I started to compose this review in my head even before I’d finished the book. William Gibson is my dad’s favorite writer, and while I’ve read one or two of his short stories, I’ve never read his novels (Gibson, not Dad). I decided to start with Neuromancer as it’s the book that really made Gibson famous as the founder of the cyberpunk genre and which popularized the term ‘cyberspace’ which Gibson made up in a previous publication; it was also the first book to ever win the Triple Crown of science fiction: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the Philip K. Dick Award. The only idea I really had about the book was something Dad had said about another of Gibson’s novels (I think it might have been Idoru): that the heroes were all losers in the end but the ending wasn’t too unhappy since they were all losers together.
My experience with the short stories was similar to my reaction to a lot of Haruki Murakami novels: well that was really weird, but kind of interesting. My reaction to Neuromancer was “???????” Half of the time I wasn’t sure what was going on, and occasionally I had to backtrack to try to figure out what a term meant since I must have missed it earlier. I’m now pretty sure I hadn’t actually missed anything. This is one of those stories that just drops you into the world of the story and you have to flounder a round a while until you get enough to start following what’s going on. That I don’t mind in itself, but I do mind when I have no idea what characters are talking about or what is going on plot-wise when I’m ¾ of the way through the novel. I’m generally a fairly careful reader; I’m an English teacher. I almost never have to even consider using an online study aid for something as basic as plot, yet here I was reaching for Wikipedia’s plot summary. I’m not sure whether it’s the Wikipedia or the story, but I still don’t see how some apparently significant chunks of plot are discernable in the actual text of the novel. I’m pretty sure the Matrix movies borrow heavily from Neuromancer, but I haven’t actually seen any of those movies either. I wonder if that might have been helpful. I rather doubt it, since I have seen most of the original Ghost in Shell animes which as far as I can tell share a similar level of technology and worldview, and that wasn’t of much use.
Anyways, here’s what I did get: loser drug addict Chase is a loser because during a career as a brilliant hacker, he tried to cheat his bosses who retaliated by screwing up his nervous system in a way that meant he could no longer hack. He is approached by Molly who is a street ninja who recruits/forces him into the company of her boss Armitage who wants to hire Case. Armitage tells Case he can get that neurological damage healed, and it will stay healed if he helps Armitage with his plans. If he doesn’t help, then Case will revert back. Somehow a sentient (?I think) AI named Wintermute gets involved and tries to communicate with Case and get his cooperation, while Molly and Case try to figure who Armitage is and what he wants. This bit I actually understood though I’m not totally sure what the point of the answer actually is. It’s probably something to do with human and artificial intelligence and cyberspace communication and potential consequences. The ending, after the grand hacking is accomplished and the entity of the title is explained/revealed, I again only partially understood. I get what happens to Chase and his general situation at the end but his weird vision in the final few lines does not compute. I’m quite certain if I’d gotten more of a handle of the rest, this too might make sense. But I didn’t, and it doesn’t. Conclusion: I see why this was famous in terms of the world, genre, and style. I even understand there’s some kind of commentary being made. I just have no freaking clue what any of it actually is or means.