Seminal cyberpunk (5 stars)
Written in 1984, Neuromancer is widely considered one of the seminal classics of cyberpunk, a sci fi subgenre that is pessimistic and dystopic, with themes like the fusion between body and cybernetic technology, corrupt corporations controlling society, hackers and antiheroes. Neuromancer was William Gibson’s first book and the first to get the three main sci fi awards: Nebula, Philip K. Dick and the Hugo.
Dystopias from previous decades had totalitarian governments taken to the nth-degree, like in George Orwell’s 1984. I find very interesting how this is inverted in 1980’s dystopias, as they imagine a supposedly free society where capitalism has gone wild. Neuromancer’s influence is enormous, ideas like cyberspace and the internet were born from this book in a way.
The narrative follows a former hacker called Case, who can’t jack into cyberspace anymore because of a neurotoxin implanted in his brain by a former employer he tried to cheat. He ends up being recruited by a “street samurai” called Molly, to join her in a heist job. Molly is perhaps the most interesting character in the book, a cyborg with dagger-like nails and mirrored lenses planted in her eyes. Among the other characters there is a mental construct of Case’s former teacher, a sociopath that can create illusions at will and a former special forces guy that apparently leads this “Ocean’s Eleven” crew from the future of our past.
It is frightening how Neuromancer describes artificial intelligences, entities that could take over the world if freed from their virtual prisons. The book also addresses how even human minds could be “hacked” and dominated by these AI’s, and dealing with them is no different that dealing with the demons of yore. It is very curious how this high tech world can look like a medieval universe of wizards conjuring demons.
The book has that Blade Runner neonoir feel, film that was released two years before the book, fact that brought Gibson to the brink of despair and made him rewrite the book a dozen times, because he was convinced that everyone would think he copied the movie.
Neuromancer is a fascinating time capsule of how our past saw the future – notably, Gibson missed on some technologies like cell phones. This is a superbly written book, even the esoteric descriptions of technological terms are a joy to read because of Gibson’s descriptions.