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Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer by William Gibson
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Book Name: Neuromancer
Author: William Gibson
Publisher(s): Ace
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Cyberpunk
Release Date: July 1, 1984

As debut novels go, this one kicks arse. Written in 1984, Gibson’s cyberpunk tale was a culmination of various cult influences and pressure from a looming deadline. We’re introduced to body modifications, cybernetic implants, and ‘the matrix’ – an online information highway. Bear in mind that the World Wide Web wasn’t invented by Tim Berners-Lee until 1989, five years after Neuromancer’s publication date.

For any first-time reader, such as myself, the experience may be confusing. While we focus on the protagonist, Henry Case, the narrative very much forms around his thoughts, making sentences short and to the point. There’s not much fluffy filler to guide you through the unfolding events so the sentence structure resembles the immediate connection of jacking into the matrix.

There’s a world built around the technological advancements that humans have made, including virtual reality and space exploration, with a wealth of slang and terminology to go with it, such as ice that attacks and stops hackers gaining protected information, the equivalent to what we would recognise as anti-virus software or a firewall. These new phrases are open for interpretation, with no clear definitions provided.

Body modifications often precede identifying details that we would otherwise use. Molly in particular, who finds herself working alongside Case, is sometimes hailed in the narrative not by her name, but by her modifications, perhaps showing the level of importance put upon these additions. Case’s focus on Molly’s enhancements shows what he predominantly perceives about her; he sees the technology first and the human second. On other occasions, speech is not attributed clearly to a character, leaving the reader to determine who is initiating the conversation or who the interaction is coming from. These jumps can be quite confusing, and can require repeated reading.

The entire plot hinges on the developments that the human race have achieved. Case has become dependent on his ability to hack into cyberspace to fund his drug addiction. We learn in the opening scenes of the book that as a result of attempted theft, he’s been injected with a toxin that leaves him unable to access the matrix. This leaves him open to being taken advantage of, and accepts the offer of a cure from strange Armitage in return for his hacking services. Molly also finds herself aligned with Armitage because of her technological enhancements; equipped with retractable sharp blades under her fingernails and optical implants to provide enhanced vision, she’s adept at fighting and gaining access to buildings where others would struggle.

Both key characters are shown to have their lives completely reliant and transformed by technology, but at a cost. Case is at first subject to the toxin that stops him accessing the matrix, and, at the hands of Armitage, is unwillingly biologically tampered with so he can’t experience the effects of his drug-taking. Molly reveals that she allowed her body to be used for sexual pleasure while her mind was absent in order to fund her bodily enhancements. Although she should not have had knowledge of what her body was being used for, her consciousness seeped through into certain situations.

Case and Molly journey around the world and into space (an easy feat in Gibson’s creation) at the request of their new employer but the narrative doesn’t focus on the physical surroundings. Developments and situations in the digital world are kept at the forefront of the novel; it’s where all the action takes place, indicating a future where humans can become so immersed in the online world that they lose sight of what’s happening around them.

Via a simstim, a device that allows Case to jack directly into Molly’s head, feeling everything she feels, hearing what she hears and seeing what she sees, we gauge another perspective on the unfolding events. Instead of putting Molly in the narrative driving seat, allowing us to witness aspects of the story’s progression through her eyes, the focus on technology in the novel makes us witness Molly’s perspective through Case. Although it allows us easy access to unfolding events that are occurring away from Case, we’re often teased with a glimpse of Molly’s actions only to be pulled away again when she asks him to leave or the emotions get too much for him.

Neuromancer kicks off the Sprawl trilogy and is followed by Count Zero. Neuromancer was the first book to win the Philip K. Dick Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award, yet it’s a bit like Marmite. It could either blow your mind or you’ll pass on it and wonder how people ever managed to finish it. Alternatively, you could be like me, who can manage a bit of Marmite and can tolerate it if it’s not overpowering. When it was written, it was a whole new world, but it’s becoming increasingly similar to today’s society. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself a little lost, re-reading a paragraph or two. Take your time to process what Gibson’s laid out, it’ll be a while yet before we’re able to download what we can understand from it direct to our brains.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Toby Frost says:

    I’m glad someone else found it hard going! I’ve come to like Neuromancer, but it isn’t an easy book to get into and I did find some of it quite baffling. A friend of mine once described it as a brilliant book with a fifth of the words removed at random. I love the sequel, Count Zero, which I think is a much easier novel to follow.

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