Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson (82%)

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.

Review: Spiders by Tom Hoyle (56%)

Spiders by Tom Hoyle – the blurb on the back cover says “They’ll make your skin crawl.” That’s it.

‘Intriguing,’ I thought. ‘He’s saved all the writing for inside the book.’ It turned out not to be the case.

Spiders is the sequel to Thirteen and is for children and low teens. Or, to use that icky word, Middle Grade ficton.

This was a book I wanted to like. Heck, it was a book I wanted to love! Tom Hoyle is the pseudonym for a school principal – I hoped this would give for true characters. Unfortunately, this is where the book fell apart, right from the outset.

The third person narration takes the perspective of many characters in this book, most centrally three teens. Adam, who is suffering from past events that we are never properly told about, is a cardboard character who draws little emotion from the reader, even when in extreme peril. Megan, his girlfriend, is little more than Adam’s sidekick. She follows his plans and, when she leads her own decisions at one time in the book, she immediately reverts to the role of the lackey once Adam is back by her side. Then there’s Abbie, the badass girl who beats people up, especially if they’re guys. This is all because of her parents’ separation and because her dad is an undercover agent that’s never around. Such an original character portrait that I groaned whenever she appeared.

In terms of the many perspectives, this is one of the things Hoyle actually does really well. For the most part, each chapter jumps to one of the teens, but always in a clear way. Occasionally, within the chapters, the perspective shifts and even then, Hoyle keeps this clean. It was easy to follow at all times and never tripped up.

Unfortunately, this is where it stopped. To match the bland characters, a bland plot was created. A cult are planning to drug parts of Britain, as well as holding a mass suicide. The reasons for doing this aren’t original, but they’re interesting, yet Hoyle doesn’t explore them thoroughly. The book could also go in an entirely different direction in regards to the cult’s kidnapping victims, but they remain dormant for the whole book which ends as disappointingly as it carries through. The villain loses, the victims are freed. I didn’t expect otherwise, but it never seemed doubtful, even when the victims were in horrendous positions.

A lot of this comes down to pacing issues with the book. It could easily have gone on for another 50-100 pages, possibly restricted by its genre. The final ‘showdown’, in an isolated castle, could have called for larger heroics and a much more dramatic conclusion, which would have picked up a lot of the book’s.

In a book that aimed to be a James Bond for teens, this fell very short of the mark. The plot and characters are unremarkable and the ending disappointing. However, there’s still some interesting scenes in the book that I haven’t put in this review for spoiler reasons. The actual telling of the story and perspective shifts keeps it moving and relatively interesting too, up until the end. So, although it was packed with disappointment and (shamefully) several editing mistakes, some of which were quite confusing, the book was okay. Not great, not abysmal, but okay.

If you still plan to get this, definitely get the book before it: Thirteen, if only to clear up the confusion about Adam and Megan’s backstory.