Neuromancer

William Gibson

Neuromancer - cover

One of the most amazing novels I have ever read, Neuromancer changed forever the way I would think (and write) about the future for ever.  There is something disquietingly real about a super hi-tech world of cybernetic interfaces and implants, huge urban sprawl, Artificial Intelligence, and Asian Hegemony (only I would replace the Japanese with the Chinese as the economic and technological superpower of the early to mid 21 st century).  The low life characters and snappy narrative, so reminiscent of Raymond Chandler (who indeed was a big influence on Gibson apparently), completes the conjuration of a true Future Noir.   Central to the narrative is Case, a "console cowboy" (future equivelent of a modern hacker/cracker) who is hired by the mysterious Armitage and teams up with cyborg "razor girl" Molly.

As cultural critic external linkMark Dery explains in his superb book Escape Velocity - cyberculturte at the end of the century, pp.250-52

"Case exemplifies what Andrew Ross has called the "technocolonization of the body." Bodies, like every square foot of public space and the natural environment, are corporate property in Neuromancer's near-future dystopia. A smooth operator's eyes, "vatgrown" like the genetically engineered eyes of Blade Runner's replicants, say nothing about their owner and everything about brand-name affiliation: "[S]ea-green Nikon transplants" in a "tanned and forgettable mask," they are the turthest thing from windows of the soul.  Salaryman serfs in Japanese corporate fiefdoms are tattooed with their company logos and "above a certain level [are] implanted with advanced microprocessois that [monitor] mutagen levels in the blood-stream" to ensure mutation-free employees (the futuristic equivalent of drug-free employees).  Meanwhile, in the upper echelons of the zaibatsus - the all-powerful multinationals that are themselves "vast single organisms, their DNA coded in silicon" -the captains of industry have remade them selves through the "gradual and willing accommodation of the machine, the system, the parent organism" into "both more and less than people. "  Even Molly, the former "meat puppet" (prostitute) who has bootstrapped herself into the lucrative profession of "street samurai" with the aid of costly surgery, is simply a meat puppet of another sort. Although she exudes the coiled power of the high-tech assassin (her artificial nails conceal scalpel blades, her eye sockets are sealed with mirrored lenses that provide night vision and a constant stream of data), she is still hired muscle, a foot soldier whose body will always be someone else's weapon.

This is only nominally science fiction: Gibson carries current trends in corporate culture (mandatory drug testing, health-care-related hiring policies that bar employees from smoking on the job or off, the use cosmetic surgery by "unemployed males 'competing with younger people' to gain a competitive edge in the job market) to their ultimate conclusion.  Even Neuromancer's posthuman zaibatsu kingpins have one foot in the present. The Japanophile W David Kubiak mentions an Osaka executive who, "before destroying evidence and himself to thwart an investigation of his firm, wrote, ''I am but one. The kaisha [corporation] is many. My life is transient. The kaisha is forever!' "

The present-day gulf between the information-rich yuppie elite and the swelling ranks of the minimum~wage service industry or the criminalized poor is writ large in Neuromancer's body politics. Case inhabits a future-tense version of the two-tiered, neo-Dickensian America of the eighties and nineties, "an age of affordable beauty" where money can buy a "blandly handsome blend of pop faces" or "shoulders bulging with grafted muscle"; haute couture modifications (flesh "tattooed with a luminous digital display wired to a subcutaneous chip'); and even practical immortality: A 135-year-old wheeler-dealer named Julius Deane, "his metabolism assiduously warped by a weekly fortune in serums and hormones," has his DNA code reset each year by genetic surgeons.  The underdasses, by contrast, undergo anatomical makeovers to improve their salability in the marketplace or as rites of passage into the punk gangs that are the urban jungle's postmodern primitives.

Neuromancer is permeated by a fatalistic resignation to the futility of any attempt at a political power shift: Case and Molly are utterly apolitical, aspiring to the peak of their professions-the glamorized corporate soldier of fortune-and nothing more. Although as quasi-autonomous agents they are arguably better off than the undifferentiated megalopolitan masses  ("a field of flesh shot through with sudden eddies of need and gratification'), their fleeting tastes of freedom and power consist, ironically, of bodily sensation. Case's disembodied POV banks and rolls through cyberspace like that of a top-gun pilot ("Headlong motion through walls of emerald green, milky jade, the sensation of speed beyond anything he'd known before').  Molly stalks the urban combat zone with predatory speed and off-kilter grace ("She seemed continually on the verge of colliding with someone, but people melted out of her way, stepped sideways, made room'). Kinesis replaces political action.

But the "horizonless" infinity of the matrix and the endless iterations of the Sprawl - the cityscape that stretches from Boston to Atlanta - offer only the illusion of unrestricted movement: in a world where nation-states have been swallowed up by multinationals and the imaginary geography of the matrix is dominated by icons of corporate capital, the rights of the individual are bounded on every side. In Neuromancer, writes Ross,

the decisions that count are always being made elsewhere, in circumstances well beyond the control of interested stiffs like Case or. . . Molly. . . . Despite the technical education in the workings of power that they undergo, such people are usually even less in control of their futures at the end of a Gibson adventure than they were to begin with.
Andrew Ross, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits p.150
Fusing stoic resignation, existential ennui, and future shock in the flattened affect that characterizes Homo Cyber, Molly shrugs off the directionless violence of her pinball existence with the throwaway line, "I guess it's just the way I'm wired."  Like the autistic astronauts in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey or Deckard, the deadpan, monotoned fiatfoot in Blade Runner, the borged and morphed humans in Neuromancer are, as external linkDonna Haraway put it, "frighteningly inert"; their machines - especially the self-aware Al, Wintermute, who is behind the novel's machinations - are "disturbingly lively." Ultimately, it is the machines who command their own destinies in the truest sense. The consciousness that is Wintermute attains a sort of godhood when it fuses with an Al called Neuromancer and becomes one with the All-in this case, the matrix.

Case's rewards, at the end of the novel, are a fresh pancreas - the better, presumably, to indulge in the amphetamines that seem to be his greatest carnal pleasure - and a new cyberspace deck that offers instant (if illusory and transitory) escape from meat hell. If religion is the opiate of the masses and Marxism the opiate of the intellectual, then cyberspace is the opiate of the twenty-first-century schizoid man, polarized between mind and body."

Mark Dery, internal linkEscape Velocity - cyberculture at the end of the century,




World Wide Web - Neuromancer Links - World Wide Web

The Cyberpunk Project electronic bookNeuromancer - complete text on-line!!!!

web pagelinksNeuromancer - about William Gibson's cyberpunk classic

Web SiteWILLIAM GIBSON TOOLKIT - Neuromancer references

on-line essayes The Erotic Ontology of Cyberspace - Michael Heim - a chapter from Michael Heim's book The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993: 82-108. - speculations on Plato, Leibnitz, Gnoticism, and Gibson (especially Neuromancer)
Cyberspace and Critical TheoryMolly on-line essayesheaps of links!Commentary on Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy - includes academic essays and lots of links to related sources

web pageNeuromancer - although this guy heaps shit on Neuromancer he has some interesting things to say about the historical context, and comparisons with Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination.  Very interesting, a shame the reviewer is so anti-cyberpunk.





back to Cyberpunk index page
 Cyberpunk
  index page



content by M.Alan Kazlev page created and uploaded 20 February 1999
modified 25 July
& again 1 January 2000 (whoohoo! my first 2000 AD updated page!!!! ;-)
and again on 1 June 2003