“Neuromancer” by William Gibson

05 Oct


"Neuromancer" is a sci-fi novel first published in 1984, well before the Internet age that we all take for granted. Given the fact that the book is almost 25 years old, it's amazing that author William Gibson was able to envision a world of "cowboys" using portable computers to hack into "cyberspace" at a time when the vast majority of folks were working on typewriters. Yes, you read that correctly. Typewriters. And, yes, Gibson actually invented the term cyberspace. Pretty cool, huh?

So the novel does an incredible job of predicting how our current technological world functions. But is it any good? I won't lie. I had a very difficult time getting through the first few chapters, in which our hero Case (or, I guess, our anti-hero, because this fella has major issues) is drifting about Chiba City with little money and even less motivation. Case was once a world-class cowboy, illegally hacking into corporate computer networks, until he crossed one of his clients and had part of his body's nervous system destroyed. After the assault, Case is no longer able to "jack in," since hacking is essentially a virtual reality experience in which the cowboy experiences streams of data as physical objects.

Case has basically given up on life when a woman clad in tight leather with lens implants and retractable blades in her fingernails (think X-Men's Wolverine) shows up in his coffin hotel with a job offer. Case agrees to join the woman, Molly, and her employer, the mysterious Armitage, on a complex operation to penetrate the super secret Tessier-Ashpool network. In exchange for his hacking, Case gets a nerve-restoring operation and the promise of lots of credits. Case and Molly then travel around the world — our part of the U.S. is known as the Sprawl — assembling various gadgets and equipment for the run at Tessier-Ashpool, which will take place in an orbiting resort known as Freeside (think Jamaica, but with zero gravity!).

Confused yet? Well, I haven't even hit on artifical intelligence (turns out Case and Molly are actually working for Wintermute, an AI created by Tessier-Ashpool who now wants his freedom); a deranged drug addict with the ability to create elaborate illusions; a long-ago military operation called the Screaming Fist; cybernetic implants; a family that survives through cryogenic freezing and cloning; a Japanese assassin; and the long-dead personality of Case's friend reincarnated as a computer construct aptly named Flatline.

Yes, this book can get confusing. And, as I mentioned above, I found the immediate immersion in this world to be unsettling and almost chaotic. As at the beginning of the novel, there were several times during the story when I literally could not orient myself to the action and determine what was going on. But if you stick with it, the rewards are amazing. Gibson writes in a straightforward, accessible manner, and he keeps the story rolling along at an almost frantic pace. As a reader, it made me anxious to keep turning the pages. Gibson also uses incredible imagery to describe this bleak futuristic world, so even when the narrative gets a bit murky, you can still clearly envision what both a hacking Chinese computer virus and an utterly desolate, utterly lonely beach look like. Gibson's descriptions really are that good.

This book has lots of raw language, references to drugs and sex, and some disturbing imagery, so I'd only recommend it to high school readers. Having said that, if you're a sci-fi fan in that age group, I think you'll find "Neuromancer" to be a fast-paced, thought-provoking novel that's probably unlike anything you've read before.

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Posted by on October 5, 2007 in Uncategorized


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