Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Neuromancer

Neuromancer by William Gibson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A good friend of mine has seven copies of 'Neuromancer'. He's got the right idea, because I think I'd need to read it seven times just to understand it. There's no chance of spoilers here because hardly any paragraphs revealed the plot to me, such that at the end I had to look up the plot summary on Wikipedia just so I'd have some idea of what I'd just read.

Since the concepts of 'cyberspace', 'virtual reality', 'the Matrix' and computer hacking are so much better understood now than when the book was written in 1984, I'm amazed anyone understood 'Neuromancer' at all when it was published. Yet it won shed-loads of awards and influenced a generation of SF writers, so someone made a lot more sense of it than I did. If you're wondering why no-one writes simple, futuristic SF yarns like Asimov or Arthur C Clarke any more, blame William Gibson.

'Neuromancer' is set in a low-rent, post-apocalyptic dystopia that reminded me of Naked Lunch, with the same drug-addled craziness that blurs the boundaries between reality and nightmare to the point of invisibility. There are also strong echoes of Blade Runner and even, with the barely grasped world of deception and dishonesty, The Big Sleep (it's surely no coincidence that the last lines are almost the same). Characters appear and are discarded; live and die and flip into and out of computer existences where life and death cease to have any meaning. The cyber-heist plot spirals away into a grim battle for survival in the real and virtual worlds and the final resolution is as baffling as the journey that led there.

So why three stars instead of one? Well there was something compelling about the narrative; its confused weirdness somehow mirrored the hero Case's bafflement and warped, drugged-up consciousness. I settled on reading it not to understand it but to go with the flow, rather as one listens to a Beethoven symphony. This is the same approach that worked with Jacob Polley's Talk of the Town and Ulysses. Try to understand it and you're on a hiding to nothing.

Whatever drugs Gibson was on, I don't want them.

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