Neuromancer by William Gibson
And now, having finally read this book, I understand so many more nerdy in-jokes and references I’d missed over the years, and also know what Straylight Run are named after.
I should have read this book when I was a teenager. Not that I didn’t enjoy it now but I would have enjoyed it exponentially more as a teen, in the 90s. Partly because this kind of writing and plotting style was like catnip to me when I was a teen. Partly because the internet was weird and mysterious to me then (the internet didn’t come to Australia until 1997 and my family didn’t have a dial-up connection until 2000), so the way Gibson creates his vision of cyberspace would have excited me more. That’s not to say you can’t accept a vision of a future-internet that’s accessed neurologically, instead of via a fixed or satellite connection to a device (and I’m pretty sure plenty of cyberpunk goes with brain-internet connection, because it’s fun to imagine).
Another reason I should have read it before is because I’ve watched so much of the cyberpunk that comes later, and can’t help but think Ghost in the Shell, in its various iterations, does some of the themes better.
Nonetheless: Neuromancer is high-octane science fiction nonsense. It’s so 80s in a way I find highly nostalgic, because like all 30-somethings I find myself becoming nostalgic for the feeling of pop culture and fashion from my youth. I think some of it I would have understood better if I’d read Gibson’s previous short stories (which I do plan to track down, eventually) but some of it is just Gibson’s writing style. He doesn’t go in for setting you up with long exposition, just plops you in the story and lets you figure a lot of it out on your own. For some things that worked well, and it certainly helped in creating the social milieu. For some things I found that less effective.
The main character, Case, is the kind of mildly pathetic and occasionally well-meaning scumbag you don’t see as much of in fiction these days, but that I really enjoy. As a person he’s a bit crap. When it comes to coolness stakes, he’s vastly overshadowed by Molly, a misfit action woman with a painful past, who strides through scenes with the kind of swagger it’s usually hard to capture in prose. But compared to Armitage, the batshit new boss who coerces him into joining the team, and Riviera the gigantic psycho, he looks like a pretty swell guy.
Neuromancer is part noirish cyberpunk story and part heist adventure. For my moment, the best parts of the book are the most sfnal – Linda Lee’s face projected in the fireworks, the other AI’s secret world, the way Riviera uses his projected illusions to reveal people’s secrets. Sf/f marries pretty well with stories about dark and grungy underworlds and the moments of horror, beauty and redemption those stories can bring: Neuromancer is no exception. It’s also a bit of a mess, but then, it was a debut novel. I can definitely see why it struck such a chord in people and it has been enormously influential. It grapples with questions about artificial intelligences and the self, what constructs the self, and what gritty horror the future might be like – all that good stuff you would expect from the genre.
And this is honestly a very long pile of words for a review that has barely talked about the story at all.