Neuromancer is a book you experience rather than read.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer is the quintessential cyberpunk novel, epitomizing its ‘high-tech low-life’ ethos.
If you haven’t read it by now, or if you’ve read it but want to learn more about it, read on.
The plot sees the ‘hacker’ Case team up with a team of futuristic ne’er-do-wells, including the cybernetically souped-up assassin Molly Millions, to carry out a series of shady heists. They have to do this under the leadership of the mysterious Armitage.
The team does not know the ultimate purpose of the tasks they carry out but they are sure it isn’t pleasant.
It’s Not the Future – it’s The Present
Many reviews have focused on Gibson as a futurist, which is possibly true but largely irrelevant to the main aspects of Neuromancer. Gibson wasn’t trying to predict the future, he was using an imagined future to examine what drives humanity in general.
This drives a lot of classic science fiction and stops these books from dating even when their visions of the future have become impossible or redundant.
Body Enhancement at The Expense of the Soul
Many characters in Neuromancer have modified their bodies to match their primary motivations rather than to widen the boundaries of their experience. Using body modification to enhance the physical while stripping the individual down to their basic essence.
Molly Millions, who has her body cybernetically altered into becoming a killing machine, is a perfect example of this. Throughout the novel, she says the refrain “it’s just the way I’m wired” in relation to her actions. This is, of course, true both in the sense of ‘this is the way she is’ and in the more sense of the way she is she, quite literally, wired.
Another character is so obsessed with manipulation that he has modified his body to enable him to cause others to hallucinate what he wishes them to, further indulging his obsession.
This could be seen as Gibson issuing a warning: technology can mutilate the soul if used to indulge our primary motivations. A modern analogy to this would be using the internet to find information that only ever backs up our worldview.
A world in flux
Like other cyberpunk novels, the setting for Neuromancer can be challenging. That Gibson refuses to offer any more detail than necessary does not help. He is also rather stingy when it comes to exposition, with the plot jerking from one scene to the next without warning or explanation. While seemingly chaotic, this style of storytelling also works to convey the sense of a world in a constant state of flux.
Eight Awesome Neuromancer Quotes
Gibson’s style is so unique I thought it worth pointing out and elaborating on some of the best quotes in the novel.
“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
The opening of Neuromancer gives you some idea of the bleak world we are about to enter.
“We have sealed ourselves away behind our money, growing inward, generating a seamless universe of self.”
A stark sentence, but perhaps one that accurately describes the sadness of the modern western condition.
“Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button.”
A line that sums up the naked aggression of Night City.
“Biz here was a constant subliminal hum, and death the accepted punishment for laziness, carelessness, lack of grace, the failure to heed the demands of an intricate protocol.”
Welcome to a world where the cost of failure is a forgotten death, and the reward for success is simply survival.
“Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.”
This idea of flesh as a prison is littered throughout Neuromancer, a novel full of people who want to augment their bodies in ways that ultimately denigrate them.
“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 the 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. . ”
I’ve chosen this paragraph because it shows off the poetry in Gibson’s style.
“and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void. . . .”
Here we see the seductive beauty of the Matrix in Neuromancer.
“Case turned back, in time to catch the briefest flash of a black rose, its petals sheened like leather, the black stem thorned with bright chrome.”
If you could condense all cyberpunk into one line, it would be this.
Neuromancer is a science fiction classic for a reason, and I hope that if you haven’t read this book this post will lead you to. For those who have read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts on Neuromancer, even if you are telling me I have completely missed the point.
If you’re looking for more cyberpunk classics, check out my list of must-read cyberpunk novels.