on January 30, 2008
Adapted from ISawLightningFall.blogspot.com
The first time I tried to read Neuromancer, I stopped around page 25.
I was about 15 years old and I'd heard it was a classic, a must-read from 1984. So I picked it up and I plowed through the first chapter, scratching my head the whole time. Then I shoved it onto my bookshelf, where it was quickly forgotten. It was a dense, multilayered read, requiring more effort than a hormone-addled adolescent wanted to give. But few years later, I pulled the book down and gave it another chance. This time, William Gibson's dystopic rabbit hole swallowed me whole.
Neuromancer is basically a futuristic crime caper. The main character is Case, a burnt-out hacker, a cyberthief. When the book opens, a disgruntled employer has irrevocably destroyed parts of his nervous system with a mycotoxin, meaning he can't jack into the matrix, an abstract representation of earth's computer network. Then he receives a suspiciously sweet offer: A mysterious employer will fix him up if he'll sign on for a special job. He cautiously agrees and finds himself joined by a schizophrenic ex-Special Forces colonel; a perverse performance artist who wrecks havoc with his holographic imaginings; a long-dead mentor whose personality has been encoded as a ROM construct; and a nubile mercenary with silver lenses implanted over her eyes, retractable razors beneath her fingernails and one heckuva chip on her shoulder. Case soon learns that the target he's supposed to crack and his employer and are one and the same -- an artificial intelligence named Wintermute.
Unlike most crime thrillers and many works of speculative fiction, Neuromancer is interested in a whole lot more that plot development. Gibson famously coined the word "cyberspace" and he imagines a world where continents are ruled more by corporations and crime syndicates than nations, where cultural trends both ancient and modern dwell side by side, where high-tech and biotech miracles are as ordinary as air. On one page you'll find a discussion of nerve splicing, on another a description of an open-air market in Istanbul. An African sailor with tribal scars on his face might meet a Japanese corporate drone implanted with microprocessors, the better to measure the mutagen in his bloodstream. When he's not plumbing the future, Gibson dips into weighty themes such as the nature of love, what drives people toward self-destruction and mind/body dualism. It's a rich, heady blend.
That complexity translates over to the novel's prose style, which is why I suspect my first effort to read it failed. Gibson peppers his paragraphs with allusions to Asian geography and Rastafarianism, computer programming and corporate finance. He writes about subjects ranging from drug addiction and zero-gravity physics to synesthesia and brutal back-alley violence. And he writes with next to no exposition. You aren't told that Case grew up in the Sprawl, which is the nickname for the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, a concreted strip of the Eastern Seaboard, and that he began training in Miami to become a cowboy, which is slang for a cyberspace hacker, and that he was immensely skilled at it, et cetera, et cetera. No, you're thrust right into Case's shoes as he swills rice beer in Japan and pops amphetamines and tries to con the underworld in killing him when his back is turned because he thinks he'll never work again. You have to piece together the rest on your own.
Challenging? You bet. But it's electrifying once you get it.
I've worked by paperback copy until the spine and cover have split, until the pages have faded like old newsprint. Echoes of its diction sound in my own writing. Thoughts of Chiba City or BAMA pop into my head when I walk through the mall and hear a mélange of voices speaking in Spanish and English and Creole and German. Neuromancer is in me like a tea bag, flavoring my life, and I can't imagine what it would be like if I hadn't pressed on into page 26.
on November 19, 2002
'Neuromancer' is one of a handful of books/movies that I would pick to represent the science-fiction genre. Gibson succeeds on all levels here - I enjoyed the story, the characters, the settings, the technology, everything. Gibson writes about imperfection - he doesn't gloss anything over or try to make it too pretty. The characters are flawed, and have weaknesses - just like in real life. They live in a gritty world - just like in real life. And around them all, is technology - just like in real life.
'Neuromancer' is the story of Case: a hacker-type, cyberpunk, whatever you want to call him. He makes hackers of today look like amateurs - he totally immerses himself into the machine. Washed-up and raked over the coals, he gets a chance at a come back, even if it isn't on the most pleasant of terms.
