William Gibson’s Neuromancer has been on my reading list for a long time. And now that I’ve read it, I’m not sure what to think of it. It’s full of wild ideas, exotic characters and settings, and intricate action. It’s hard to believe that it was written in 1983. It’s so forward-thinking. There are no wasted words in this book; you have to pay attention to everything.
Gibson dumps you into the middle of the action in dive bar in Chiba. The experience you get as a reader is like riding on the protagonist’s shoulder. You pick up everything from context–all the way through. Occasionally, you get some back story from the characters. But the whole picture remains intriguingly opaque until near the end. The protagonist, Case, is a washed up cowboy–who used to run hacks for hire until a Russian mycotoxin wiped out his ability to surf the evolved version of the internet. He’s stopped in the middle of his downward spiral towards overdose or assassination by an offer he barely considers refusing. In exchange for money and medical treatment for his poisoning, Case agrees to cowboy for the mysterious Armitage and the fascinating Molly.
Neuromancer is a curious blend of far-future technology and 1983 technology. There are some TRON-like elements such as the Internet being populated by a lot of geometric shapes and Case requiring a handset while he’s mentally online. Gibson had to extrapolate from current technology, so I have to wonder if he looks back on it now and thinks it’s dated. I think it’s held up rather well. Aside from the details of the technology, I could see the Earth in sixty or seventy years being a lot like the Earth of Neuromancer. The world is crowded and the super rich have fled to the ultimate suburbs–low Earth orbit. Drug use and crime are rampant and governments seem to have given up. Most people soldier on the best they can.
Case gets sucked in to Armitage’s scheme, but he’s smart enough to know that there’s more going on that he’s being told. He investigates Armitage and learns of an epic military cock-up named Screaming Fist. He also starts to get messages from Wintermute, an even more mysterious entity who turns out to be an AI with its own plot. The best character, as far as I’m concerned, is Molly. Described as a razorgirl, there doesn’t seem to be anything that the technologically enhanced Molly can’t do. While Case risks braindeath jacking into the Internet, Molly does all the dangerous work. She’s utterly self-sufficient. I got the impression that if Molly could do the net-work while simultaneously storming an actual castle, she would have.
As opposed to the clinical feel of most hard science fiction that I’ve read, Neuromancer has an organic feel. The world around Case and the team is a living breathing thing. But as the plot progresses, the book gets damn near surreal, so surreal that it’s hard to keep track of what’s happening where and who’s doing what to who. The plan, such as it is, goes to hell and Case and Molly have to improvise their way to their murky goal.
Neuromancer could stand a few more readings. I know that I missed things on this read through. I was too busy trying to get to what happened next and to find out who was really pulling the strings to stop and savor the text. From what I understand, some of Gibson’s other books take place in the same future. I have to get my hands on them.