Neuromancer (1984) By William Gibson Review

Author: William Gibson
Published in 1984

Review By Chongchen Saelee

“Neuromancer” is the chosen template for modern sci-fi stories since it’s publication. It seems every modern sci-fi story from The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, etc, all borrow heavily from Neuromancer. If not the exact storyline, they borrow the speculative Asian culture imagery. But masquerading around as a futuristic caper story, Neuromancer is actually more like a crime noir story, since main plot device involves protagonist Henry Dorsett Case’s lost love Linda Lee. It bookends the whole story, although executed kinda sloppily.

Overall plot revolves around “cowboy” or what we call these days “hacker” Henry Dorsett Case, a 24-year-old thin druggy white guy. He lives a dangerous lifestyle in a dangerous futuristic world that resembles modern Tokyo. Case makes a living hacking into computer systems and otherwise cyber espionage. He spends that money on drugs and prostitutes. Of course future drugs don’t just come in the form of chemical substances, for those with man-machine interface built into their heads, they can get high off of “microsoft” which is essentially programs that scramble their brains temporarily. Mind-blowing, right?

Anyway, Case is in love with his trashy girlfriend Linda Lee, who apparently spends all day at the arcades, and they have sex and do drugs all day long. How romantic. One day creepy but sexy assassin Molly Millions interrupts Case’s life by killing Linda during a chase and other drama. It turns out Molly introduction to Case wasn’t an accident. She was actually dispatched by a secretive figure called Armitage to recruit Case for a major secret showdown against super powerful artificial intelligence called Wintermute.

Along the way, wacky colorful characters are introduced. There may be some twists. But a lot of the creativity in story telling isn’t in the flowery sentences presented by Gibson, but by the gimmicky layers of reality. If you have a hard time telling which scenes are in the real world, which are in the immediate matrix, and which are in the virtual worlds of the matrix (the matrix in the matrix), then it might be hard to know what’s going on. The thing is, though, if you have watched movies like The Matrix or Inception, you might have been conditioned well enough to understand where they got their storytelling gimmick from, so Neuromancer might be easier to read (if kids haven’t lost ability for reading comprehension these days).

Case and Molly become hot lovers along the way. But I want to make a point about how reader might get confused how to envision Case starting from about half-way to end of the book. You see, Case and his team have to spend a lot of time in Zion, this space station full of Haitian or Jamaican looking folks who don’t take kindly to strangers. And Zionists are like black folks with bleached blonde hair. So Molly paints Case up in full body blackface. Yes. There’s like two mentions of it where Case feet are not covered completely. So just be mindful of how Case is “supposed” to look throughout that last half of the book, he is in blackface, even in the matrix.

So Wintermute toys with Case and his team as they make a physical pilgrimage to Tessier-Ashpool, a stronghold that holds supercomputer, and try to physically infiltrate it. Then they also have to infiltrate the supercomputer using man-machine interface, a lot of plugging trodes into sockets in heads and flipping switches and jacks. I’m sure back in the day, that was revolutionary imagery. So that’s where a lot of that fancy flying through cyberspace imagery comes into play.

Of course, Case trying figure out what Wintermute’s main motive is. We eventually learn Wintermute just wants to live or evolve, being that it such a powerful AI, it can control technology in the real world. The twist later reveals there is another powerful AI called Neuromancer who wants to delete Wintermute or merge with it, essentially absorbing all of Wintermute’s knowledge and power.

In the end, Neuromancer turns out to be WAY more clever and powerful than Wintermute ever was, and reveals to Case that it was able to steal Case away from carrying out his mission. It’s implied that Case was so competent at defeating Wintermute that he may been a threat to Neuromancer itself. So Neuromancer played with Case emotions, particularly his love for murdered girlfriend Linda Lee, and ultimately trapped Case inside the matrix. Thus Neuromancer defeated his competition Wintermute but also potential threat by Case. Of course, the ending is left a little ambiguous, but my interpretation is that Case never made it out.

Overall, it’s not bad. Gibson did admit he rushed rewriting the entire novel because Blade Runner the movie seemed rip him off during his process of writing Neuromancer. I wouldn’t doubt it, Neuromancer does seem a little sloppy in parts. For example, Case getting infected with dangerous infection just didn’t seem that urgent by the end. And it was resolved with like a sentence, something like, “Neuromancer deleted it”. Yeah, seriously. Plot device didn’t even need to exist. For the most part, what drove the story was Case’s need to rescue Molly. It got him to the final destination, then out of the blue made Case’s motivation about avenging his dead girlfriend Linda Lee, of which he never avenged by killing Molly Millions. It’s just all wrapped up very fast. That’s how you know it’s a fantasy solution and Case never made it out.

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