Saturday, February 21, 2009

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Case is a ruined hacker whose skills are once again needed! Along with his ragtag band of partners, including a ninja-girl with blades in her fingernails, a psychopath who can cause hallucinations, an entire space station worth of Rastafarians, and a crazy former general, Case ventures deep into the cyberspace Sprawl to take on a rouge AI before it's too late!

Pros:

- Neuromancer is probably more famous for the accuracy of its predictions as it is its actual plot. According to the wiki, the terms “cyberspace”, “ice” (in connection with computerized safeguards), and “the matrix” were all either invented or popularized in its pages. Further, it predicted to a large extent what the web wouldn't be for another two decades. Strip away the virtual reality trappings of Gibson's cyberspace, and it's a place similar to the modern-day internet. Concepts of social networking, Second Life, hacking, and even the Wild West-style anarchy that is 4chan can be found.

- The near-future world Gibson created is compelling, much more so than the characters he creates to inhabit it (more on that later). Virtually everyone has physical enhancements, ranging from computerized hearts to hologram projectors. Things are relentlessly dark, and, although not much time is spent on it, the populace appears to spend most of its free time trying to escape the real world--in clubs, in the Sprawl, and out of their heads on all sorts of substances.

- The writing itself is good, if sometimes a bit florid. Gibson has a gift for description, and uses it well, especially when setting scenes early on in the novel.

Cons:

- For the most part, the characters are flat. Case himself is defined sparely with his hacking history and reliance of drugs. Molly is a ninja with blades in her fingers, and, although she isn't overly developed either, she's given the only really introspective scene in the novel, where, through a headset from miles away, she tells Cash about the death of her lover at the hands of the Yakuza.

- On the subject of characters, I'm still confused about what Case's function within the group was. (MILD SPOILERS) He's said to be an accomplished hacker, one of the best, but we never see him do anything particularly impressive. His greatest triumph, breaking through the “ice” surrounding Wintermute, is accomplished by a) commanding an AI construct of a dead hacker to get him to the ice (which, in the Sprawl, exists in some sort of virtually physical space), and b) running a program he purchased from some other hackers. Considering the money his employer spends to add him to the team, it seems like they could have outsourced his job to a trained monkey and gotten similar results.

- The plot is strange. I have no problem with complex plots, but while Neuromancer is positively stuffed with ideas, excising a few of the weaker ones, such as the aforementioned Rastafarian space station, would have tightened the narrative considerably. The first half , while the team is being assembled and the world is being explored, is the most involving. Once the mission gets underway, though, it begins to fragment, finally climaxing with a sort-of twist that seems to come out of the blue.

- The (SPOILER!) sex scene is kind of strangely explicit, both considering the tone of the book as a whole and the aspects the scene itself focuses on.

Ultimately, my main complaint with Neuromancer is that it never really pulled me in, or, rather, it pulled me in and then lost me as the characters and world took second place to a plot that was less interesting than they were. If the whole story had focused on Molly, I would have gotten more out of it.

Between my middling feelings toward Neuromancer and my seeming inability to finish Snow Crash, I doubt cyberpunk will ever be my favorite genre. My summary is too cursory, but on the other hand, aside from going into extreme detail about the plot, I don't know what else to say about it. I'm glad I read it, and I am going to finish Snow Crash (which, in spite of sometimes falling into cool-for-the-sake-of-it territory has stronger characters), but I don't think I'll be buying shuriken anytime soon.

4 comments:

Christopher said...

I guess I should read this and Snow Crash but the plot synopses sounds so, so, so stupid.

Nihil Novum said...

I recommend skipping this and heading straight to Snow Crash. It's sort of satirical so it's a little easier to swallow.

Misbehavin' said...

I found Neuromancer confusing in parts too. Still, I enjoyed Gibson's prose, and found the overall mood of the work very alluring.

I can't say I'm enjoying Snow Crash. It's not working even as a satire, because the humor so far is too corny for my tastes.

Chewie6577 said...

Indeed. Neuromancer sounded like a good one to read while I was visiting Japan. It was a rollicking ride, but like you, the characters fell flat. The Rastafarian space station seemed oddly absurd and out of place with the story.