If ever a book could be considered the father of Cyberpunk, Neuromancer would be it. Written in 1984 by William Gibson, Neuromancer tells the story of a punk hacker called Case who is down on his luck until a mysterious client gives him one last shot at redemption to complete a heist with a rag-tag team against an unknown wealthy entity.
This book has a couple different settings with a couple different main characters. The two main characters are Henry Dorsett Case and Molly Millions, an augmented mercenary. Case is a ‘console cowboy’ who used to be good at hacking the virtual reality dataspace called “the Matrix” until he was infected with a toxin that left him unable to access the Matrix ever again. That is, until a persuasive benefactor offers to cure him in return for one last job, which of course he is unable to turn down. The benefactor, someone name Armitage, hires him along with Molly and a couple others to complete a series of hacking and heist jobs.
This story takes place in a couple of different settings. The first is in Chiba City, Japan, in the underbelly of this dystopian world. The second is in Istanbul, Turkey. The third is in a cylindrical wealthy space habitat called Freeside.
If this all sounds pretty confusing, that’s because it is. The plot and the settings are highly confusing, as are all the character’s backstory. And Gibson makes sure to throw the reader into all of this without explaining any of it.
One of the things I loved about this book was in Gibson’s ability to describe these fantastical places, as well as his penchant for incredible gritty punk dialogue. He shines most in the Chiba City settings, so much so that it actually added to my already dying wish to visit Japan by adding Chiba City to the list. His description of the luxurious city of Freeside was also incredible, especially considering when the book was written.
The problem with Gibson’s writing, though, is that he really needed to take some more time to explain what in the blazes is going on.
It was so bad at times that I had to consult Wikipedia and different sources online to figure out what was happening in the story, where they were, what they were doing, and why it was important. In order for a book to be truly great, it should be able to stand on its own, and not confuse its reader such that they need external sources to explain what is happening.
I think I may be in the minority here in being underwhelmed by the book, even though by the end I did thoroughly enjoy it. It simply wasn’t what I was expecting. I wish the plot were a little less complicated, or explained a bit more, and I would have also liked to see a more driving plotline. Although there is a sense of urgency as Case is on a pressing timeline for finishing the job in time, the sense of urgency is diminished a bit by the confusion of the whole story.
Nonetheless, it was a great read, and the contributions the book made to the cyberpunk community can’t be stressed enough. I think if you take the book Neuromancer and combine it with the 1982 movie blade runner, you would have the seeds of all the main cyberpunk genre. While Phillip K Dick did have a lot of ideas and contributed to the genre, it didn’t exist before these two, and then when Snowcrash came along it was considered post-cyberpunk I believe. Gibson created the idea of the Matrix 15 years before the seminal 1999 movie came out, and I suspect it had a big influence on that movie. I am grateful to all that came after Neuromancer, but upon taking the book by itself at face value, there is a lot that could be improved.
Overall, I would give the book 7.5 out of 10.
P.S. The first line of the book is considered by some to be a work of art, so I figured I’d include it below so you get a small taste of Gibson’s incredible writing style.
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”