By William Gibson
Published July 1st 1984
There have been a few books recently that I’ve described as requiring a lot of work on the reader’s part. Ninefox Gambit and the Imperial Radch series come to mind right away. These books have complex ideas and really strange worlds that aren’t explicitly explained, but if you’re paying attention you can figure out what is happening. Neuromancer proves that this approach is nothing new. We are thrown into a futuristic world where cyber-space, A.Is, and cybernetic enhancements play a huge role, but the way a lot of the technology works – especially the matrix – is not always clear. I was confused at times by what was happening, but once I had the A.Is figured out I became super excited about what had happened in the story.
I think I would have liked Neuromancer more if I read it back in 1984. It would have been more confusing, but in 2017, it can be hard to appreciate just how revolutionary this book was. This is the book that introduced the term ‘cyberspace’ to the public. There was no World Wide Web when Gibson wrote about a matrix that represented all computer data. This story didn’t just make cyber-punk into a respectable sub-genre, it changed the way we viewed computers. In fact, according to SF author Jack Womack, Neuromancer may have ever inspired the way the internet was developed. When reading this book, you have to keep in mind this context.
The story itself is a heist/crime plot. The main character, Case, is a washed-up computer-hacker. I never really connected with Case that much. He has a lot of complex issues, but it’s hard to describe him. The book seems to be aware of this; at one point Case comes across holographic caricatures of the team, and Case remarks that the artist couldn’t really find anything about him to parody.
A much more interesting character was Molly; the muscle of the team. A mercenary with surgically inserted lenses over her eyes and steel blades at her fingertips. Reading about her infiltrating their targets was fun, and when she wasn’t caught up in the action she’d relieve the boredom by telling Case – who could sense what she was sensing on these runs – about herself.
Another interesting character is the A.I Wintermute. Wintermute doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he is mysterious and different enough to make it clear he is not a Human intelligence.
Where this book really shines though is with the atmosphere it creates. We open in Chiba City, an underbelly of Tokyo, in a bar owned by a bartender with a mechanical arm. The locales visited are described perfectly. Ditto the wardrobe and appearance of various characters. It all comes together for a quintessential cyberpunk world. I was hooked at those first few pages by the depiction of Case’s world; even though Case himself wasn’t that interesting to me.
Neuromancer won the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards in 1985. Whilst I originally figured I’d vote this a 7 or 7.5 when I finished, I bumped it up to 8 just because of how influential this book has been, and for how ground-breaking it was when it first came out. I enjoyed this book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d still recommend it due to its influence on science fiction.