Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Belated April Fool's Day

Did everybody catch yesterday's Virgle hoax?  Quite marvelous stuff.  It got me thinking of the fake review I wrote for Locus, a few years back.  Everything about it was invented except for the author and the title.  Yes, once upon a time before he became famous overnight, William Gibson really was going to write . . .

The Log of the Mustang Sally
William Gibson
(DAW 0-86667-901-4, $6.99, 502pp., pb) July 2001.  Cover by Josh Kirby

Odds are you never even heard of it, but back in the eighties, William Gibson wrote a first novel called Neuromancer, which some of us thought pretty darned highly of.  It was bright, action-filled, and bulging with nifty ideas.  Unfortunately, it was also "literary."  The hero was an affectless junky, his best friend was dead, and the language itself was a pretentious melange of hipster lingo and noir detective-speak.  It sold about fifteen copies, and Gibson disappeared for almost two decades.

But now he's back, and triumphantly so with the first of a new adventure series featuring the captain and crew of the StarSurveyor Mustang Sally.  The clotted prose of his first book has been replaced by short, clean sentences of almost Asimovian clarity.  Gone are such weird and unlikely neologisms as "flatline" and "cyberspace," replaced by infinitely more plausible coinages such as "plasteel" and "lasegun."  Gone, above all, is the negativity.  Commander Bobby Rydell is a hero for our times.  Strong as a lion and yet cunning as well, a "Hannibal of Space," as Gibson puts it, the infinitely competent Rydell faces challenge after challenge with daring and aplomb.

The plot, it has to be admitted, is a little slapdash.  Essentially, the crew of the Mustang Sally travel from planet to planet, encountering alien monsters which, after initial setbacks, they kill.  But so what?  This is space opera in the grand manner, and surely only the first in a very long series.  You can see the groundwork being laid.  Will Nurse Chevette admit her feelings for Commander Rydell?  Will Idoru (the ship's computer) ever get the physical body she yearns for?  What terrible secret is the alien boy Silencio hiding?  There's enough here to keep the pots boiling and the plots churning for decades to come.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here when I say that William Gibson is the A. E. Van Vogt, the E. E. "Doc" Smith, possibly even the Gene Roddenberry of the new Millennium.  Remember, you heard it here first!

And, back in 2007 again, an afterword . . . 

I think I did a pretty good job here of describing the sort of book that Bill Gibson must wake up screaming from nightmares of having written.  I was particularly pleased with the reference to "plasteel," a word I happen to know he despised.  My only regret is that after stating that Neuromancer sold poorly, I didn't think to add "(In the States, that is.  In France, it did pretty well.)"

Before his novel hit it big, Bill's expectation for his career was that he'd be neglected in North America, but possibly a cult writer in France.  Sort of like Philip K. Dick, only not mad.



Frederick Paul Kiesche III said...

I recall one or more interviews with Gibson where he said that his second novel was going to be a traditional space opera. So maybe you're "review" was much closer to reality than you first thought!!!

Michael Swanwick said...

Bill had a contract for THE LOG OF THE MUSTANG SALLY. It was of course never going to be a "traditional" space opera. It was going to be Gibson's take on space opera. Oh, man, but I regret that he became world famous so fast he never began it. If only he'd become world famous just AFTER he'd written it.

Just speaking as a reader here.