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William Gibson on writing the future in his upcoming novel, Agency

Unveiling the cover

Image: Berkley Books

Last week, we learned that science fiction author William Gibson changed his next novel, Agency, after the outcome of last November’s election. We caught up with Gibson to chat about his upcoming book, and now we have our first look at the cover.

The story takes place in the same world as Gibson’s 2014 novel The Peripheral, which is set in the near future in the 22nd century. Agency will take place on a similar format: one part is set in an alternate world where Hillary Clinton won the election, another in the 22nd century.

Image: Berkley Books

We caught up with Gibson to chat about the upcoming novel and some of the changes.

Can you tell us a little about what inspired Agency when you first started writing it? The New York Times piece mentioned that the election changed some of it. How close is it to your original vision?

I felt like setting something in a Silicon Valley present, though more in the back alleys of the industry, which have their share of complete charlatans, dubious military contractors, etc. But I was never certain, from the very earliest stages, whether or not this fictional construct was one of The Peripheral’s “stubs,” an alternate time-track created by 22nd century intervention.

How did you come to the decision to connect Agency to The Peripheral, as opposed to creating a completely standalone novel?

Given Trump’s election, our time-track seemed all the more likely to be the real past of the two successive futures in The Peripheral. More importantly, I decided, if it weren’t, The Peripheral would lose all relevance, all resonance. So that was an easy decision.

Do you see situations in which you might have to dramatically change elements of his book again based on current events?

I’ve done my best to create a structure that, barring nuclear war, can avoid that, and continue to. We are privy, in Agency, to events in an alternate time-track, and to our 22nd century tinkerers’ views of the past, but those two POVs don’t have to reveal very much about events in our immediate future.

More generally, most SF is writing about the present through the lens of the future. Is there a particular flavor of future that gets written during particularly volatile and uncertain times?

I think that what we’re experiencing currently is absolutely unprecedented, so I don’t really have any answer.

We recently spoke with John Scalzi, and he noted that he found the election to be incredibly distracting last fall. Did you find the same experience?

I’ve long suspected that the central element of my job is to attempt to gauge the weirdness quotient of the real world, at the time of writing, and then crank up the level of cognitive dissonance in the narrative to whatever provides optimal pleasure to the reader (or to myself, really). Because I believe that the pleasure of the text, in the sort of fiction I write, depends largely on the author enabling the safe enjoyment of cognitive dissonance. A matter of correctly measuring the dose, so to speak. The world has never before provided me, personally, with anything like the degree of cognitive dissonance I’ve experienced, daily, since Trump declared his candidacy, the Brexit vote, etc. I’d say I lost a year’s writing time to it, except that it was also a year spent in recalibration.

Given that Donald Trump is now in the White House, has this caused you to reconsider certain assumptions about the future now before us?

Actually, no. I enjoy a certain career-long professional advantage, in that. But I’m not sure at all whether I’m grateful to have it! Sometimes I am, other times, not so much!