Released in 1984, Neuromancer was one of those rare moments that broke the mold, pretty much inventing the notion of cyberspace and beginning the genre of the cyberpunk novel.
It's been many years since I first read this book and I am re-visiting it here as part of my desire to read all the Hugo award winners. The story follows Case, one of the finest cowboys working in the cyberspace "Sprawl" and accessing top level corporate data systems for his employer. That is until he realised how small a cut he was getting in such a deal and made the mistake of trying to fence an item in Amsterdam for a higher price.
His employers took exception to this and destroyed his talent, burning him out so he could no longer work the matrix.
Fast forward a few years and Case is in Japan, looking for a cure so he can once again experience the adrenalin rush of cyberspace. His travel seems for naught until he is offered a job by a wealthy patron with the promise to re-build his cyber connections. Of course there is always a catch and this one includes a life-threatening job in orbit running with the violent "Molly" but it seems a small price to pay to get back into the Matrix after 2 years disconnected.
What follows is a futuristic, noir tinged crime thriller that throws the reader into the world of the virtual and offers an incredibly rich roller-coaster journey and a dazzling story of future tech. Reading this again after more than 20 years, almost 30 since it was originally written provides an insight into the influence this one book has had within the science fiction world and indeed the larger world too. Some of this influence is very clear, such as the terms "Matrix" and "Zion", while others are more subtle.
I was surprised at how much this technology still made a lot of sense, 30 years is a huge amount of time in the world of technology and in 1984 the birth of home entertainment was only just beginning - the very first Apple Macintosh went on sale, the Space Shuttle Discovery made its very first flight and Sony invented the 3 1/2 "floppy" disk - a big advance on the 5 1/4 inch disks people had to use previously.
The standard framework for the modern network (using the TCP/IP protocol stack) had only recently been invented and the internet itself didn't exist in any meaningful way. I would have been 10 years old for most of 1984 and acquired my very first computer - a ZX Spectrum 48k+, programs of which had to be loaded from cassette tape and took an age to run.
Thinking about the level of technology of 1984 highlights just how ahead of it's time Neuromancer really was, even now the technology doesn't seem outlandish or particularly dated - with the exception of the oft used term "modem" and lack of mobiles or smartphones, it is a real testament to the talents of the author that the book has aged so well.
The story has a real complexity to it, a rich narrative liberally sprinkled with literary allusions to large corporations, computer programming, Asian geography and even the Rastafari movement. The result is a challenging read despite the lucid and rewarding prose and dynamic characterisation, it is a novel that you have to devote your full attention to and if you do it will reward you, massively.
Gibson is a master storyteller who weaves his web to a perfect pace and perfectly placed plot with brief, instense descriptions of action and moments of calm and reflection. The backdrop of Neuromancer describes a dark, dis-enchanted and noir-tinged world with a juxtapostion of high tech and nature through which moves our broken hero, a reluctant detective on with dependency issues and a thirst to return to his life within cyberspace.
A true classic in every sense of the word.
Written on Wednesday 5th December 2012 by Antony.
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