There was a time when science fiction was an inherently optimistic genre, all about the Wonders of the Future and the problems that’d be solved through advances in technology and the unquenchable spirit of human beings. Then along came a downward shift, as sci-fi became grittier, the future became bleaker and there was a nostalgic grasping for the past.
Neuromancer is the first story of what would become known as Gibson’s “Sprawl trilogy,” a series of works set in a futuristic society ruled by cyberspace, genetic engineering, and Japanese culture. Our protagonist in the first novel is Case, a “console cowboy” (read: hacker) who’s seen better days. When he encounters a “street samurai” (read: mercenary) named Molly and a mysterious war veteran named Armitage, Case finds himself on a very dangerous job involving an AI that could cost him not only his life but his sanity.
This is one of those stories that eerily captures a good snapshot of the future. It was Gibson who coined the term “cyberspace” and whose “matrix” predates the real-life World Wide Web. And while Case’s methods of hacking are far more visual than its real-world equivalent, it’s fascinating to read about his efforts to cut through corporate “ice” and wander through a simulacrum of his own reality. So much in those sequences alone are an excellent set-up for future works like The Matrix.
I will admit that there are a few sequences that are a bit mind-screwy, especially once we start getting more involvement from the AI called Wintermute in the second half of the novel. At times, there are so many switches of perspective and setting for Case that the reader can get lost if he’s not careful. But I’ll say that such scenes are still enjoyable, and they do in fact fit in with Gibson’s universe, as technology’s effects change everything we do and perceive.
Mr. Gibson deserves a lot of credit for creating his own slang in this story and consistently sticking to it, as it helps immerse the reader into his world. The language itself is dark and sensual, as fast-paced and nervous as our main cast. It is a thrill for the mind, a shock for the senses, and a thoroughly modern adventure.
One more thing: Neuromancer is the first book of Mr. Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, but each novel is a separate and unique story, so I will be reviewing the next two installments at a later date.
Bibliography: Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1984.