|3 out of 5 stars|
Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employers crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.
I can certainly see where Neuromancer was important in the 1980s when it was published. It brings together many threads of literature and assembles a lot of ideas that hadn’t previously been combined. There is the drug culture and general aura of darkness of Philip K. Dick’s fiction; the technology of Spider Robinson’s Mindkiller; the emergent machine intelligence foreshadowed by Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress; the “heist” elements of the story. For me, it also had faint echoes of Dhalgren, with the whole “degeneration of society” aspect. I can also see where Neuromancer and Blade Runner both had influence on The Matrix movies.
The idea of computer hacking was fresher in the 80s—the mass media was just starting to catch on to what it was and who was involved in it. Neuromancer explores possible future implications of hacking, including being able to directly wire one’s self into cyberspace or to eavesdrop on/ride along with augmented people. The bulkiness of the gear required to do this is shocking to 21st century sensibilities—our hardware just keeps getting more compact. This is one of the aspects of the book that truly ages it.
There are lots ideas that were au courant then that really haven’t turned into mainstream items. Despite a lot of work, no one has managed to create a sentient artificial intelligence, so we don’t need a Turing Law Code to govern such things. It was a great idea on Gibson’s part, however. Space habitats that are easily accessed and cryogenics are still fiction at this point as well.
I was struck by Case’s disparagement of his “meat,” his physical body. Our physical selves have their limitations, but they are also the sources of our greatest comforts—food, sleep, sex—and I’m unsure that we would feel the same emotions without our brain structures to support them. I, for one, have no desire to ever be uploaded to a machine—like the Flatliner Dixie that Case works with, I hope to cease to exist when my time comes.
I give high marks for the world building—I felt like I could actually envision the dark corners of The Sprawl. Somewhat depressing is the fact that so many people are still living on the edge, scrambling to make enough cash to support themselves. So much for the happy, prosperous futures envisioned in earlier science fiction.
This is book number 188 in my science fiction & fantasy reading project.