To those familiar with William Gibson’s work, Neuromancer is one of SF’s most definitive masterpieces and a foundational stone of the cyperpunk subgenre. To those who’ve never even heard of the triple crown award-winning author (Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards), I can imagine that the title sounds a little cheesy, conjuring images of a new role-playing character class rather than the pages of a formative science fiction novel.
I’m ashamed to say that up until a few weeks ago I was situated in the latter camp, yet after reading this book I feel compelled to share my thoughts with the rest of you Maniac readers.
Originally penned in 1984, Gibson’s Neuromancer kicks off The Sprawl Trilogy that’s set on and around a future, post-World War III Earth. The story follows Henry Dorsett Case, a former computer hacker who had his neurons fried after double-crossing a previous employer. Now broke, addicted to amphetamines, and unable to jack into the web of cyberspace, Case wanders the streets of Chiba City, treading water and dealing drugs in the urban center known as “an unsupervised playground for technology itself.”
But before Case can run himself into an early grave a not-so-chance encounter gives him a second shot at the glory days of his hotshot cowboy youth. Recruited by Armitage, a shadowy ex-military colonel, Case signs on for a job that pays the impossible: an unheard of operation that can repair his extensive nerve damage. After the surgery’s success Case tackles his assignment with the renewed vigor of a man freed from the flesh.
Together with Molly, a highly augmented razorgirl with mirrored insets for eyes, Case travels around the world and through the distance-less void of cyberspace on Armitage’s mission. Things get complicated, however, when Case realizes that their operation pits them against one of the most powerful artificial intelligences known to man… and no one’s sure whether their ultimate goal is to help or hinder it.
Although verbose at times and laden with words and concepts unique to Gibson’s vision of the future, Neuromancer’s diction is some of the most descriptive and imaginative I’ve read in any genre of novel. The author’s ability to depict Case and the world around him is inspiring in its poetics; by describing the physical, emotional, and sociocultural settings of an environment in a single sentence, Gibson establishes tone and mood that are fantastical and realistic at the same time.
Case and Molly are regarded as some of the greatest archetypes of cyberpunk character and it’s easy to see why. Layered with snippets of individual back story, the cowboy hacker and street samurai are loaded with turbulent emotion and weighted motives. In a nutshell they are the products of an increasingly saturated and over-stimulated future, yet Gibson somehow manages to keep them accessible amidst all their complexity.
The best character by far, however, is the world itself that Neuromancer introduces us to. If you had to boil down the zeitgeist of Gibson’s universe in a single word it could only be described as mind-expanding. Although the pacing of the novel is lightning fast and at times conceptually complicated, the rewards are boundless for those who stick with it. Having devoured this book in a few days, the only thing I’m wondering is if the next two installments (Count Zero, 1986 & Mona Lisa Overdrive, 1988) are just as good.