THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL! Kind of. William Gibson would never claim credit for starting a genre, especially given how much of his writing borrows from those who came before him, both in the reading of his childhood in the 1950s and 1960s and through the writing of his most recent forebears investigating anti-capital and anti-heteronormative ideas in the 1960s and 1970s. This novel has a lot to owe to writers like Alfred Bester and Samuel Delaney, among many others.
So this is the second time I’ve read this novel, and I find myself significantly less mesmerized as I was when I first read it. As an historical artifact kind of novel, it’s utterly brilliant and wonderfully. So many of the images we conjure up to talk about AI, “cyberspace” (a term Gibson apparently coined, and cyberpunk tropes like jacking on and the conflation of Eastern and Western cultural icons (street samurai, for example)…..it’s all here.
But also, man, this is a first novel. It’s clunky at times, it’s soooooooooooo serious, and while it’s brilliant in so many ways….it’s not a lot of fun at all. I know, I know. No book has to be fun. But it’s absolutely dripping in dourness. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which owes an infinite amount of debt to this book, is fun, and funny. The tone of this book is self-serious like the movie Blade Runner.
So while it can certainly be forgiven for its missed marks ala future technology….something that Gibson talks about in his 20th anniversary edition introduction, it’s much harder to forgive a dreary dreary world without more to anchor me in the narrative itself. I just read the equally dreary Shadow of the Torturer, but found more in the world to be mesmerized by in that one.