Neuromancer by William Gibson is what first brought cyberspace into the world and for that, it is very much a landmark novel. However, as such an important piece of science fiction, the new ideas Neuromancer introduced bring with them a whole heap of confusion and lack of clarity. Strangely, therein is the beauty of Gibson’s work.
Neuromancer is the first of The Sprawl Trilogy, followed by Count Zero and then Mona Lisa Overdrive.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” The opening line is written in the exact way the rest of the book will follow: simple sentences, graphic details, unusual imagery. At all times, no matter what Gibson is explaining, the descriptions are clearly and easily readable. Sometimes it can feel like lists of description, excluding metaphor and simile, but that is because they are built into the world themselves. His descriptions of false, manufactured skylines are literal and stark, but impacting, in a world that is as imaginative as it is haunting.
Neuromancer’s main character, Case, is a tech jockey, a space cowboy with a drug addiction and a suicidal death sentence. His bleak views on the world are life itself are heavily reflected by the bleak world around him. whether it’s the slums of Chiba City or the ethereal matrix. At all times, we are reading a dark reality. Yet, Gibson’s characters are layered with as much humour as complexity and they keep the tone from getting too dark. It is a colourful cast of assassins, army men and Rastafarians, each with their own struggles and journeys. The revelation of the characters’ inner desires is handled elegantly, never revealing too much to soon. This control of pace is what acts as buoyancy for the reader in a novel that is very, very confusing.
Why is it confusing? The location changes frequently in the novel and it’s not often signposted. It doesn’t take long to realise the location has changed, but Gibson has no intention of holding the reader’s hand. It is halfway into a lengthy description of surroundings that you discover this new setting is not just a new neighbourhood, but a new city entirely, maybe even a new country. In a similar sense, the workings of Gibson’s cyberspace and the matrix are, for the most part, unexplained. Case jacks himself full of stimulants, hooks himself up, flips a switch and wham!, he’s there. Where’s “there”? Well, you’ll have to read to find that out for yourself.
Ultimately, there is only so much to say in a review of this book, none of which does it justice. To best describe it, Neuromancer is an experience. It is one of those true books that transports you to a whole new world and, even if you have to work for it at times, it delivers a thrilling story loaded with terrifying truths and reflections on society. It is best enjoyed with an open mind and a furrowed brow. Not a light read by any means, but not James Joyce, either.