By William Gibson
Ace Books 1984/1986
ISBN: 0 441 56959 5
The novel that kicked off the entire cyberpunk genre, and still a good read today.
It’s worth remembering that when Gibson wrote this book on a manual typewriter, the Internet consisted of about a thousand servers, MS-DOS 2.11 was the operating system for IBM PCs, and the Apple Macintosh had just been released. Some have claimed that Gibson’s descriptions of ‘the matrix’, or ‘the web’, has shaped how we view and use the Internet today – a case of life imitating art, though perhaps not so surprising when you consider the number of people in the science and technology sphere who also enjoy science fiction.
‘Neuromancer’ has all the, now standard, elements one would expect in a cyberpunk novel – morally ambiguous protagonist who, for all his posturing and native ability, is often a pawn of forces beyond his control; huge, impersonal mega-corporations, often Japanese, that run the world; population pressure resulting in enormous, densely settled urban areas (Gibson’s Sprawl could possibly trace its genesis back to Mega-City 1 of the 1970’s ‘2000AD’ comic book); a political power-elite who are so far removed from the cares and worries of the ordinary citizen that they either regard the latter as a different species/source of amusement, or as some sort of inarticulate threat to their own position and privilege; and tech toys and gadgets, often of military origin, that have fallen/been pushed/sold into private (often criminal) hands.
It is interesting that while most cyberpunk is fairly downbeat in the resolution of the story line, with the underlying subtext being that an individual, not matter how heroic, cannot redeem the dark future from corporate greed and popular indifference and will be lucky to save only him/her self, ‘Neuromancer’ seems to suggest the possibility of something better coming from the actions of the characters.