Friday, December 4, 2015

Neuromancer Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: William Gibson
Publisher: Ace
Genre: Cyberpunk
Series: Sprawl Book One
Pages: 271

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Neuromancer today is widely hailed as a classic science fiction novel. It was the first SFF book to win the Philip K. Dick Award, the Hugo, and the Nebula all in the same year.  Its author, William Gibson coined the term cyberspace, nearly a full decade before the internet went commercial in the 90’s.  Neuromancer also started an entire new science fiction sub-genre called cyberpunk.

With the string of accomplishments listed above it’s not hard to imagine why I was excited to read the book.  Unfortunately, for me personally Neuromancer was a major let down.

Case is a data thief, a drug addict, and a former master of the Matrix – a hallucination of the world that represents every bit of data in cyberspace.  After being crippled by former associates of his, he is given the opportunity to regain his ability if he helps a new mysterious employer target and bring down one of the most powerful Artificial Intelligence’s in the world.
Cyberpunk is a science fiction sub-genre that fuses low life decadent imagery alongside glamorized visions of new technology.  The genre usually features loners, hackers, powerful A.I.’s, or powerful corporations or ruling structures that need to be brought down.  The setting is oftentimes the near future.  Neuromancer employs all of these ideas to a certain degree – as it should – it pioneered this genre.

Stylistically Neuromancer is brilliant.  The shifting in and out of the Matrix cyberworld, the clash of imagery between Case and his low life status as a drug abuser against his glorious status as a master of the Matrix is a great conceptual idea. The books jaded views on technology, especially the Matrix, should connect the reader with the dangers of our own ever increasing digital world.

Where this book exceeds in style and concept, it made no connection with me emotionally. For example, Case wants to regain his abilities within the Matrix, he presumably wants to end his addiction to drugs.  More important than either of these things though is the fact that Case wants to reunite with his love, Linda.  These are all emotional ideas, and they make for a great story, but they are explored or arrived to in ways where they made no emotional impact on me as a reader. This isn’t just a problem with Case, it’s with all of the characters.

Further frustrating the book, was its difficulty level and all of the confusion it creates.  It will take a while for the reader to realize when the characters are in the Matrix and when they are in the real world.  Additionally, there is a sizable cast of characters to keep track of in this book, which clocks in just under 300 pages. I enjoy a challenging book, but if I’m going to put in the effort then there better be a big payoff – especially on an emotional level – and that’s something that just doesn’t happen in Neuromancer.  When the story reaches its long awaited conclusion, I wasn’t moved, and knowing conceptually that the author had the right idea, made reading it all the more frustrating that the stories resolution carried no emotional impact.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read what could be considered a classic novel, only for it to turn out to be a giant disappointment. This is a book that’s all flash and no smash. It’s has great stylization and concepts, but it ultimately feels meaningless. Neuromancer is recommended to people who want to see where the cyberpunk genre came from, or where the Wachowski brothers ripped of their Matrix Trilogy from, otherwise I would steer clear.

Score: 5.6

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