Neuromancer: An Introduction

Hello everyone! So, this is my last post of the month and as I said last week, I’ll be doing my next few posts about Neuromancer. I want to get into detail with where some of the coolest ideas of the book have shaped science fiction, but with this post I’d like to start with an introduction to the book, to the ideas I’ll be examining, and on the book’s impact not only on sci-fi but on the world.

**WARNING: All of my enthusiasm and endorsements are tempered by the unfortunately very graphic violent and sexual content in this book. It’s not as bad as some, but it’s definitely there, so I cannot in good conscience recommend this book without making this very clear. You have been warned. To those put off by this I would say don’t read it, but the examination of the science fiction elements in this novel should still be very interesting to you**

Pretty Good for a First

Neuromancer original coverYou would be surprised just how many ideas and words you encounter every day that can be traced back to William Gibson’s book, Neuromancer, which is the first of his Sprawl trilogy (not something I knew before researching this). It was the first ever winner of the science-fiction “triple crown” of the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award, reflecting the science fiction community’s acknowledgement of this book’s worth and impact. It was also Gibson’s first full-length novel, which is in itself amazing. Reading Gibson’s recollection of his own doubts and terror at having the novel commissioned even though in his mind he was several years away from it is heartening to a new writer such as myself, to say the least. What got Gibson so much attention, however, were the radical new takes on new ideas, and the gritty texture of his new science fiction experience, later called cyberpunk. Underworlds of crime and hacker cred, against the powerful, the politicians, and tyrants of all shapes and sizes, all set in a world defined by technology and the new frontier of cyberspace… but I’ll get to that. Here are some of the ideas that really made Neuromancer stand out:

  • The Internet: By the time of Gibson’s writing of Neuromancer, the internet was just becoming commercialized. Starting as networks of university and research computers that were combined into networks of networks (then called “internetworks”), corporations and governments quickly realized the economic and political potential of an international, publically accessable system, and the internet proper was born. With the publishing of Neuromancer, however, we have a “chicken and the egg” scenario. It appears that Gibson’s vision of the internet as Cyberspace (a term he coined himself in a short story which wasn’t popularized until his first novel) may have affected how people envisioned what it would become, and thus affected its development. Inventions such as chat software, video chatting, Massively Multiplayer Online games, and many of the other social aspects of the internet appear to be derived from the idea of the internet not just being a cold, physical data network of millions of computers, but a world in itself. Certainly, at least we would not have the idea of cyberspace without Neuromancer, and that’s credit enough as it is.
  • Cybernetics and Prosthetics: Gibson’s “street samurai” such as his character Molly Millions are mechanically altered and prosthetically enhanced warriors and mercenaries built to survive and thrive in the harsh world of cyberpunk. The idea of humans mechanically enhanced by technology is not from Gibson (that started back in the 60’s), but his take on it is unique. Characters in Neuromancer not only utilize cybernetics to prolong and enhance their lives, but “just because.” There is a fixation, a popularity, and a commercialism surrounding Gibson’s enhancements. There is an entire subculture in the book itself that is obsessed with surgeries and enhancements that make them look and act like cats, for crying out loud. It’s a turn that was very unique in its day, and a flavor that characterizes much of science fiction still today.
  • Artificial Intelligence: This is the thrust of the novel to such a degree that it will be hard not to spoil it if you haven’t read it, but if you don’t plan to (due to my warning above or otherwise), it turns out through the course of events that the characters have all in one way or another been manipulated by a massively powerful and mysterious A.I. bent on merging with another A.I. in order to become an entity far more powerful than anything that could be legally created. In Gibson’s world, the Turing Police (named for the Turing Test) ensure that no one creates an A.I. that might decide to kill everyone and take over the world Terminator-style. He also has his A.I. characters (as well as his Constructs, which are copies of human personalities stored data modules called ROM’s) interacting constantly with his Cyberspace, and the problems and questions that arise are unique and interesting, adding a depth to Gibson’s gritty world. But more on that later.

Well, that’s all for now! I’ll get into how each of these ideas changed the shape of science fiction on my next rotation. Until then, what do you all think of cyberspace and these other ideas in fiction? Is it a hit or miss for you? Let me know in the comments below!