The American speculative fiction author William Gibson has said that sci-fi writers are “almost always wrong”, but over the course of a dozen acclaimed novels, Gibson himself has proven he has a gift for describing the present in terms of where it’s headed. His fame as a writer was established by his insight that much of our future would be played out in representative space, the not-there place to which people go when they stare at a computer screen – a realm he called, in the 1982 short story “Burning Chrome”, “cyberspace”. In the age of the smartphone this may seem obvious, but that story and Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, were written on a Hermes 2000 typewriter from the 1930s. The first website was almost a decade away, and no one he knew had a personal computer.
In another short story (“Johnny Mnemonic”, 1981) he described, 17 years before Google was founded, an “information economy” in which “it’s impossible to move, to live, to operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless fragments of personal information… that can be retrieved, amplified”. In 1996, 14 years before Instagram launched, he described in his novel Idoru a future in which “it’s easier to desire and pursue the attention of tens of millions of total strangers than it is to accept the love and loyalty of the people closest to us”.
Considering this record, it might be worrying to learn that Gibson’s latest novel, Agency, is largely a credible account of a coming apocalypse. His characters call it “the Jackpot”. “It’s multi-causal, and it’s of extremely long duration,” he explains. Over many decades, climate change, pollution, drug-resistant diseases and other factors – “I’ve never really had the heart to make up a full list, else I’ll depress myself” – deplete the human race by 80 per cent.
Memoir is a slippery, intimate craft. To trust the memoirist, a reader must believe in the author’s ability to remember with some degree of clarity. But when writing her new book Brother & Sister, the Oscar-winning actor Diane Keaton rejected the fidelity of her own memory altogether—in part because the story she wanted to tell isn’t solely her own. Keaton’s second memoir examines her strained relationship with her only brother, Randy. Once close, the two grew apart as a young Keaton found success in Hollywood, and as Randy later struggled with mental illness, alcoholism, and social isolation. Because her brother now has dementia, Keaton needed to look elsewhere to reconstruct the past.
“Deacon King Kong” is many things: a mystery novel, a crime novel, an urban farce, a portrait of a project community. There’s even some western in here. The novel is, in other words, a lot. Fortunately, it is also deeply felt, beautifully written and profoundly humane; McBride’s ability to inhabit his characters’ foibled, all-too-human interiority helps transform a fine book into a great one.
King’s novel is a defense of writing, sure; her character finds her voice in the end and brings her novel to completion, and finally sells it. But King aims for something higher than that. The novel is a meditation on trying itself: to stay alive, to love, to care. That point feels so fresh, so powerfully diametrically opposed to the readily available cynicism we’ve been feasting on.