Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

William Gibson

July 1, 1984
271 pages

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The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century's most potent visions of the future.

Neuromancer is one of those science fiction monuments, a modern classic that had a distinct and lasting effect on the genre and all those who wrote within it. And yet, somehow, I had not read it even though a copy of it had been collecting dust on my bookshelf for a good two years. Something about the concept frightened me, and yet the first line is one that has haunted me for longer than the book has been sitting on my shelf.

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

Something about that sentence freaks me out. It’s a powerful allusion to be using a metaphor with such pedestrian content. But this is me with my English major hat on and this isn’t a term paper. Neuromancer is weird. It is techy and full of odd characters and twisted plot lines and often times I found myself way in over my head. I think it was all the techy and futuristic lingo that I was unfamiliar with, but it kept me from really getting into the rhythm of the book. It also didn’t help that most of the adventure happening in the Matrix is something I couldn’t quite conceptualize. Visualizing virtual reality versions of computer programs and security tech just didn’t fit comfortably inside my head the way that people running around in the real world (or a virtual world at that) can.

But that doesn’t mean that Neuromancer isn’t good. It’s a great high-tech heist story with shady characters haunting the background and none of the characters having a clear idea of the motives of anyone around them or who might be pulling their strings. Case, the “cowboy” or hacker, is a slubby guy who wants to drown himself in drugs and drink until he gets on the wrong side of a Japanese gangster who will conveniently kill him, putting him out of his misery. He gets pulled in by Molly, the muscle behind the heist who has retractable razorblades underneath her fingernails, mirrored implants covering her eyes and a whole host of neuro-implants boosting her abilities. I probably would have enjoyed spending more time with Molly as the lead rather than following Case, especially during his drug-fueled romps through spaceship cities, but Case manages to get himself into plenty of interesting shenanigans.

Meanwhile there are artificial intelligences playing with their heads, manipulating everyone in hopes of gaining some sort of control. A weird rich family is somehow in the center of all the plots, a web of people who extend their lives through cryogenics and have probably lost their minds in the process. With loads of money, they own the AIs causing all the trouble.

As long as I view this as a heist plot that happens to involve spaceships, mock cities in space, and AIs, I can easily wrap my head around Neuromancer and enjoyed it. Moments when the plot becomes less concrete and involves mostly computer programs floating around cyberspace, I got a little lost and even dizzy in a sense, not knowing what was up or down, who was good or bad and what was really going on. While I can’t say I enjoyed that feeling of being lost, it didn’t ruin the story for me at its core.

I loved seeing all the elements that have become staples of the cyberpunk and science fiction genres as well as seeing what the future looked like from 1984 and how it doesn’t exactly fit how the future looks from 2012. Gibson is a genius of the genre and way smarter than me when it comes to these computer things.


And with that, I finished the 2012 Sci-Fi Challenge. Which is good. Because I’m hosting it and it would be weird if I failed.