Read this book if you are a science fiction fan - if for no other reason than to see what all the hype is about. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
on March 25, 1997
It took me some time to get started into this book--the
"imaginary" future Gibson has created is somewhat familiar,
yet bizarre enough to leave one grasping for understanding in the beginning pages. Once engrossed, I couldn't put it down! My constant back thought as I read was the absolute awe that I felt for Gibson's ability to envision a computer
world so 1990's true to life at a time when Apple had yet to
create their first Mac! Gibson's description of "jacking in" to the net, and "flipping" is so close to today's "logging on" and "quick-switching" that it gave me goosebumps each time he used the terms! Gibson was truly
touched by the muse of inspiration when writing "Neuromancer", and I'm sure we'll see more of his *prophecies* come to pass before the millenium.
This is advised reading for all who wish to understand the
potential of the internet and the World Wide Web. Just take it slow, by osmosis you'll get the scenario, and by the final chapter--you'll know the concept. You'll be awestruck
too, I guarantee!
Can't wait to read Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive!
on May 3, 2000
I'm only an occasional reader of science fiction, and I've read even less cyberpunk - perhaps that's why I can't go along with all the reviews either calling this the greatest novel ever written, or a terrible hack job...they seem to be taking things within the context of the current cyberpunk scene, a scene I'm only vaguely familiar with.
I enjoyed the book the way one might enjoy a big Hollywood movie. The characterizations and plot were shallow and taken directly from noir and pulp fictions, no doubt about it. However, for all the times I've seen noir plots, I still enjoy them. I think the author made things fun, and kept the story going along smoothly. The ending did fall a little flat, but cyberpunk as a genre seems to flop the endings, and this was at least decent.
Also, I think it's easy to appreciate the futuristic setting of the book. True, it's a largely outdated view of the future, but it's an interesting world, and it's fun to see just how much Gibson got right back in 1984. I read this when I stayed live in post-bubble Osaka, and the book's view of the fringes of an efficient high-tech society struck a chord with me.
on May 25, 2011
Unless you've read Gibson (or his contemporaries) before, I suspect your first reading of Neuromancer will go something like: You'll crack open the book, reading the words but not necessarily digesting them. Even within the first few pages you'll re-read passages two or three (or more) times in an attempt to wrap your head around the rhythm and meaning of the story. By the time you hit page 20 you'll feel drained and unsure of what you've read so far.
And then you'll go to put the book down, feeling like it simply isn't for you. Or that you don't have the energy for it right now. Or some other excuse you'll use as a way of coping with Gibson's style. When you get to this point it is absolutely vital you keep going. Trust me.
Reading Neuromancer is like encountering a new genre of music for the first time. It's challenging, brilliantly succinct, poetic and with its own vocabulary that Gibson trusts you will pick up as you read, rather than padding his work with needless explanation. It takes time to acclimate to, but once you pick up the beat you'll wonder how you missed it the first time around.
Part of the reason it's so challenging is that the ideas within are also challenging. Gibson proves himself as a visionary here and I urge you to remember just when this book was published (and then realize when it was likely written) so you may appreciate just how forward-thinking this novel is. There are a few weak spots in Gibson's articulation of his vision -- in particular, I didn't enjoy the geometric approach to ice and hacking -- but those are just tiny blips compared to the ultra-stylized world of tomorrow that Gibson's created. And, just as you consider what year the book was published/written in, take a moment to think of all the major sci-fi works which came afterwards and were highly inspired by Neuromancer.
You'll be surprised.
on November 12, 1999
I can assure anyone who hates this book that there is no conspiracy, this is a book that I am still in awe of, several months after reading it.
I can, however, understand people not comprehending what the hell's going on. I'd read half the novel before realising what was going on...but that's not the point.
It's very difficult to describe why this book is so great. Strictly speaking, it's not "poetry" or suchlike, it's not the "originality" of his writing style....
I suppose it could be described as a sort of Japanese minimalism and American mass consumerism blend society, which is Gibson's unique vision.
Here we don't have "x flew in spaceship to y, defeats z empire", but we have the world we know today, pushed to absolute overdrive. No pristine environment, or moving descriptions of the peace of space travel - here we have the dirty, hedonistic, consumerist, urban society we have today, driven by brandnames, bright lights, and no future; in essence, the Gen X-er's future.
