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Originally published Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Book review

William Gibson's observations and prophesies, nonfiction version

William Gibson's new book, "Distrust That Particular Flavor," collects the famed science-fiction author's nonfiction work. Gibson discusses his book Monday at Seattle's University Book Store, and Tuesday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

William Gibson

The author of "Distrust That Particular Flavor" will discuss his book at 7 p.m. Monday at Seattle's University Book Store; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com). He will also appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
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'Distrust That Particular Flavor'

by William Gibson

G.P. Putnam's Sons, 260 pp., $26.95

"Will We Have Computer Chips in Our Heads?"asks the title of one of the short, potent essays in William Gibson's new book, "Distrust That Particular Flavor." "Maybe,"replies the visionary author of cyberpunk tales about direct human-to-machine interfaces and socket-skulled scammers.

Gibson then proceeds, in this piece first published 11 years ago, to explain why such an actual, factual silicon-in-brain moment, likely the result of medical research of top-secret military projects, wouldn't last, and why this is just fine. In large part that application of the concept would be fleeting — if it even occurred — because as he declares in a 2008 talk transcribed later in the book, "The physical union of human and machine, long dreaded and long anticipated, has been an accomplished fact for decades, though we tend not to see it."

Seeing how that union is being accomplished through quite different means, such as our increasing dependence on Internet-connected phones, and seeing other non-obvious features of the global zeitgeist, has enabled Gibson to shape his science fictional forays into the future along lines shudderingly resonant with our experience of the present.

"Distrust" shows some of the connections Gibson has found between various current and historical trends, with side notes on his personal obsessions and helpful references on how all of the above affects his fiction. Two essays concern themselves with Japan, site of many Gibson novels and an enduring aesthetic touchstone for him. Though he twice recapitulates the political and economic traumas that forced the Japanese to become "the ultimate Early Adaptors", he also voices objections to being asked again and again why the country fascinates him. Would anyone ask him the same question about London, he wonders.

Two more essays delve into the filming of "Johnny Mnemonic," (Gibson wrote both the short story the movie it is based on and the screenplay). "Mr. Buk's Window" offers insight into the genesis of what may be the greatest 9/11 novel yet written, "Pattern Recognition." The main burden of this book's lucid, lyrical prose is more general, however, as in "Time Machine Cuba" (originally published under the title now given to the whole collection.).

Here are the author's thoughts about war, apocalypse, and prophecy as they relate to speculative fiction. The flavor distrusted is that of the doomsayer, "the perpetually impatient and somehow perpetually unworldly futurist"who believes in the coming of a final conflagration as opposed to "merely ... more stuff. Events."

As his collection's introduction and his individual essays' afterwords reveal, the distrust Gibson names could also be aimed at his production of nonfiction. Gibson actually apologizes for his nonfiction; he admits to being tempted to the task by unrefusable opportunities to gather raw material for creating fiction. He considers writing fiction his sole legitimate work.

But don't be fooled by this self-effacement. Straightforwardly addressing the concepts that lie below his stories' surfaces, "Distrust" may disprove the anthropological dictum its author introduces via another transcribed speech, this one from 2010: that "one cannot know ones' own culture." If one can't know it, one can at least enjoy examining it through the diamond lens of Gibson's always elegant prose.

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