I wonder what kind of publishing-house blackmail was necessary for William Gibson to put his name on Distrust That Particular Flavor, the first collection of non-fiction pieces from the iconic science-fiction writer. Many are scraps of writing even he seems to have cast off, including book introductions, his first online bio, and transcripts of speeches he never wanted to give. (Reflecting between chapters, he derides one article as feeling "literally phoned in.") These pieces are as happy to be housed together as foster children. No reason exists for this collection, other than the fact that some of the essays are quite good.
The best inclusions reaffirm Gibson's claim that "imaginary futures are always, regardless of what the authors might think, about the day in which they're written." In the past, he has crafted resonant futures precisely because he can observe and extrapolate the core of the present. (Prescience is perhaps a byproduct of this, damning him to be known as "the guy who coined 'cyberspace' and predicted the internet.") Here, without the façade of an alternate universe, future or present, he is just as nimble. For example, in "Disneyland with the Death Penalty," he gives flesh and body to the mannequin creepiness that is Singapore, which he describes as "If IBM had ever bothered to actually possess a physical country."
Gibson's essay about hikikomori, young Japanese who live in their bedrooms—as many as one million do—brilliantly connects two distant dots. Starting with an anecdote about a twentysomething who plucks his allowance from under his door and hasn't seen his mother in six years, Gibson ends with the looming presence of hikaru dorodango, balls of mud that Japanese children hand press and polish into shiny, spherical perfection. Gibson's juxtaposition of these two man-made islands is artful sci-fi that happens to be true.
Most of the other selections are lined, more or less fully, with autobiography, where Gibson's references can be so personal or niche as to interrupt the flow of his writing. However, he admits that most of these pieces are merely attempts to distill an idea, and his thoughtfulness in scratching at the truth keeps his good name intact. Thus, I'll save my condemnation for the publishers who demanded this collection of one-offs. Once upon a time, there would have been a reason to anthologize Gibson's non-fiction, but that was a time before cyberspace.