Peter Robins

William Gibson and the murder of Hans Blix

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When they found Hans Blix dead, his throat was slit and his tongue was pulled through the hole, an arrangement apparently known as a ‘Cuban necktie’. William Gibson did not do the deed – it was the work of an overenthusiastic hit man – and nor is he the person who commissioned the hit; their identity remains unclear. But he can, with confidence, be held directly responsible. After all, it happens in one of his novels.

Hans Rutger Blix, ‘naturalised citizen of Costa Rica’, is a character in Virtual Light (1993); his death is punishment for losing the book’s macguffin, a rather special pair of dark glasses. Hans Martin Blix, future executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in Iraq, was already in a prominent position when Gibson was writing his namesake; he was more than ten years into his time as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. So it is possible that the author was offering a sly wave to arms control enthusiasts – a more refined version of Tao Lin naming major characters Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osmont.

It seems more likely, however, that Hans Blix is what passes for an unobtrusive name in Gibsonland – and the rise of his namesake is a less extreme version of the coincidence that befell Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! (1994), in which the ineffectual narrator is called Michael Owen. Two years before the other Michael Owen started playing for Liverpool, that probably sounded a nicely nondescript name.

Maybe it would have been safer to go with Gibson’s idea of an obtrusive name – something like Lucius Warbaby, say, another Virtual Light character. I don’t think the United Nations has yet hired him.

Or maybe this is one of the tests that a novel must undergo to become a permanent part of the culture. When What a Carve Up! has outlasted the fame of the football Michael Owen (there may not be all that long to go now), we will know it is here to stay; likewise with Virtual Light and the weapons-inspection Hans Blix.

On that basis, if the real Hans Blix is found with his throat slit, William Gibson will have a motive.