Gibson writes this Sunday's X-Files

Sun Television Critic
Vancouver Sun
February 14, 1998

William Gibson

These are strange days for Vancouver writer William Gibson.

Kill Switch, the X-Files story he co-wrote with Wired magazine's Tom Maddox, airs Sunday (9 p.m. on Global and KCPQ-Fox). For a career science-fiction novelist who has dabbled in writing feature-film scripts (1995's Johnny Mnenomic), writing for television was a strange experience.

The clandestine world of The X-Files, with its alien/government-conspiracy-to-take-over-the-world premise, isn't that far a leap from Gibson's own dark vision of technology gone haywire.

That vision -- shaped in his novels Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive and Virtual Light -- hypothesizes a world in the not-too-distant future when the middle class has vanished, the Medellin crime cartel deals in illicit information instead of drugs, Ralph Lauren designs armoured personnel carriers and McJobs outnumber genuine career opportunities.

As a novelist, Gibson calls them as he sees them. Writing a novel is one of the most personal -- and lonely -- of the literary arts.

In comparison, writing for television -- especially for a boss with a reputation for hands-on supervision like The X-Files' Chris Carter -- is more like a group-therapy session.

Gibson, Maddox and Carter worked on Kill Switch's story on consecutive weekends at Carter's West End apartment, juggling index cards and hashing out "minor details" like character motivation.

"I've never met anyone who works as hard as Chris Carter. He's sort of an anomaly. [The X-Files] has become his life.

"He doesn't have any lamps in his apartment. You sort of sit there in the dark, talking about this stuff. He remarked about it at one point. He said, 'You know, I love talking about this stuff in the dark.' It was like that early Cronenberg film, the very early one where everyone in the highrise is coming down with some kind of homicidal version of Ebola fever [Shivers, a.k.a. They Came From Within]."

Kill Switch relates the tale of a sentient computer program that is killing the people who created it, one by one. X-Files agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) are called to the scene after a young woman (Kristin Lehman) claims she is the next target.

The virtual-reality world of Kill Switch reflects many of the themes that have underscored Gibson's novels -- alienation, paranoia, the will to survive.

Although one newspaper story claimed the script for a recent X-Files episode by horror novelist Stephen King was sent back several times for revision, Gibson says Carter's suggestions were limited to broad strokes once writing began.

"After we turned in the first pages, he very gently said, 'I think it might work better if Mulder and Scully are actually moving the story..."

"After we had that down, the only adjustment he would make was these distant looks he would get in his eye when he would say, 'I don't think Mulder would do that,' and, 'Actually, I think Scully would say this.' Which seems entirely fair to me. After all, he is the auteur."

Gibson was on set a lot during filming, "but only because my daughter insisted on being there." His daughter, who is 15, is a big fan of the show and was one of the reasons he began watching it in the first place.

These days, Gibson is hard at work on a new novel. He is characteristically tight-lipped about details, but confirms it is fiction. He says he hopes to have it wrestled to the ground by late spring.

The 49-year-old native of southwestern Virginia, who has lived in Vancouver since 1973, hopes The X-Files stays in his adopted home rather than making a rumoured move to Los Angeles.

"X-Files has given a lot to Vancouver," Gibson said, "in that they've reinvented the city for us. Vancouver is a lot more interesting looking since I've seen it through their eyes."

This article appears courtesy of The Vancouver Sun