in here) and are using this as a little window in a slightly manic 1990s, it's a great collection of information and thoughts on the then presents view of right now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though it's non-fiction, not his normal modality, you will still find the dense prose, wry humor, and tech smarts we've come to know and love and expect from William Gibson.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is really good. I thought it was very helpful with what kimd of sweets i liked and did not like
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read up on Vannever Bush first.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found these essays as witty as they are perceptive. My favorite is the one about Singapore, which he calls "Disneyland with the Death Penalty." -- catwak
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