Neuromancer by William Gibson is a 1984 cyberpunk novel. It was the first winner of the science fiction ‘triple crown’ when it was awarded the Nebula Award, Philip K. Dick Award, and Hugo Award in the same year. I came to know about this novel through the All TIME 100 Novels list.
“There is no way to overstate how radical Gibson’s first and best novel was when it first appeared. He combined a shattered, neon-chased, postmodern cityscape — its inhabitants rendered demi-human by designer drugs, tattoos and rampant surgical body modifications — with his vision of a three-dimensional virtual landscape created by networked computers, through which bad-ass bandit hackers roam like high plains drifters. When one such hacker, Case, gets banned from this “cyberspace” — Gibson was among the first to use the word — he’ll do anything to get back in, including embarking on a near-suicidal cyber-assault on an all but unhackable artificial intelligence. Violent, visceral and visionary (there’s no other word for it), Neuromancer proved, not for the first or last time, that science fiction is more than a mass-market paperback genre, it’s a crucial tool by which an age shaped by and obsessed with technology can understand itself.” (by Lev Grossman)
Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel and is the first book in the Sprawl Trilogy. Reading this novel I was tossed into a whole new world of vocabulary and it comes as no surprise to me that at the time of publication this novel had what Wikipedia describes as “significant linguistic influence”. The term ‘cyberspace’ first appeared on the pages of Neuromancer and quickly entered popular culture. Gibson is also credited with the popularisation of the term ‘ICE’ which Wikipedia defines as “a term used in cyberpunk literature to refer to security programs which protect computerized data from being accessed by hackers”. While I can say that I knew what ‘cyberspace’ meant I had no clue what ‘ICE’ was, along with many other terms Gibson uses throughout this story.
The world of Neuromancer is as strange and new as the words and Gibson does not stop and fill up the narrative with explanations of either. You get on, hold tight, and enjoy the ride. I have to say that I felt throughout that the popular writing advice ‘show, don’t tell’ was perfectly employed here. You eventually figure it all out as more and more is revealed to you.
This is the first novel of this type that I’ve read before and I really enjoyed it. It was different, wild, and cool. It never occurred to me at any point that it was published in 1984 because the story itself is set in some other time where humans and tech are physically and culturally intertwined. You imagine it to be the future, how far into the future I don’t know. Gibson doesn’t specify and I liked that he left it to me to imagine for myself.
This novel is still as relevant today as it was to readers in the 80s. It gives us a glimpse into a possible future that is not only still a viable option but probably a much more easily imagined option to us now. This is a dark and gritty adventure into AI, cyberspace, and the tech culture of the future. I really enjoyed it so I recommend it to readers who are into a bit of sci-fi and adventure.