As part of its ongoing program to reissue its backlist titles, New Directions has just brought out a new edition of its classic collection of writings by Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. The new book features an introduction by sci-fi writer William Gibson (who is credited with coining the term "cyberspace"). PW caught up with Gibson—whose own next novel is Spook Country (Putnam)—and talked about writing—and reading—genre fiction after Borges.
How did you feel about being asked to introduce a book that’s been so important to you personally?
I never imagined being asked; it made me very self-conscious. Why on earth am I up here at the front of this wonderful book? It was kind of an "I am not worthy moment." I finally decided if I pretended I was his butler I could get through it.
Is Borges a science fiction or fantasy writer?
I don’t know if I think of him as a science fiction writer, but I think of him as one of the first writers I read as a young science fiction reader who suggested to me that there were ways into a much broader field of thoroughly imaginitive literature. People who learn to read sci fi really have to learn to read it—to appreciate what the writer is doing and what you as the reader are expected to do. I think I had accomplished that by the time I read Borges, but he made the genre of science fiction I had been reading at that time seem often really mundane, and it was a wonderful eye opener. Borges had an exquisite understanding of genre fiction and a huge passion for it. Along with having read virtually everything that had been written in the original language, he loved who-done-its, horror fiction, ghost stories and all of these very rigid forms of genre entertainment; he played with them in his fiction, which is framed with various kinds of pastiche of these genre forms.
Do you try to do the same thing in your own work?
In some modest way I’ve definitely aspired to it. Sometimes I know I’ve been going along doing something like the so called horror/science fiction that I learned as a kid and simultaneously realized that I’m sort of channeling beat poetry.
Would Borges make a good bridge for genre fiction fans who want to explore more literary fiction, or vice versa?
It certainly worked for me. When I discovered Borges, I really don’t think I had found the wider field of literature, and in some ways maybe I never did. My idea of literary fiction was Sherlock Holmes, another good fit with Borges.
Is this a good time for us to pay a new kind of attention to Borges?
It’s always good to read Borges, but perhaps it’s particulary good to read Borges now. These are complex and arguably difficult times we’re going though. The deep, metaphysical, culture-encompassing aspects of Borges are very good things to access during chaotic times. There’s a lot of perspective to be had. In the course of a paragraph he can give you a sense of what it’s like to look fifteen centuries down the hall.