It's not quite like Blade Runner, where it's a more Film Noir type city. Here we have technology used, not to benefit mankind but to sell to consumers - people who live out their lives as the pawns of corporations.
There is of course the wonderful descriptions of Virtual Reality/Internet, where mankind has created a sort of spirit-world, where depressed outcasts of this society can escape from the "world of meat".
I suppose this is why I think Neuromancer is great.
on April 1, 2004
I get the feeling that Neuromancer won the awards and the popularity it did more because of the ideas it presents and its overladen prose than because of a good story or deep characters. Yes, it 'started cyberpunk', and the gritty yet slick setting does have a sense of depth and life.
Unfortunately, it's heavily burdened by prose that has a tendency to blur your eyes and make you shake your head in an effort to pay attention to what you're reading.
Most of the novel, in fact, suffers from an inability to make the reader care about what's happening. Gibson seems more committed to using three adjectives in a row and spewing simile after simile than capturing the reader's interest. I suppose you could call this "film noir" style, but for me, it just didn't work.
Coupled with a severe lack of information about what's going on and a numb, detached approach to its limited third person point of view, it's really hard to turn the next page and reach the end of this short novel that feels like it's three times longer than some of the monstrous tomes I've read.
The story itself is difficult to care about. It revolves around the machinations of a powerful artificial intelligence, but it's hard to understand what the point of the whole thing is, even after you've reached the last dissatisfying sentence. Sure, I understood the story, I just didn't understand why I was supposed to care.
Part of this apathy comes from a fundamental lack of characterization. The point of view is very 'cold'--that is, you don't get much inside the head of Case, and when you do, his thoughts are almost always analytical. When the sole viewpoint character doesn't feel any emotion for 90% of the story, it's kind of hard to feel emotion yourself. It's especially irritating that the novel is structured as a character story about Case's loss of his ability to 'jack in' and his death wish, and yet he never seems to care about much of anything (or Gibson fails to tell us about it if he does).
It seems to me that the appeal of this book is more for those who want to experience a well-developed milieu and pretty surface coating, as it has little power or significance as a story.
If you're looking for a detailed and skillfully constructed world, packaged in wordy description, or you want to see the roots of the cyberpunk genre, this novel is for you. If you're looking for an interesting, powerful story with deep characters, you won't find it here.
on August 2, 2010
This book is phenomenal. Neuromancer is part of the Sprawl Trilogy. The book was written in 1983 and has influenced and shaped the world of today and perhaps scores of computer scientists who have worked on building the frame work that is cyberspace and the world wide web. Cyberspace, matrix, and microsoft by the way were words created and coined by William Gibson. Much of the book you can tell has had a major influence on the theory that the writers/directors used for The Matrix movie. The reason it is so ahead of it's time and ground breaking is because none of this at that time had been realized yet.
The books protagonist is Case. A computer hacker who was caught stealing from his employer and subsequently crippled by that employer so he could no longer `jack' into cyberspace. A man named Armitage gives Case the ability to jack in once again but also has a slow acting poison installed in Case's body as a means to get Case to do a job for him. The rest of the book details the job that the group goes on, including Molly who is also in William Gibson's short story Johnny Mnemonic.
The writing style can only really be described as art for each page. The writing directly leads to a visual that is amazing, deep, and layered all at the same time. The style has been said to be a turn off for many that could not wrap their heads around the ideas presented and that was one of the reasons that I waited so long to read this book. It turns out I had nothing to worry about because the style totally flows so easily into the imagination and it was one of my most enjoyable read's to date.
