Neuromancer is a book that is well revered by lovers of cyberpunk and science fiction. It pioneered many of the tropes that we associate with cyberpunk today. It even coined a few phrases that have become regular terminology today. Written in 1984, many feel like the book was ahead of its time. It’s hard for me to determine how the book was received back in 1984, a year before I was born, but I can say that reading Neuromancer in 2017 isn’t easy.
I imagine that this book was first published when there weren’t many books of its kind, if at all. Therefore I believe that the book was carried on its originality alone. Furthermore, society was on a different level of thinking back then that may have made it easy to appreciate this book. Sadly, if you’re reading Neuromancer for the first time in 2017 then you may find the writing to be a struggle.
In my opinion, we’ve been spoiled with storytelling that is capable of carrying us through the most intricate plots in a way that we don’t have to think too hard to get the point. With Neuromancer, the writing is so technical that you often have to reread segments at a time to understand what just happened. There’s little explanation in Gibson’s writing, leaving it to the reader to fill in the blanks. Oftentimes it felt as though Gibson wrote as if he believed the reader would be able to understand what is happening just because he understood what was happening in his own mind. This was Gibson’s debut novel, so perhaps the lack of narrative cues are down to him being a first time author (back then).
Once you are able to actually figure out what is happening in Neuromancer, you’ll discover that it’s a simple plot with lots of style. The book follows an ex-hacker named Case who used to use neural implants to connect to a global computer network called Cyberspace (or the Matrix). As punishment for trying to steal from his employer, Case’s central nervous system was damaged with a mycotoxin, disabling him from accessing Cyberspace. Eventually Case is approached by a street-samurai freelancer named Molly, who is hired by a mysterious man named Armitage. Armitage offers to cure Case and allow him to get back into the Matrix if he agrees to pull off a number of hacks for him. This leads to a huge conspiracy involving the merging of two A.I systems.
On paper, this is a plot summary that gets me excited. The problem is the execution of the story makes it hard to properly enjoy it without either rereading pages or doing external research online to understand everything in the book. The scenes in the book can be so jumpy that it’s hard to tell when characters go from one place to the next. Also, characters are randomly introduced to scenes without any logic or explanation. Many times I found myself zoning out while reading due to a lack of comprehension. Other times, I was so excited by the imagination of Gibson that I would fly through chapters at a time willing to go where ever Gibson was leading me.
Where Neuromancer leads you, is to a conclusion that may not be as fulfilling as you expect. The ending certainly made me interested in knowing what happens in the following books, but the density of the writing makes me hesitant to continue with the series. Neuromancer does at least wrap up Case’s story, so there’s no pressure to continue with the series as the next couple of books feature new characters. Neuromancer is technically a short book, at just under 300 pages. But don’t let the page count fool you into thinking it will be an quick read, as it’s likely a book you will be reading at a slower pace.
Neuromancer is an extremely niche book that you shouldn’t recommend to everyone. It’s a book that I believe you have to be a certain kind of person to truly enjoy. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some modern books with hackers that focus on being easy to understand for the reader, so having to read something as densely written as Neuromancer was a struggle for both me and my reading partner. My advice is to only pick this book up if you know what you’re getting into ahead of time and you’re okay with it.
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