Monday, 7 November 2011

Of spies and science fiction ...

A Neuromancer, hard at work
William Gibson, creator of some of the greatest modern science fiction stories and characters, is something of a spy fiction fan, according to a recent interview in the Paris Review magazine reveals which I've been made aware of through links elsewhere.

The critically acclaimed writer of such books as Neuromancer and The Difference Engine has apparently taken inspiration from Len Deighton and John Le Carré in his works, taken by their creation of different versions of the "anti-Bond". I'm sure the Paris Review won't mind me quoting a snippet from the interview to illustrate:

"When science fiction finally got literary naturalism, it got it via the noir detective novel, which is an often decadent offspring of nineteenth-century naturalism. Noir is one of the places that the investigative, analytic, literary impulse went in America. The Goncourt brothers set out to investigate sex and money and power, and many years later, in America, you wind up with Chandler doing something very similar, though highly stylized and with a very different agenda. I always had a feeling that Chandler’s puritanism got in the way, and I was never quite as taken with the language as true Chandler fans seem to be. I distrusted Marlow as a narrator. He wasn’t someone I wanted to meet, and I didn’t find him sympathetic—in large part because Chandler, whom I didn’t trust either, evidently did find him sympathetic.
But I trusted Dashiell Hammett. It felt to me that Hammett was Chandler’s ancestor, even though they were really contemporaries. Chandler civilized it, but Hammett invented it. With Hammett I felt that the author was open to the world in a way Chandler never seems to me to be.
But I don’t think that writers are very reliable witnesses when it comes to influences, because if one of your sources seems woefully unhip you are not going to cite it. When I was just starting out people would say, Well, who are your influences? And I would say, William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Thomas Pynchon. Those are true, to some extent, but I would never have said Len Deighton, and I suspect I actually learned more for my basic craft reading Deighton’s early spy novels than I did from Burroughs or Ballard or Pynchon.
I don’t know if it was Deighton or John le Carré who, when someone asked them about Ian Fleming, said, I love him, I have been living on his reverse market for years. I was really interested in that idea. Here’s Fleming, with this classist, late–British Empire pulp fantasy about a guy who wears fancy clothes and beats the shit out of bad guys who generally aren’t white, while driving expensive, fast cars, and he’s a spy, supposedly, and this is selling like hotcakes. Deighton and Le Carré come along and completely reverse it, in their different ways, and get a really powerful charge out of not offering James Bond. You’ve got Harry Palmer and George Smiley, neither of whom are James Bond, and people are willing to pay good money for them not to be James Bond."

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