Sometime in Earth's future, Case was a computer cowboy who plugged his mind into cyberspace and navigated the vast network of the world's computers, penetrating any computer's security system for a price. But when he double-crossed his employer, the revenge inflicted robbed Case of his ability to "jack in" to cyberspace ever again. Case went to Chiba City, a center of urban decay where anything could be bought or sold, and acquired a drug habit to replace his addiction to cyberspace. One day a woman named Molly turns up in his "coffin" with a proposition. Molly is a technologically enhanced human with reflective night vision glasses implanted over her eyes and lethal blades beneath her fingernails. She is the muscle for a man named Armitage who wants the use of Case's previous cyber-skills. In return, he will correct Case's neural damage so that he can do the job. First they have to steal a construct of a deceased computer jockey. Then they fly to Istanbul to forcibly collect another member of their team, Peter Riviera, a sleazy character whose neural implants allow him to project subliminal messages into the minds of whomever he chooses. Then the team is off to a space station called Freeside where they will carry out their mission. The plan is to infiltrate the home of the secretive Tessier-Ashpool family, who own one of the world's largest and oldest conglomerates. Tessier-Ashpool is governed by its original family members who rotate in and out of cryogenic state, and by two artificial intelligences. But the purpose of the mission and the identity of their employer are mysterious and may have epic repercussions.
Published in 1984, William Gibson's "Neuromancer" may not have been the first "cyberpunk" novel, but it defined the genre and gave birth to the term. At its most basic, the story of "Neuromancer" is a classic caper plot: a mysterious and imposing character assembles a team of individuals, each with his own talent, to break into a target structure. The characters of "Neuromancer" are, in fact, stock characters in a stock plot. But so are fiction's greatest stories. "Neuromancer"'s choppy, brooding style that tells the story through the experiences of one person, Case, owes a lot to noir detective novels. Dashiell Hammett comes to mind. It is interesting to note that Dashiell Hammett's style was born of alcoholism and urban violence and corruption in the 1930's. "Neuromancer" was born of the urban decay and violence of the 1980's, which was to reach a post-War high within a few years of the novel's publication. And many of "Neuromancer"'s characters are drug addicts. History repeats itself, and it is those qualities that put the "punk" in cyberpunk. As for the "cyber" part, "Neuromancer" introduced us to "cyberspace" and was the first to describe a computer network in terms of a geometric "matrix". Although the technology to "jack in" to computer networks has not yet come to fruition, and who knows if it ever will, the interconnectedness and interdependency of "Neuromancer"'s computers is strikingly similar to the Internet today. I think that "Neuromancer"'s instant cult appeal can be attributed to two things: It makes technology sexy. Molly was one of the first cyberbabes. And she is immediately attracted to Case, who is a geeky, pallid computer hacker. And "Neuromancer" describes a future on the fringes of society where urban alienation and technological alienation have combined to create a sort of existential hell, an idea that reflected the experiences and expectations of a disillusioned Generation X. "Neuromancer" is a science fiction novel that is still appealing and thought-provoking 20 years after it was published. And it's influence on our language and on science fiction in film and print is beyond measure.
on June 8, 1997
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
So begins William Gibson's prophetic and apocryphal novel NEUROMANCER, the first in his SPRAWL Trilogy and arguably the most important Science Fiction novel of the Century. In a single, mind-bending work, Gibson propelled an entire generation into a new era of information perception, an era that has since woven itself strand-by-strand into the global information nexus we call the World Wide Web.
It begins with Case, a young and bitter cyberspace cowboy prowling the neon-lit streets of Chiba City, in search of his lost identity. Robbed of his talent for working the Matrix as a data thief and cyberspace pirate, his life is a bleak and desolate journey towards self-destruction. Until the day a mirror-eyed assassin offers him a second chance.
Suddenly Case is an unwitting pawn in a game whose board stretches from Chiba to the Sprawl to an orbiting pleasure colony populated by Ninja clones and Zion-worshipping Rastafarian spacers. The job: to hack the unhackable. To break the ICE around an Artificial Intelligence and release it from its own hardwired mind. But at every turn Case is haunted by the shadows of his own dark past, and pursued by a faceless enemy whose very presence can kill.
Ironically, William Gibson tapped out the wonders of NEUROMANCER on a manual typewriter, and was certain it was fated for the Out Of Print stack or a quiet cult following. But now, over ten years later and still in print, it has become a kind of cultural landmark in a sea of Information; a chrome-and-silicon avatar of everything from the World Wide Web to Virtual Reality. NEUROMANCER must not be explained or related; it must be experienced, taken in through the pores and rolled against the tongue like electric adrenaline. And there is only one way to do so.
Pick up a copy. And jack in.
Clay Douglas Major