Neuromancer was the first masterpiece of cyberpunk. It invented the Matrix, and coined the term 'cyberspace'. Unfortunately, I kind of hated reading it.
The novel, by William Gibson, follows the exploits of a cyber-cowboy by the name of Case. Cut-off from his life as a super-hacker by a vengeful ex-employer, he’s on a self-destructive spiral that can only end with his own demise. However, before this can happen he’s half-convinced, half press-ganged into employment by a mysterious AI. The AI restores his ability to enter the cyberspace, sending him on a perilous adventure of Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics, mega-corporations and street-samurai.
I loved Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash even more. When I was a kid, the The Matrix blew my tiny mind. I was primed and ready for the book that influenced all of these and more. What I found was far from what I’d hoped. I’m sure that Neuromancer has leagues of fans who’d disagree with me vehemently, so I’m going to try and briefly explain just why I didn’t enjoy this book.
I’ll start by trying to explain why Neuromancer is so well regarded. It’s undeniably visionary; William Gibson isn’t trying to translate the ideas or language presented in his setting into a form familiar to the reader. He’s telling his story from the point of view of characters born and raised in his cyberpunk world. The main character, Case, is no newbie who needs his world explaining to him, and also therefore to the reader. If I found the characters flat and soulless, it’s because Gibson envisioned a future where technology has alienated us from each other as well as from our own emotions. If I didn’t understand what anyone was saying, well that it only makes sense; after all, nobody stops to explain slang or neologisms to those in their own social environment. The difference is that in this case, the author isn’t going to explain them either.
So, William Gibson’s novel is a brave imagining, and an amazingly forward-thinking work. However, the reasons I disliked it are are bound to the same reasons mentioned above. It’s boring to read something I can’t understand without deconstructing a pile of jargon every paragraph. I’m not interested in characters who are so detached that they seem like barely cognizant passengers in their own lives. I can’t get excited about events that I can’t make sense of until they reach their conclusion.
Neuromancer is somewhat comparable to Orwell’s 1984. It’s startling in the accuracy of its predictions, and it carries a grave warning of a dystopian society that may be closer than we think. However, it differs from Orwell’s novel in a very important way; it’s just not a very good story.