Book Review: Neuromancer

neuromancer

Cover art for William Gibson’s novel “Neuromancer

I imagine that I’m supposed to feel guilty about reading “old” science fiction. After all, William Gibson’s inaugural SciFi novel Neuromancer is 35 years old and, according to one commentator at File 770 when criticizing award-winning science fiction writer and legend Robert Silverberg‘s criticism of award-winning science fiction author N.K. Jemisin, one of Silverberg’s many faults was that he hasn’t read any science fiction created within the past decade. Gee, I hope I’m not ruffling anyone’s feathers by going “old school.” On the other hand, the book did win a Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo, so there is that.

Gibson’s “Neuromancer” probably launched the cyberpunk genre, and although some of the references are older (television, pay phones), it’s held up very well. Today, science fiction publications are loaded with references to artificial intelligence (AI) but in the 1980s, it must have been a rarity, although I’ll never know why everyone assumes a programmed, non-human intelligence must presuppose a personality or even intent.

I read this novel because it’s a classic, plus it was recommended to me. I downloaded the relatively inexpensive ebook onto my Kindle Fire (the book wasn’t in my local library system’s catalog for some inexplicable reason) and have been working my way through it for the past several weeks in my so-called spare time.

It was wonderful and depressing. More to the point, people and machines vacillated as to which ones would be more or less human (and is being human a good or bad thing).

At the center of the story is a down and out cyber-hustler named Case who is given a second shot at being one of the world’s top “console cowboys,” but at a price. Thrown in with a motley crew of (possible) criminals reminiscent of a science fiction “Maltese Falcon,” he is pulled deeper into a realm where varying competing AIs, particularly one called “Wintermute,” are manipulating him to create their own incomprehensible endgame.

Molly, bodyguard/hit girl for the mysterious Armitage, Case’s employer, becomes his lover as well as his co-conspirator, but everyone and everything in this novel isn’t what they/it appears to be.

It has a happy ending of sorts, although as the intelligence that emerges out of Wintermute quipped, “things aren’t different, things are things.” In one sense, Case survives somewhat better off then we found him at the beginning of the story, but like the start, at the end, he’s still alone and I’m not sure he’s grown or changed.

It’s a great story and terrific writing, but by the last virtual page, I felt like my emotions were lying limp on the floor like a deflated balloon. I know that Gibson originally had no intention of writing a sequel to “Neuromancer,” but my understanding is that he did anyway. I’m not so sure he should have, but then, I’d have to read the rest of the “Sprawl Trilogy” to find out. Not sure I’m up to that yet.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Neuromancer

  1. You make a comment about N K Jemisin, but I didn’t see a link to the comments made by one writer for the other. I’d be interested in knowing the dirt that was dished. I’m a fan of Jemisin and, despite being a sci fi fan for decades, not familiar with Gibson. Goggling their names together didn’t bring results. If you have the reference handy or could point me in the direction, I’d be interested in reading about it.

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    • You’d have to dig deep into the article Silverberg wrote for File 770, but the basics are that Silverberg made a comment about Jemisin’s Hugo acceptance speech that he thought was on a private forum. Someone leaked the comment, which could probably best be characterized as insensitive to Jemisin’s journey as an African-American SciFi author and tons and tons of people pushed back against him hard, frankly harder than I thought he deserved. I think it was a case of fandom and certain participants in the literary industry blowing things up out of proportion, though I’m sure they’d disagree with me. This is a link to the Silverberg write up, but you’ll have to dig through all the comments to get the full context.

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