by William Gibson
Review by Ernest Lilley
Ace Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0441012035
Date: 30 November, 2004 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Twenty years. Well, they sure went by in a cyber-blur. I can remember when all we had were dialup modems and BBSs. What's that? Speak up there young man ... these ears aren't bionic. Eh? Bulletin Board Systems. Like a website, but not connected to anything except some phone lines. Slow? Ha. You can't imagine.
Two decades ago, when William Gibson sat down at his manual typewriter (no, I'm not going to explain what a typewriter is...except that when Mark Twain became the first novelist to use one it was as radical as using a word processor) and wrote: "The sky was the color of television tuned to a dead channel" he knew little about the future and cared less. In fact, we know today that the color of a dead channel is blue. Or whatever your digital tuner comes up with when it can't come up with anything.
Gibson went on to be ruined by hanging out too much at the MIT media lab, which was interesting, since they got ruined by hanging out too much with Gibson. One went on to create virtual reality according to the master's plan ... and the other got weighted down with real reality and found the range of his vision forever shortened. Reality bites.
Neuromancer came along after a bloody civil war within SF. The Golden Age authors had more or less beaten back the New Wavers and when Bill coined the term "cyberspace" and his dystopian corporate future he expected to have the establishment bar the doors and fill the moat with alligators. Instead, to his horror and delight ... they strew the road before him with genetically enhanced roses, donned cheap sunglasses and leather jackets and proclaimed him king.
A brief side note here - Vernor Vinge's True Names had pioneered many of these ideas earlier ... and his notion of the "Singularity"...the time after AI's pass humans in intelligence is at the core of the Neuromancer. For some reason, nobody says, William Gibson is the new Vinge!
I loved Neuromancer. Still do. The rest of the novels aren't nearly as much fun, unlike say, Stephenson's work ... which has been evolving nicely. Not that I don't think Gibson couldn't write something kick-ass tomorrow, but it would have to be in a different universe.
More than a story though, this work created a new future, and since it was full of mercenary corporations and personal computers rather than idealistic young teens and spaceships, it turned out to be a much more plausible world than the one dreamed up in the Golden Age. We can't "jack" our nervous systems directly into the web...that's a decade or more away. But we do pretty well with high-res monitors and surround sound systems, and if you look at the quality of the images in Halo 2, just released, you should agree that our virtual reality has come a long way.
I asked the author what happened to his un-hero, Case, since he drops out of the story universe in books to come, though Mollie makes appearances. "He settled down in the suburbs and had kids." Gibson told me sadly. Hey, it's not that bad. Kids are where new stories come from, and new stories are where new futures come from.
I'm for both.
If you haven't read Neuromancer, just do it. If you have, go back and read it again, knowing what you know now. It's still a great story.