I can’t imagine what it would have been like to read William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984. It’s so absurdly dense and riddled with cryptic terms which have since become commonplace, that it must have been virtually hieroglyphic at the time. Part of the experience of Neuromancer is this incredible recent-history disconnect: to know that the course of 24 years have brought us a substantial step closer to Gibson’s world than we might have anticipated, that it would make concepts like “cyberspace” and “matrix” the stuff of pop-culture movies and general, undisputed understanding. Is that the ultimate litmus test of science fiction, that it starts to come true while it’s still fresh in the memory of its readers? Or maybe it’s because of Neuromancer that any of these things happened. Either way, it’s almost shocking to see how heavy-handedly the novel’s themes have been borrowed over the years: The Matrix took most of it and tossed in some plagiarized Baudrillard, Blade Runner took Chiba, took Case, the look of the book and its the self-loathing antihero.
Whatever, I suppose that’s selling Gibson short: reading Neuromancer in the light of its descendants is hardly fair, and the book isn’t about extrapolation or future-conjecture anyway. It lacks the earnest explanatory nature of many “hard” sci-fi books or even the Popular Mechanics-zeal of Arthur C. Clarke, who always seems to be tugging on your t-shirt and whispering, “It could happen, and I’m going to kind of bore you with the details!” Gibson is just…already there, and he has little intention of drawing a reassuring point from A to B. In a way, that’s what advances him beyond the genre, and why it makes sense that he’s writing regular fiction now: he has nothing to prove. The world is fucked up and he knows it.
It’s hard to talk about how good it is without feeling like I’m two decades late to a party I forgot to go to.
Here is a really awesome Neuromancer-related art project, in the works, from Brody Condon, which is a really cyberpunk kind of name, if you ask me.
NEXT TOME: ARTHUR C. CLARKE’S IMPERIAL EARTH.