William Gibson’s classic 1984 kick ass sci-fi novel Neuromancer can be quoted in the same lofty margins of prophetic books from the last century which include Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984.
In Neuromancer Gibson imagined the high-tech world of the World Wide Web and future technology years before it become a reality.
In his afterword to the 2000 re-issue of the book Jack Womack goes as far as to suggest that Gibson’s vision of cyberspace may have inspired the way in which the Internet developed (particularly the World Wide Web), posing “[w]hat if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?” (269). Indeed while Tim Berners-Lee was messing around writing code creating what would be become the web Gibson had already imagined a world were computers were connected globally and where hackers tried to hack into military and corporate interests. The term cyberspace “the notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs” first appeared in Neuromancer.
“The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … 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.”
One of the best sci fi books ever written it rightly gets lauded for predicting lots of future technology and some of the issues it will bring but one of the great things about Neuromancer is Gibson’s dazzling prose which is electric, poetically visual and cinematic.
The book opens with the line:
‘The sky above the port was the colour of television turned to a dead channel’
The text feels cultured, philosophical, stylish and state of the art. All aspects that you feel Gibson is expressing and knows about.
“He closed his eyes.
Found the ridged face of the power stud.
And in the bloodlit dark behind his eyes, silver phosphenes boiled in from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like a film compiled of random frames. Symbols, figures, faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala of visual information.
Please, he prayed, now-
A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky.
Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray. Expanding-
And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of the military systems, forever beyond his reach.
And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face.”
Gibson shows that he can be a great story teller. The book is part mystery and detective novel with a great plot and characters with personality. All the components to compel you to read more, excited at where the story is going to take you.
Gibson has a gift for characterisation as good as the best work of Dickens but being less wordy and making them more multi-dimensional. He also expertly brings in clever and engaging backstories for characters that are slowly introduced into the story. Case, a burnt out former ace hacker who has descended to a lowly pusher and drug addict, Molly the cool femme fatale razor-chick assassin, Armitage, the ex-Green Beret who has been put in charge of enlisting a team including Case and Molly for a daring mission. Wintermute, a AI, who is trying to free itself from the limitations imposed by its creators and enter the realms of superintelligence and Dixie Flatline, a famous computer hacker whose mind was saved onto a ROM which can be accessed are just a few of the main characters in the book.
God knows what an average reader not weaned on tech sci fi stuff would have made of the book in 1984 with its strange terminology and terms. Remember this was pre-mobile phones, laptops, streaming, the analogue and not digital age when we still communicated by sending letters and stationery telephones.
But reading it today the descriptions of a bonkers futuristic world that the book’s main protagonist Case frequents feel strangely familiar and even more bizarrely relevant. You may need a handy glossary to clarify all the weird and wonderful places and things that Gibson conjures up from his fertile imagination but many words given our greater familiarity with technology we can guess their meanings.
We can also internalise and have empathy for Case’s predicaments, without being a coder, hacker or drug addict for that matter, living in our modern digital world experience and exposure to the contemporary matrix.
Gibson said that in creating Neuromancer how it was “really the world that we live in but just pushed a little bit.” But he really stretched his creative imaginary mind to produce what he did. His bold vision of a brave new world. Sure, he may have predicted a few things that some critics have said he got wrong but hey the world is full of stuff that were certain to be the future, IPhone watches and Google Glasses don’t seem likely to catch on any time soon. But he got a lot of things right and some of the things which are still a little outlandish in the book may very well turn out to be just as prophetic one day. It is entirely possible that future generations will revisit this book when they are all living in the Sprawl, able to change their appearances at will if they so choose and jacking into worlds where the virtual and real become increasingly hard to distinguish.
5 of the best William Gibson books
William Gibson revolutionised science fiction in his 1984 debut Neuromancer. The writer who gave us the matrix and coined the term ‘cyberspace’ produced a first novel that won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards, and lit the fuse on the Cyberpunk movement.
More than three decades later, Gibson’s text is as stylish as ever, his noir narrative still glitters like chrome in the shadows and his depictions of the rise and abuse of corporate power look more prescient every day. Part thriller, part warning, Neuromancer is a timeless classic of modern SF and one of the 20th century’s most potent and compelling visions of the future.
Cayce Pollard owes her living to her pathological sensitivity to logos. In London to consult for the world’s coolest ad agency, she finds herself catapulted, via her addiction to a mysterious body of fragmentary film footage, uploaded to the Web by a shadowy auteur, into a global quest for this unknown ‘garage Kubrick’. Cayce becomes involved with an eccentric hacker, a vengeful ad executive, a defrocked mathematician, a Tokyo Otaku-coven known as Eye of the Dragon and, eventually, the elusive ‘Kubrick’ himself.
William Gibson’s novel is about the eternal mystery of London, the coolest sneakers in the world, and life in (the former) USSR.
Tautly-written and suspenseful, BURNING CHROME collects 10 of his best short stories with a preface from Bruce Sterling, co-Cyberpunk and editor of the seminal anthology MIRRORSHADES. These brilliant, high-resolution stories show Gibson’s characters and intensely-realized worlds at his absolute best.
Rydell is on his way back to near-future San Francisco. A stint as a security man in an all-night Los Angeles convenience store has convinced him his career is going nowhere, but his friend Laney, phoning from Tokyo, says there’s more interesting work for him in Northern California. And there is, although it will eventually involve his former girlfriend, a Taoist assassin, the secrets Laney has been hacking out of the depths of DatAmerica, the CEO of the PR firm that secretly runs the world and the apocalyptic technological transformation of, well, everything. William Gibson’s new novel, set in the soon-to-be-fact world of VIRTUAL LIGHT and IDORU, completes a stunning, brilliantly imagined trilogy about the post-Net world.
Flynne Fisher lives in rural near-future America where jobs are scarce and veterans from the wars are finding it hard to recover. She scrapes a living doing some freelance online game-playing, participating in some pretty weird stuff. Wilf Netherton lives in London, seventy-some years later, on the far side of decades of slow-motion apocalypse. Things though are good for the haves, and there aren’t many have-nots left.
Flynne and Wilf are about to meet one another. Her world will be altered utterly, and Wilf’s, for all its decadence and power, will learn that some of these third-world types from the distant past can be real badass.