Read Neuromancer for the sizzling, kaleidoscope cyberpunk prose, dreamlike and gritty, woozy with the great clash between make-believe AI worlds and humanity-flesh that Gibson calls “the meat.” Approach Neuromancer like a Very Fun Poem. It’s hard to get down to the emotion; the characters are filmed over with a layer of clumsily beautiful slang and tech gear that was way-future in the 80’s (which is, I believe, the coolest tech gear—that pocket of tech that never quite existed, that somewhere, probably for the better, we swerved away from). But there is emotion—and that makes Neuromancer a complete, if sometimes inelegant, novel.
—— Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer is a cyberpunk, science fiction masterpiece—a classic that ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the twentieth century’s most potent visions of the future.
—— The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus-hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace…
—— Henry Dorsett Case was 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.
—— The winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards, Neuromancer was the first fully-realized glimpse of humankind’s digital future—a shocking vision that has challenged our assumptions about our technology and ourselves, reinvented the way we speak and think, and forever altered the landscape of our imaginations.
CHEW ON THIS WRITING!
The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy) (p. 5). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The first few chapters of Neuromancer are its masterpiece. In Chiba, where we first meet our blade-runner-Harrison-Ford hero Case, everything is punched up with neon and desperation. Case is trying to kill himself. Or rather, in a more tolerable, drugged, roundabout way, he’s trying to get himself killed. His “biz” is dangerous and manic and drug-fueled. He’s reluctantly in love with a girl named Linda Lee; he sits, brooding and angsty and alone, at a grungy bar, over-attached and clinging to a gruff bartender with a pink mechanical arm. It’s awesome. The fragments of tactile experience, the visual ocean of this book…so maybe it’s not a whole poem, but a thousand mini-ones, blown apart by the detachment caused by technology.
The girls looked like tall, exotic grazing animals, swaying gracefully and unconsciously with the movement of the train, their high heels like polished hooves against the gray metal of the car’s floor. Before they could stampede, take flight from the missionaries, the train reached Case’s station.
They were mounted against scarlet ultrasuede with nearly invisible loops of nylon fishline, their centers stamped with dragons or yinyang symbols. They caught the street’s neon and twisted it, and it came to Case that these were the stars under which he voyaged, his destiny spelled out in a constellation of cheap chrome.
…a hundred faces from the neon forest, sailors and hustlers and whores, where the sky is poisoned silver, beyond chainlink and the prison of the skull.
Case watched the sun rise on the landscape of childhood, on broken slag and the rusting shells of refineries.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE CHARACTERS?
A lot of people say they’re flat. Well, yeah, they are: they spend a lot of their time as ones and zeroes in the first matrix ever invented (Gibson did it first). Many of the characters, and Case especially, are flat for a reason. They struggle with, and against, their flatness. They’re adrift, beyond lonely, without the matrix/net/internet to jack into, but when they’re jacked in, they’re still…separate. Other. It’s a really hard sensation to articulate, but Gibson tries with Neuromancer. And today, maybe we can relate a little more than Gibson’s 80’s audience.
The trouble Case has with plumbing his own emotion leaves him with an empty kind of self-loathing despair that matches with the grit of the novel’s aesthetic. As the story goes on, he begins to find it: as a reader, his flares of anger are an utter triumph. His flashes of compassion feel odd, maybe even forced. But really, they’re just unfamiliar. As unfamiliar to Case, who’s lived most of his life in the Matrix online, as it is to the reader.
But it’s still a weird kind of character to read. That strangeness isn’t helped by a) the equally bleak, stripped-down slang of the dialogue, and b) the obvious straight white maleness of the author. The sex is weird and bad, and the scenes between super-badass razor girl Molly and Case are eyeroll-worthy.
Connecting to these characters is hard, and not necessarily rewarding, even at the end. But that empty kind of discomfort…it reminded me of how modern netizen-dom can feel.
HERE COMES…WELL, NOT A PLOT, THAT’S FOR SURE
Plot is where Neuromancer’s clumsiness becomes detrimental. It’s not a tight novel, and in fact, the pacing is all messed up, and not in a cute way. It starts out promising: Case is pulled from the grit of Chiba to do a job. It’s full of mystery—mystery that unfolds with satisfying and only slightly predictable revelations throughout.
But the second half is slow. The novel lingers in a kind of space-elysium, switching between an only vaguely-described spaceship and a…warren-like castle?? The “job” the book builds to takes a really long time, so long that by the time it comes to a climax, it’s lost all tension and anticipation. Three-quarters through the book, I was forcing myself to pick it back up again, because I had lost investment. The table-setting for the climax, the clash between two AIs…it just took too long. It became stagnant. There’s a lazily evil character named Riviera who was just an annoying obstacle to the plot moving forward at all.
Don’t be afraid of the tech jargon in this novel. It’s more a feeling, a vibe, and it doesn’t need to make complete sense. In today’s day and age, it’s not too hard to get a general sense of what’s going on.
In fact, at risk of suggesting a huge book-reading faux pas…you could probably get away with only reading the beginning. Or with jumping around. Because this prose, this world, is inspiring in its bright, brutal creativity, and its prescient assessment of how the internet/matrix emotionally affects human beings.