"Case was the best interface cowboy who ever ran in the Earth's computer matrix. Then he double-crossed the wrong people..."
- back jacket of "Neuromancer"
I have a confession to make. When I first read "Neuromancer" I wasn't really that excited about it. I had just come through a period of obsessing over Don DeLillo ("Great Jones Street," "White Noise," "The Names," "Ratner's Star"), and I found Gibson very clunky by comparison. His super-dense descriptive style clashed badly with DeLillo's almost mystical minimalism. The book's ideas and the world that Gibson had constructed around them were compelling, but I continued to find myself more aware of the writer than the story. The second time around was like reading a different book. My tastes had changed (or at least broadened), and I wasn't comparing Gibson to anybody else. The brilliance of this book (especially as a first effort) started to shine through and I found myself entering a world I have yet to leave.
Gibson wrote "Neuromancer" in a blind animal panic. He had previously published only a handful of short stories and he thought he was still a number of years away from a novel. One of the reasons that the novel's tone is so desperate and fast-paced is that he was petrified that he wouldn't be able to hold the reader's attention. "During the writing of the book I had the conviction that I would be permanently shamed when it appeared. Even when I was finished I had no idea what I had done. (I still don't, for that matter.)" This sense of desperation and de-centeredness is what fuels "Neuromancer."
Another thing that made "Neuromancer" work on so many levels was that Gibson was bored with the field of SF so he made no attempt to worship at its altar. He incorporated influences outside of SF, especially street and drug culture, exotic lingos (tech talk, EMT jargon, etc), rock and roll, and television. Like any good artist, he didn't try to over-interpret these influences and how they should inform his narrative. He used a kind of cut and paste technique of influences. He'd overhear ambulance techs talking in a bar about "flatlining" or he'd steal a line from a cheap SF movie. All this cultural litter was stirred into his story to give it a sense of depth and reality that had been missing from so many hard "idea-only" SF novels. "Neuromancer" feels like a fractal world that yields information at any level you view it on.
William Gibson was totally ignorant about computers when he wrote "Neuromancer." He wrote the book on a MANUAL typewriter! This is amazing when you realize how completely the book was embraced by the computer community and how inspirational Gibson's conceptions of future tech has been to its actual development. Gibson DID have a great fascination with the language of science and technology and that interest is what made the book sound so convincing. One thing to contemplate when reading (or re-reading) "Neuromancer" is that Gibson wanted to use computers and cyberspace simply as a metaphor for memory. The book reads radically different if you think about it with this device in mind.
Ace Science Fiction
graphic: Cyberpunk Comic
Here is the TEXT POPUP for Neuromancer:
My feelings about technology are TOTALLY ambivalent... When I'm writing about technology, I'm writing about how technology has ALREADY affected our lives.
...I felt I was writing so far outside the mainstream of what was happening that my highest career hopes were that I might become a kind of obscure cult figure...I assumed I was doing something no one would like except for a few crazy "art" people, and maybe some people in England and France.
- Wm. Gibson
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he'd been a cowboy, a rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl. He'd been trained by the best, by McCoy Pauley and Bobby Quine, legends in the biz. He'd operated on an almost adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief, he'd worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data.
At midnight, synched with the chip behind Molly's eyes, the link man in Jersey had given his command. "Mainline." Nine Moderns, scattered along two hundred miles of the Sprawl, had simultaneously dialed MAX EMERG from pay phones. Each Modern delivered a short speech, hung up, and drifted out into the night, peeling off surgical gloves. Nine different police departments and public security agencies were absorbing the information that an obscure subsect of militant Christian fundamentalists had just taken credit for having introduced clinical levels of an outlawed psychoactive agent known as Blue Nine into the ventilation system of the Sense/Net Pyramid. Blue Nile, known in California as Grievous Angel, has been shown to produce acute paranoia and homicidal psychosis in eighty-five percent of experimental subjects.