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.