28. Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984) 261 p.
Neuromancer was the book that spawned cyberpunk. It predicted the Internet, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and more, on a grand and relatively accurate scale, despite being written in 1984 on a typewriter. So excellent and influential is this book that it won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards, and (I think) remains the only novel to have taken all three in a single year.
Set amidst the grimy, dystopian cityscapes of Tokyo, Istanbul and the “Sprawl” of the American north-east, Neuromancer tells the story of a washed-up computer hacker named Case who is hired by a mysterious ex-serviceman to work on the ultimate hack. But the story takes a backseat to the atmosphere and tone of the novel; Neuromancer is more about style than substance. Set in a world that seems so outlandishly fantastic in its technology, and yet believably real in its circumstances – uncontrolled consumerism, utopian space stations the domain of plutocrats, soldiers betrayed by upper levels of government – it’s one of the most well-realised fictional worlds I’ve ever read.
This is mostly due to Gibson’s masterful command of language. There are certain authors who have an ability to weave words into a beautifully visual description: Philip Reeve was the first one I noticed, but Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy have it too, and now I’m adding William Gibson to my private list.
The Marcus Garvey had been thrown together around an enormous old Russian air scrubber, a rectangular thing daubed with Rastafarian symbols, Lions of Zion and Black Star Liners, the reds and greens and yellows overlaying wordy decals in Cyrillic script. Someone had sprayed Maelcum’s pilot gear a hot tropical pink, scraping most of the overspray off the screens and readouts with a razor blade. The gaskets around the airlock in the bow were festooned with semirigid globs and streamers of translucent caulk, like clumsy strands of imitation seaweed.
Another great touch was that Gibson never explicitly details the world of Neuromancer, but rather throws in tiny bits here and there to fill in the background:
“Saw a horse in Maryland once,” the Finn said, “and that was a good three years after the pandemic. There’s Arabs still trying to code ‘em up from the DNA, but they always croak.”
Much like Watchmen, this ultimately creates a very realistic world while also forcing the reader to use their imagination.
There are times in Neuromancer when the fictional techno-jargon can get confusing, where you’re not exactly sure what’s going on or where the characters are, but these minor issues would probably go away after a few re-reads. There are also a few moments where the 80′s seeps through in a manner reminiscent of Back to the Future 2: the “internet” of Case’s world, for example, is a virtual cyberspace of neon gridworks. I haven’t even seen Tron, but that is just so Tronnish that it hurts. On the whole, however, Gibson did a pretty good job of preventing this novel from dating – which can be an incredibly hard thing to do, as I’ve learned with my own ventures into science fiction. I’ll definitely be picking up some more of his works.