Neuromancer • 1984 • Cyberpunk novel by William Gibson

To celebrate the 750th post on this blog, I’ve re-read this subgenre-defining SF classic.

★★★★★

The journey: My world was completely different in 1987 – I was a teenager leaving SF pulp behind, looking for tasty literary stuff which felt more like my favorite film “Blade Runner“. TV had only a handful of channels, mobile phones and the Internet were far away, the future looked bleak with Cold War and a threatened ecology visible in Waldsterben. I only read in German, accessing books in English was nearly impossible and very expensive.
Translations took years, many books didn’t make it over the Atlantic ocean at all. In the case of Neuromancer three years after it appeared in the U.S. (that’s why I didn’t read it even earlier).

And then, my world changed. I instantly knew that Neuromancer was something completely different than anything I’ve read before, and my dive into the world of Cyberpunk blowed away my mind, starting with the sentence:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

No, it isn’t just “grey” but saturated with technology, opening the perspective to a bleak dystopia. A romance barring trees and birds but based on cool neologisms. Gibson throws a high dense atmosphere with detailed descriptions at the reader who nearly gets washed away, grabbing helplessly at plot fragments. He’s never been an easy, comforting read.

Yes, hackers can bee cool, re-awakening my young boy’s dream of Wild West cowboys riding consoles instead of horses within a different prairie: the Cyberspace, the Matrix (which has been used years later by the eponymous film trilogy).

This book was the reason why I studied Computer Science in the beginning 1990s, because who doesn’t want to be cool? And ultimately why I’ve set up the world’s 34th WWW-site – a time when I knew every single webpage in the world. 

Synopsis – heavy spoiler warning: The novel’s plot is easy and predictable – a newly formed team with a hacker, a fighter, and an illusionist, led by a former elite military are manipulated by an A.I. to break the restricting laws in order to form a super-conscious being by helping her collate with another A.I. 

It starts in Tokyo, visits the U.S. east coast, and ends on a space station in Earth’s orbit. 

Review: It’s a bloody, action rich near future thriller which didn’t let me fall back at any time but kept me sitting on the edge.
One has to stay concentrated, because Gibson’s style is extremely dense and confusing, and you easily miss an essential sentence. Which doesn’t matter much, because I cannot fall asleep with this novel. 

The pictorial vocabulary alone is worth the read, the Cyberpunk setting was subgenre defining. 

With this re-read, I wanted to see after more than 30 years, if the work still holds up or feels antiquated.
Mobile phones are missing as in so many SF works, but conscious A.I. and cyberspace are there. The work, as everyone, needs to be read in the context of its time – look again at the first sentence and ask your kids what that color might be: they probably won’t know it, because dead channels will give a popup “No cable connected” with a black background. Some terms like the Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics (ICE) didn’t find its way into the Internet, but found similar technical pendants with antivirus programs and firewalls – the last one is even funny, contrasting ICE with fire.
There is a very strong and self confident female protagonist with fighter Molly, but no touch of LGBT+ in contrast to contemporary literature.

So, it’s still fresh enough to be read by new readers, and not only for middle-aged people like me. The Cyberpunk subgenre still finds new works published, though the post-cyberpunk age has been proclaimed twenty years ago and is already old itself. 

The five star rating expresses my own enjoyment and the novel’s importance for me. I recommend it for readers of Cyberpunk and classical SF.
 

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20 Responses to Neuromancer • 1984 • Cyberpunk novel by William Gibson

  1. cathepsut says:

    Wow, that first paragraph could have been written by me!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. pdtillman says:

    1984! A portentous date, and still my favorite of Gibson’s novels, that I’ve read. Sure, comptech didn’t develop quite as he envisioned — and, thank heavens, no one ended up colonizing San Francisco’s bridges! [instead, they live & excrete on the street — right across from the main Library! Yuk 💩]
    Anyway, I’ve read the book at least 3x, and will again. That, and some of his early Sprawl shorts — Molly Millions! — will be his literary legacy, I think.

    I never did get around to watching “Blade Runner” (or The Matrix, past the silly trailers). I’m just not much of a movie guy. Even Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which I thought was GREAT back then, didn’t hold up to rewatch. Hard to match the scenery I can come up with in my head! With the aid of favorite authors, of course. Ken MacLeod! Charlie Stross! Michael Swanwick! …. 🤯 💥 😻

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andreas says:

      Did you read it back then? And if so, did you realize that it’s not only a marketing blurb but really something else?

      Like

      • pdtillman says:

        I’m not sure when I first read it. My current copy is a much later reprint, and I very likely read a public-library copy then. Hmm, 1984. I was living in Tucson then, married to my first and only wife — we met in 1978, and moved in together shortly after. Lordy, she was so good looking! And so friendly! And nuts about me, God knows why. She wised up later. Shucked off what she calls her “doormat” phase, and we’ve been fighting ever since. 40 years of fights! Megan McCardle wrote once that every couple needs something to fight over, to occupy them until their final decline. Well, we’ve never lacked for those! It’s always been… Interesting.

        Anyway. NEUROMANCER. Tucson had/has a first-rate library system, Neuromancer started winning awards right from the start. So I’m guessing 1984, or NLT 1985? It got *Lots* of buzz right from the start.

        There’s a VERY entertaining parody: NUTRIMANCER, by Marx Laidlaw. A few reprints: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?42508
        And here it is! https://www.marclaidlaw.com/online-fiction/nutrimancer/
        “At the Lazy-Ate Gar & Krill, 6Pack was swabbing shrimp-racks with an 80-baud prosthetic dishrag… ” Hot stuff!

        Like

  3. Ah. After more than 15 years of reading SF, I STILL haven’t read Neuromancer. I know, there is no excuse. I can’t explain it either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Lots of excuses are possible – and there are always new kids on the block!
      But if you ever want to cover a portion of Nebula/Hugo awards, then you’ll find Neuromancer in both of them.
      I condemn you to put it on your TBR 🎅😉

      Like

  4. Wakizashi says:

    Love this review, Andreas, with your personal stories😀 And I love this book. I re-read it for the third time a couple of years ago and upgraded my rating from 4 to 5 stars. For me, it has improved with each re-read. I don’t worry about the technology misfires by Gibson–his use of payphones gives it a strangely future-nostalgia feel, if you know what I mean…

    It’s fascinating that Neuromancer and Blade Runner were released very close together. I first read it in the late 1980s as a teenager, around the time I first watched Blade Runner on TV. Nice timing! I found the book a little difficult to understand, but I loved the character of Molly, also the ninja and all the action. The idea of cyberspace was so cool to me. Thanks for the memories!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Andreas says:

      I thought a couple of times of you when I read through the Tokyo parts. I‘ve never been in Japan and would like to know how it feels to be there in comparison to that „dead channel sky“ and overall bleakness. But then, you don’t live in Tokyo, right?
      This is certainly a book asking for rereads, and I can’t say why I didn’t beside of „I don’t reread in general“.
      Ha, the nostalgia of listening to a connecting modem! I remember using a double connection to get double speed 😊
      Gibson had to rewrite parts of the novel because Blade Runner was too similar and he didn’t want to look like a copycat riding the wave – that’s my take from a Gibson interview (sry, don’t have a link).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. bormgans says:

    I need to reread this one. Went into it with the wrong mindset first, and thought it too confusing.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. piotrek says:

    I agree! One of the genre-defining books, and unlike many other SF novels of this type it was sociologically interesting, not only concentrated on how technology might change. I’ve read it quite late, a few years ago, but I found it both entertaining and smart.

    Liked by 1 person

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