By: John Mills
I once discussed the cyberpunk genre with a friend here on campus. The conversation turned to various media examples, and he said, “Well, you’ve read ‘Neuromancer’ right?”
I had to admit, that no, I hadn’t, but was familiar with its position as the father of essentially the whole genre.
I further commented that I had seen a few very well worn paperback copies in second-hand book stores in the past.
“That’s the way they should be,” he replied, adding that, “if a copy isn’t old and worn, is it really a copy of ‘Neuromancer?’”
This Christmas I was gifted a copy of “Neuromancer” which I devoured in a couple days. It’s not a long book at only 271 pages, but it doesn’t need to be.
When it was written in 1984 by William Gibson, there was nothing remotely like it available on the market.
It was the first novel to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Phillip K. Dick awards in one year, sort of the sci-fi literature triple crown.
It’s so influential, it can be directly attributed to the existence of the word cyberspace.
It also served as one of the primary sources of inspiration for “The Matrix,” which is high praise for any work of fiction, much less one by a first-time novelist.
Reviewing this book is not particularly easy, beyond saying “go get yourself a copy.”
The first third of the book is a deliberate mess of unreliable narration, drug induced haze, and random skips into the memory of the protagonist, and then back out to the present.
This is compounded by large amounts of made up words Gibson uses to make the dialogue feel authentic to the futuristic setting.
It does feel authentic, wonderfully so, but it can be maddeningly difficult to keep up in the first ten pages.
The world of “Neuromancer” is one that has left us behind in many ways. No one person has any real value.
When we meet our protagonist, he’s an ex-hacker drug addict who’s been burned out and left behind by the world in his early twenties.
After he gets put back together in the first act, the story really kicks into gear and skips around the world in a way that can only be done on someone else’s money.
“Neuromancer’s” greatest strength is the believability of its world and completeness. The world is simultaneously alien and a semi-believable future (given that some of its predictions have already been passed up by modern technology).
The earliest shades of vast urban sprawls, rampant poverty and techno-terrorism are visible in the world today.
There’s an uncomfortably recognizable fraction of “Neuromancer” that is present in the world today.
Perhaps the best praise for Neuromancer is that it keeps the reader pondering it for long after its been finished.
It doesn’t let itself slip away to be picked up again at the reader’s convenience, it forcibly grabs your attention and says, “Hey, look at this, this is what you’re thinking about now.”
For this reason, among many, it stands among the few books that will likely stay with me forever, both physically and mentally.