While I am far from being as OCD and committed a fan as many I know, I think I have a fairly good handle on what it means to be a fan.
I tend to be a completist, even for artists or writers that aren’t my very favourites, as much as my wallet will allow. So even though I don’t actually have every single thing that Radiohead has released, I managed (largely through a stroke of eBay) to accumulate something like 30? 40? separate titles in my iTunes. O, CD singles! I have seen them live many times, and will see them again next time they’re in the neighbourhood.
I am enough of a fan to read things that cross my path about things I’m interested in, although not necessarily committed enough to go out of my way to track down MOAR. This, I think, is largely a function of age, since not that long ago I was staying up all night in the interest of obtaining Radiohead tickets. These days, there aren’t many things I find that much more interesting than a good night’s sleep, especially on a school night.
I think I have read nearly everything that William Gibson has published since I became aware of him in the mid-late 80s (I think it was then, because I’m pretty confident I had read Neuromancer while I was at university, but I’m just not 100% sure), barring Agrippa, which is a self-destructing anomaly of a work from what I gather, with a (necessarily) limited audience. So I don’t feel bad about that. [Edited to add that Agrippa is available under the SOURCE CODE button on williamgibsonbooks.com, I've been informed. BAD FAN!!] I have all the novels, though, and have read most of the articles and essays, although some of them only recently with the release of the new collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor. And then because I’m fortunate enough to live in the same city he does, I usually get to see him speak/read on his book tours, although the number of authors I’ve bothered to go see live so far in my life can be counted on the fingers of one hand: Gibson, Douglas Coupland, and Michael Ondaatje, and then Neil Gaiman as an adjunct to his adorable wife, Amanda Palmer, whom I find fascinating.
So I’m not a really die-hard author groupie or anything like that, but I do read quite a lot. And I do read a fair number of “male” oriented books, if that’s a valid term, and I don’t read a particularly large number of “female” oriented books, for a female. (I read Tolkien and Hornblower and Ian Fleming and Conan-Doyle as a child/teen, as well as my Louisa May Alcotts and fairy books and Georgette Heyers and the odd bodice-ripper, for example, and my grown-up bookshelf has lots of Neal Stephenson and Gibson and Tom Clancy (till the politics intruded) and only a little Jilly Cooper corner (she is SO FUNNY) and then a lot of gender-neutral stuff like spy fiction (Le Carré and Ken Follett and Len Deighton) and lawyer stuff and “literary” fiction like Timothy Findley and Ondaatje.) I mean you are quite unlikely to ever catch me reading a Harlequin Romance, or these flimsy little “chick-lit” books you see at book stores’ cash registers. Nor am I a reader of “fantasy” as a genre, although the way those authors tend to have dozens of titles is attractive to me as a reader.
So when a girl at the Gibson reading the other night commented how there were so many females there as compared to, say, a Stephenson reading, and why did Gibson think that was the case? all I could think was, “Have you actually read any of Gibson’s books, and any of Stephenson’s?” because Gibson has had central, pivotal, strong female characters from the get-go, while Stephenson had pages and pages of … code. (I read Cryptonomicon first, so I tend to think of that as his first but of course it wasn’t. It still pretty much distills his themes, characters and style, though.) I like him well enough to have all of his stuff, and I read and re-read it, but it’s not as exciting and sexy to quite as many people as, well, Molly, is it? (and Tally Isham and Mona and Chevette and Chia Pet McKenzie and Hollis Henry and Cayce and and and!) (And my Mr has reminded me of several female Stephenson characters, like Nell and YT, and the one from System of the World, whose name I can’t think of, and we discussed this at dinner tonight, and sort of came to the conclusion that we both liked Gibson’s females better (nothing personal, YT!) and that even the SOTW one slept her way to where she went in spite of her prodigious brain power and financial wizardry, which, we agreed, while perhaps accurate to the time, was distasteful nonetheless.)
Anyway, to me it’s no mystery why there are fewer women at Stephenson readings than at Gibson readings, in spite of some really entertaining work on both sides. Although Gibson himself said that his audiences used to be basically all-male as well. Which then leads me to think about my friend Portia, who encouraged me to read Neuromancer in the 80s, and later Cryptonomicon, for that matter. She has always been plugged into the Sci Fi scene, and has been my tastemaker in these matters for decades. She also introduced me to Gaiman’s stuff, I think, long ago? anyway, I owe her a massive debt, obviously. She made me go to SIGGRAPH because SIGGRAPHs were full of smart geeky boys, and we both like smart geeky boys. And also, well, awesome computers and art and amazing parties and swag and stuff. So I was a billion times less branché than she, but I suppose we were pretty damn cool and kind of unusual for liking that kind of stuff, but I mean it seemed like such obvious stuff to like! and still does, to me.
On another note, someone else at the reading was asking a very long and convoluted question peppered with “clever” neologisms and simply fraught with drama about, basically, what Gibson thinks about the consumerist culture and never-ending need for new, better gadgets, and whether he felt guilty about possibly contributing to that or something.
And he was incredibly polite and considered in his answer, as he always is. (I would lose my mind if I had to answer the same questions as often as he does. The man is as gracious as a human being can be, I do believe.)
I would have said, “Well, if you read Pattern Recognition, Spook Country and Zero History, you’ll see that my protagonists tend to be allergic to labels and not terribly fond of, let alone enslaved by, gadgetry, while Hubertus Bigend is constantly, conspicuously, and rather unappealingly consuming basically everything at a level higher than most. So, no, I don’t feel guilty.”
Gibson has always struck me as the type of person to have one or two choice items rather than one of everything, in their dozens, one after the other, and I got that impression from his text long before I had seen him live and in person, and had that sense confirmed.
So but whatever. Sum of all of this is that I feel old, and unusually perceptive but I know the second part of that isn’t actually true :p I have read and re-read the canon, to the point that I am reasonably confident I have a sense of it, and its author. And while I’m not normally particularly articulate about it, I can say that I’m a fan, and proud to be so.
If somehow you are reading this and don’t read Gibson, you really should fix that. Start with the new non-fiction collection, even. If you’re going to start with Neuromancer, which really is a great book and deserved all of its awards IMO, see if you can somehow temporarily strip your brain of the intervening nearly 30 years of popular culture, because all that shit was not a cliché back then. I mean, truly. If that feels impossible and you suspect you’d make a face when you got to Trinity’s progenitor (and I mean, she is so much cooler and more complete a character than Trinity), start with Pattern Recognition, which sucked in a whole new generation of fans.
If you’d like some female-authored “speculative fiction” as they tend to call it these days, Lauren Beukes is a South African author about whom Gibson tweets, whose work I have enjoyed. I was introduced to Kate Griffin by a Gibson Board friend, and while I find her stuff a bit uneven, I think it’s worth reading and look forward to whatever comes next.