Published on December 19th, 2012 | by Michaela Buckley0
‘Dawn of Cy-Fi’ – Review of William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’
Credited as being the father of Cyberpunk, William Gibson’s first outing makes for a landmark in modern science fiction with Neuromancer.
Back in 1984 when Computers were coming into prominence with the Internet heralding their arrival in people’s homes, Gibson could already foresee the possibility of humans interfacing with this technology to achieve fantastic results. Set in a future where computers have advanced exponentially and are key to not only all of business transactions in the world but also directly influences the culture and lifestyle of the citizens from all backgrounds, it’s technology at it’s most integrated. The streets are swarming with people dealing in the latest tech and gadgets and the criminal underworld is a complex social hierarchy of freight speed bargaining, enhanced thieves and drug-fuelled mobsters, struggling and heaving over one another to out-sell and out-buy and out-tech their competition.
The story focusses on Case, a young has-been hacker, trained by the best, but cybernetically crippled by an information heist turned betrayal gone toxically wrong. He’s addicted to fast and cheap drugs and is slothing around future (although it may as well not be) Japan looking for a way to get his next fix. Until a mysterious man named Armitage opens the show with a proposal Case can’t refuse – fixing his disabled neuroreceptors in exchange for his help in a hack.
The book is incredibly fast paced, and the sentences are structured like some kind of awful poetry, but it works, the book is meant to be high-octane and trashy and the style of Gibson’s writing emphasises it with slick, short and sharp sentences and incisive descriptions. Even if it sometimes feels like self-indulgent bollocks, but Gibson can get away with it as there isn’t/wasn’t any bollocks quite like this at the time. The pacing felt very odd when I started reading, but when you think of the book as a “heist” it makes understanding it much easier. It starts with a fairly lengthy beginning with the cyberpunk world being set up, then the premise of a down and out hacker doing a high profile information run and the crack team needing to be recruited for it. This all happens before any of the plot starts, which is about midway through the bloody book.
There are some pretty interesting and varied characters, Case the drug addled protagonist, who acts as more of an anti-hero, Molly the in-situ sidekick who plays the braun of the group as a “Street Samurai” who has implants on her eyes making her look like she has permanent sunglasses on, Armitage the man with no past and no motives and the rest of the gang comprises of Case’s dead mentor, who is now a hacker AI and some dandy called Riviera who has some kind of illusory powers which we do not know how they work or what the point in them is, as it is never even explained.
The character development is incredibly poor, especially considering the huge emphasis on dialogue, none of the characters seem to reveal much about their feelings, pasts or anything vaguely conceptive at all. This appears to be intentional on the author’s part, the lack of depth in the characters does work well as an immersive technique though, the banter and the lingo instantly making you feel as though the social conventions have jumped leagues ahead of today, however it still leaves a feeling of irresolution within the reader.
The lack of explanation seems to be a frustrating and recurring theme in this book, with many characters needlessly added in or behaving strangely and in some cases just get left behind with no more mention of them. One of the characters is referred to again and again throughout the book as someone who might have murdered someone and had been conspiring with an antagonist, but it’s never resolved whether this was in fact a falsehood or not.
The cyberpunk setting and the aesthetic of life on the streets seems to be the main focus of the book, fashion, slang, drugs and power games are all tools for expression in the rich world of Neuromancer. Design and ideas are favoured over depth and plot. This is something that I find very difficult to accept at first, like some kind of culture shock almost, but once it sets into place and the rhythm has stabilised there are some interesting metaphysical and philosophical concepts that are played with, however these appear too late to mature into anything meaningful. The world seems to have no history, there being no mention of the course that the technology took to reach this stage and also no detail on how the politics and consumerism works in the world. There is however a small appearance made by law enforcement giving some insight into the inner workings of this tech-world. That being that it’s quite anarchical and the police are pretty shit.
The influence this book had on culture is profound, with real life computer terminology being named after the book’s and hackers participating in real runs in its name. Neuromancer singlehandedly created an entire genre whose concepts and ideas starting appearing in or being alluded to in many other mediums of entertainment, such as Ghost in the Shell, the Matrix, Dark City, Netrunner, System Shock and Shadowrun. Gibson remarked on how Blade Runner was exactly what he was writing about, just as he had been writing Neuromancer, but it would be some years before any of his work would be given the cinematic treatment, and when a short story was finally made in 1995 as Johnny Mnemonic, it flopped horrendously. As of this post there have been furthur rumours to a new Neuromancer film with Liam Neeson in, if it gets made hopefully this will be exactly what the cyberpunk genre needs to get back on its feet.
A fun and savvy book that probably should have been twice the length and half the speed, which also despite Moore’s Law has clearly shown that Gibson’s Sprawl is as relevant and fresh today as its modern contemporaries.