William Gibson Biography

William Gibson might be a postmodern renaissance man. First of all, he is known as the father of cyberpunk, and he is even credited with inventing the term "cyberspace" in 1982. Gibson wrote the wildly successful sci-fi book Neuromancer in 1984; it was the first novel to win the three most prestigious science fiction awards: the Nebula, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo. In addition to sci-fi books, Gibson has also collaborated on an alternate history novel, cowritten two episodes of The X-Files, guest starred in the miniseries Wild Palms, written lyrics for Yellow Magic Orchestra and Deborah Harry, and contributed to several magazines (Wired in particular). Gibson’s work has also been brought to life on the big screen in the films Johnny Mnemonic and New Rose Hotel.

Facts and Trivia

  • Gibson ran away to Canada in the late 1960s to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War, but he was never actually drafted. He has remained in Canada since then, despite keeping his United States citizenship.
  • Gibson has written several works that have been used as performance art pieces across the globe.
  • The films Hackers and The Matrix were both inspired by Gibson’s work. In fact, the computer that gets broken into in Hackers is called “the Gibson.”
  • The band U2 is featured on the audiobook of Neuromancer, and members of U2 also appear in the biographical documentary about Gibson called No Maps for These Territories.
  • Despite writing futuristic cyber sci-fi, Gibson composed Neuromancer, published in 1984, on a manual typewriter.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 661

William Gibson was born on March 17, 1948, in Conway, South Carolina. His father, William Ford Gibson, Jr., was a manager at the construction company that installed the plumbing fixtures in the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, where the first atomic bomb was built. His father’s work required the family to move throughout the southeastern United States. Gibson’s father died when he was eight. After his father’s death, Gibson and his mother, Elizabeth Otey Williams Gibson, moved to Wytheville, Virginia, a small town in the southwestern part of the state where she grew up. Gibson’s mother was an avid reader and helped restore the town library, which had burned down in 1910.

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As a boy, Gibson discovered science fiction in a Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine: An Invention (1895), which led him to Wells’s original. He also watched Tom Corbett, Space Cadet on television and read a book on space travel so many times that the cover fell off. As a young teenager, Gibson was reading the works of J. G. Ballard, Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, Samuel R. Delany, and other science-fiction writers. (Gibson later wrote the foreword to the 1996 edition of Delany’s novel Dahlgren.) At age fifteen, Gibson was sent to a boarding school in Tucson, Arizona, where he discovered William S. Burroughs, especially his 1964 novel Nova Express. Gibson went on to read Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, and Thomas Pynchon.

After his mother’s death when he was eighteen, Gibson dropped out of school and fled from the United States to Canada to avoid military service. He lived in Toronto for about three years and wandered around Europe for another. He married Deborah Thompson, a language instructor from Canada, in 1972. They had two children, Graeme Ford and Claire Thompson, and settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, Deborah’s hometown. He later used Vancouver as the setting for his short story “The Winter Market” (1986). Gibson earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of British Columbia in 1977.

After graduating, Gibson began to write seriously while staying home and taking care of the children. Written originally as a class assignment, “Fragments of a Hologram Rose” appeared in Unearth magazine in 1977. The short story “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and the novelette “Burning Chrome” (1982) were both nominated for Nebula Awards. Terry Carr, an editor at Ace Books, encouraged Gibson to write a novel, which eventually became Neuromancer (1984). This novel won the Hugo, Nebula, Ditmar, Sei-un, and Philip K. Dick awards and established Gibson as one of the hottest new writers in the science-fiction genre.

After writing two more novels set in the same future as Neuromancer and picking up more Hugo and Nebula nominations, Gibson collaborated with Bruce Sterling on The Difference Engine (1991), an alternate history set in Victorian England. It was also nominated for the Nebula Award. He then wrote another science-fiction series, the Bridge Trilogy. The first book in the trilogy, Virtual Light (1993), was nominated for the Hugo Award. Some of his subsequent novels, such as Pattern Recognition (2003) and Spook Country (2007), are not science fiction, but they are often placed in the science-fiction section of bookstores so that fans of Neuromancer can find them.

Besides novels and short stories, Gibson wrote the screenplay adaptation for “Johnny Mnemonic.” The film was released in 1995 but was neither a commercial nor a critical success. Gibson blamed the postproduction editing process for the film’s failure and believed that the version edited for release in Japan was better. Gibson also wrote two scripts for The X-Files television series and was the first of many writers involved in the third Alien film, released in 1992. It was Gibson’s idea to include prisoners with bar codes tattooed on their foreheads, but the rest of his script was not included in the final film, although it can be read on the Internet. Over the years, he has written several additional screenplays, but none of them has been produced.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

William Ford Gibson was born on March 17, 1948, in Conway, South Carolina. His father was in construction and helped build the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, facilities where the first atomic bomb was built. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, Gibson fled to Canada to avoid the draft. He attended the University of British Columbia, earning a bachelor’s degree in English. Settling in Vancouver, Gibson began publishing science-fiction stories with “Fragments of a Hologram Rose” in 1977.

In 1984 Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, a noir thriller about cyberspace and artificial intelligence, became an instant cult classic and earned three major science-fiction awards: the Nebula, the Philip K. Dick, and the Hugo. The book inextricably linked Gibson to the cyberpunk movement, which was a group of writers who dealt with the rising influence of the Internet and the growing integration of advanced technology to everyday life.

Neuromancer was the first in Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, named after the megalopolis that dominates the United States East Coast. Count Zero (1986) followed, then Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). Several short stories in the collection Burning Chrome (1986) also take place in the Sprawl, most notably “Johnny Mnemonic” and “New Rose Hotel”—both of which were later made into movies, for the former of which Gibson wrote the screenplay.

After the Sprawl trilogy, Gibson collaborated with fellow cyberpunk Bruce Sterling on a “steampunk” novel, The Difference Engine (1990). The novel used real-life historical figures to imagine a world where primitive computers came into being in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1992, Gibson experimented with a multimedia poem, “Agrippa (A Book of the Dead).” This autobiographical meditation on memory was published on a disk that would play the poem once and then destroy itself. Almost immediately, the disk was hacked and its contents made available without self-destructing.

Gibson returned to cyberpunk with Virtual Light (1993), the first of the Bridge trilogy, named after the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. In the story, it is seized by the homeless after a major earthquake. While the Sprawl trilogy is set in a near-future dystopia where cyberspace is firmly established, the Bridge trilogy is set in a nearer future—what Gibson calls an “alternate present”—deeply changed by earthquakes in Japan and California and overrun by an omnivorous media. Virtual Light was followed by Idoru (1996), featuring a Japanese artificial intelligence pop idol who seeks to become human, and All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999).

The present may have caught up with Gibson—as many have observed, in the modern world technology grows by leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, it was surprising when Gibson set his novel Pattern Recognition (2003) in modern-day reality, using the destruction of the World Trade Center as a key plot point. Cayce, the novel’s heroine, is an instinctive expert on marketing who tracks down the source of a mysterious series of film footage that has been released on the Internet and has developed a cult following.

Gibson has written for films and, notably, for television’s The X-Files (1993-2002). He has donned a journalist’s hat for venues such as Wired magazine. Married and a father of two, he was not personally familiar with the Internet when he first coined the term “cyberpunk,” and he remained indifferent to computer technology for much of his career. However, Gibson now has an official Web site and maintains a blog, further proof that his fictional future has rapidly become the living, breathing now.

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