“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
William Gibson writes about technology, the future and urban life in a way that is poetic and often quite abstract, enthralled with computers in the same way that others are by nature. He approaches these things from such an alien perspective that it can make his intricate plots hard to follow. (Not that it matters too much to me, though; when reading a book, I’ll always pay more attention to prose than plot.) He doesn’t give you a large amount of context or background information, as you’re expected to read his work from the perspective of somebody who is familiar with all of the technobabble and takes their world for granted. Neuromancer uses familiarity to make the reader feel like an outsider, and it’s all of this that makes it stand out from many of its imitators. The only aspects of it that feel dated are the surface ones, because those are the tropes that have been copied most often. (And Gibson himself copied some of those from detective fiction.) While the hackers, ninjas and fast-paced action scenes have become overused, the deeper aspects tend to be left untouched. Neuromancer might be a thriller, but it is one that is totally immersed in its world, to the point where it becomes disorientating. Like Jeff Noon’s Vurt series, it shows us just how weird the future could be, and how weird our present would be to somebody from the past.
There are characters in this novel such as Molly, Riviera and 3Jane (my favourite), who could easily have been introduced as individuals with unique abilities. Instead, Gibson shows how weird they have become, thanks to the technology that alters them. Molly has computer screen eyes, for instance. Her eyes aren’t balls contained in sockets, but smooth glass. She can’t even cry like a normal person does. Her tears come out through her mouth or something, so whenever she spits it’s a hint that she could be in pain. Case, the protagonist, uses his skills as a hacker to “jack in” and see things from her eyes, and, in a way, share her body. Doing something like that would no doubt be a dizzying experience, and while Gibson only touches on it lightly, he does give us some idea of what such a sensation would be like.
“Into her darkness, a churning synaesthesia, where her pain was the taste of old iron, scent of melon, wings of a moth brushing her cheek. She was unconscious, and he was barred from her dreams. When the optic chip flared, the alphanumerics were haloed, each one ringed with a faint pink aura. “
Neuromancer is like the result of a time paradox. It’s a book that seems influenced by itself, like Gibson from the past read it in the future or something. The descriptions of the arcade, the beach and the cityscapes read like the creation of someone who has spent all their time reading the novels, watching the films and playing the video games that took influence from this. There’s something lonely about Linda Lee, who reminds so much of the people who love stories like this. As for Lady 3Jane, I read her as an anime character, mostly because she really does seem like one. 3Jane could have easily written the book herself, too, because her fascination with cyberspace leads to her dialogue being some of the most beautiful parts of Gibson’s writing. I could imagine 3Jane reading the whole thing out loud in her calm voice.
While it lacks the maturity of Pattern Recognition, this is still a brilliant work, especially considering that it was Gibson’s debut as a novelist. I usually don’t enjoy action novels, but this one is so well-written that it doesn’t matter, focusing more on the thriller aspects. The biggest flaw is his portrayal of Molly, who does end up being objectified. It’s a shame, because she’s otherwise an interesting character, and those moments leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Luckily, his later works seem to contain far less of that.) Aside from that unfortunate shortcoming, though, Neuromancer is a great book, with enough substance to back up its style.