Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
~William Gibson, Neuromancer

Plot summary

“The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace.

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employers crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future.” More on Goodreads

On author and further book details, see the review on All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999).

Key concepts
  • Matrix
  • Organic blackmailing
  • Sense of reality?

“’You needed a new pancreas. The one we bought for you frees you from a dangerous dependency.’
‘Thanks, but I was enjoying that dependency.’

~William Gibson, Neuromancer

William Gibson‘s Neuromancer captures elements of reality that are both from the past and at the same time very much from the future. It is the 1980’s – for quite obvious reasons of writing – meeting a future not too far in the distance, a place where laws of society have changed from what we know as society and individuals are left to themselves.

Fantasies of anarchy are often typical for cyberpunk stories, it is as if the human condition does not last for ever in the form of functional infrastructures and decision-making bodies. It seems that it is only a matter of time before these very said structures cease to exist in the form we currently know. It is a horrifying deal, I think.

Neuromancer, collage, February 2016. Photo: Joana Coccarelli (CC BY 2.0)
Neuromancer, collage, February 2016. Photo: Joana Coccarelli (CC BY 2.0)

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of anarchy is as follows: “a) absence of government or of order, b) a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority, c) a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government, and d) absence or denial of any authority or established order“.

I am eagerly waiting for the sequel to Blade Runner. It is the scenery and setting in the film that takes me to the realm of cyberpunk. It has many elements prevalent in Gibson’s novel as well – somehow cyberpunk stories seem to be fixated with Asian city districts with street vendors, dark rainy streets, neon lights and people with perky hair in the 80’s fashion.

I believe a fractionalization of the society often bears bad signs. A lot has changed since 1990’s when there was a slight sense of a common society shared by many. Nowadays, people find themselves in various groups, cliques, bubbles and fractions, looking for a belonging in a world where like-minded seem to be difficult to locate. Also, feelings of otherness and discrimination are common features in the now.

But the question remains: Do fractionalization and cliques cause a loss of belonging and on the other hand distance from many others? I believe the sense of understanding and empathy is on the decrease. People cannot relate to each other. But why does it seem so and is it really like that?

In a review published in 1985, Gerald Jonas argues that the 21st century world depicted in the novel is “(…) chilling in its implications. The theme is power.” The protagonist ends up going from one leash to another. Freedom and independence seem hard to achieve in the fictional world of the novel.

Advances in computer technology and bioengineering have made it possible to create human beings of preternatural strength and agility. (…) Like everyone else in his world, [the protagonist] Case can think of nothing to do with his talent except sell it to the highest bidder, which inevitably turns out to be one of the giant corporations whose no-holds-barred rivalries transcend nationality, ideology and even the normal constraints of space and time: (…).” (Jonas 1985)

To emphasize the inter-dependence and loss of self-reliance of the humans, Gibson uses sentences on the border to nonsense, such as the examples depicted above. Maybe they re-emphasize the fact that there is no longer freedom, nothing really matters anymore. So why bother with anything other than pure nonsense. This might be on the verge of too gloomy, what do you think?

Neuromancer. Photo: Petteri Sulonen (CC BY 2.0)
Neuromancer. Photo: Petteri Sulonen (CC BY 2.0)

More information
– Gerald Jonas: SCIENCE FICTION, published in The New York Times on 24 November 1985, link retrieved on 21 May 2017
– Ken Macleod: Neuromancer by William Gibson, book of a lifetime: An intricate and forgettable plot, published in the Independent on 26 February 2015, link retrieved on 21 May 2017
– John Mullan: John Mullan on William Gibson’s Neuromancer – Guardian book club, published in the Guardian on 7 November 2014, link retrieved on 21 May 2017
– David Wallace-Wells: William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211, published in the Paris Review Issue 197/2011, link retrieved on 21 May 2017
– Gabriel Winslow-Yost: William Gibson’s Man-Made Future, published in The New Yorker on 8 December 2014, link retrieved on 21 May 2017

David Byrne is Inside Your Amiga. From an unrealized “Neuromancer” videogame with Timothy Leary, artwork by Brummbaer in Deluxe Paint. Photo: Daniel Rehn (CC BY 2.0)
David Byrne is Inside Your Amiga. From an unrealized “Neuromancer” videogame with Timothy Leary, artwork by Brummbaer in Deluxe Paint. Photo: Daniel Rehn (CC BY 2.0)

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”
~William Gibson, Neuromancer


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

One thought on “Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s