William Gibson: Neuromancer – Review

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…

How can I describe Neuromancer? Probably by writing something with far too much unnecessary alliteration. A rip-roaring roller-coaster ride resembling a prophetic vision of our recent reality maybe? That’s something that I could imagine being on a blurb of a sci-fi book in the 80s…

Anyway, I got about halfway through this book almost 2 years ago before drunkenly leaving it at a friends house in somewhere in the sprawl of suburban London. Fast forward to the present and I’m living in a different kind of sprawl amongst the neon lights of East Asia. It seems quite appropriate that I finished the book here.

Neuromancer is really somewhere between a work of utter genius and the speculative ramblings of an inexperienced sci-fi writer. It’s extremely difficult to follow (even the second time round) and many of the characters and settings are unexplained or underdeveloped. However, in a sort of backwards way this is arguably one of the book’s biggest strengths. You are thrown head first into a world of technological acronyms and digital codes that are not explained to you by any omniscient narrator – you the reader have to try and work out what’s going on while it’s all happening, and this is no easy task. There is no break in the action for any kind of sustained explanation and this leaves you with a real sense of what life in a dark digital dystopia must feel like. In other words, Gibson’s scatty, action packed, fast paced writing is the perfect aesthetic style for the world he’s trying to envision, and it’s a world that has, as many readers are well aware, become eerily close to our own.

The fact that this book was released in 1984 is absolutely staggering in my opinion and it’s honestly a pretty big surprise that it hasn’t dated badly at all. Gibson actually joked that one of the only things that kids these days would found completely off about Neuromancer’s predictions is that no one is carrying around smartphones.

All in all as I’ve recently been digging down the rabbit hole of accelerationism and retracing my routes in the philosophy of technology Neuromancer was the perfect thing to read. Not quite worth 5 stars but easily deserving of 4. I’m going to give another book of Gibson’s a read to hopefully see if his ideas are as prescient as they were in this book when he has had more time to develop as an author.

A couple of my favourite quotes:

‘His vision crawled with ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines of symbols arranging themselves against the neutral backdrop of the bunker wall. He looked at the backs of his hands, saw faint neon molecules crawling beneath the skin, ordered by the unknowable code. He raised his right hand and moved it experimentally. It left a faint, fading trail of strobed afterimages. The hair stood up along his arms and at the back of his neck. He crouched there with his teeth bared and felt for the music. The pulse faded, returned, faded…’

‘It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way could ever read…’

‘But weren’t the zaibatsus more like that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their DNA encoded in silicon?’

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