jack into the ice,
joeboy, you’re fallin’ hard, eyes
like shuriken dust
The following is a quasi-review of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It is not meant to be a full analysis or synopsis of the book, but rather a glimpse into its character, voice, and my impressions or questions upon reading it. There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read Neuromancer, please go read it! It’s not the easiest to get through but I promise it’s worth it.
Neuromancer is grim, reckless, intricate, dark, difficult, a bit disturbing, and I was hooked on every second of it. Now, that’s not to say I loved it — there’s a difference. It isn’t a book that gushes into your heart with ease (although Gibson has a way of fusing lyrical prose into gritty scenarios, and it’s always amazing to see it in action). It’s a book that leaves you uncomfortable yet thoughtful. It’s something that sticks and lingers like a name, a glint of memory.
There are so many themes and issues that the novel covers, but there was one that kept nudging my mind: Neuromancer digs into what it means to be human and what it means to sell, buy, trade what we hold important, whether it be survival, our bodies, our minds. Nearly everything has become a commodity, from limbs to organs, from personas to skills stored in ice. What’s left for people to call their own?
It turns out, not much.
There’s this quote from the film Jupiter Ascending¹: “Time is the single most precious commodity in the universe” — and when you have technology so advanced, when you have ways of digging into memories and transforming the intangible into tangible, do you also become a tradable object? Previously definitive things, such as your body and mind, are transformed into fluid facets. You can no longer know someone for who they are so much as what they are. Does that somehow make “human experiences” even more precious — having memories despite their burden, having a personality, having a body that is untarnished by numbers and equations and surgeries and technology? Or is it simply a weakness?
Aside from this prodding question, Gibson also explores the gap between rich and poor, the role of globalized commerce, and the puzzling nature of human psychology, from self-harm to love. His cyberpunk worlds are always rife with hustling, trading, surviving on edge, and he is exceptionally good at shaping characters through those worlds. In the afterword, Jack Womack poses this task:
“Read his books and reread them, and see anew […] how often his characters grow dimly aware of vague regrets for which they have no name, as if they are haunted unto their deathbeds with not only their own memories, but with someone else’s memories as well.”
These characters are trying to break cycles. Case tries to break from Linda, Molly tries to break from her haunting past through revenge, 3Jane tries to prevent her family from “growing inward, generating a seamless universe of self” (or so it seems). Their pasts are looming structures of potential destruction (as manifested mostly in Case). In the end, when Case asks 3Jane for the code, he says:
“If you don’t, what’ll change? […] I got no idea at all what’ll happen if Wintermute wins, but it’ll change something!”
And that seems to be the essence of science fiction: change, a future that is different yet still familiar. But the future is built on the present and the present on the past. I think that that’s Gibson’s hidden chrome — the idea that the past treads quietly into life, second by second, and we build ourselves walls before we even realize what we were building in the first place. When I turned the last page of Neuromancer, I felt not a sense of longing for this hypnotizing future, but a crushing press that encompassed all of human history and our journeys, failures, and triumphs in becoming who we were, who we are, who we will be.
¹ I know the reviews are pretty shit but honestly, you should watch it if you haven’t already. Want to know why? It’s just plain fun. It’s the first movie that I’ve seen in ages that actually kept me fiddling with glee, despite gaps in the plot line and a rickety romantic twist. I mean, come on, it’s a space opera, there are majestic ships rising out of space dust, Channing Tatum as this wolf-bird-guy who walks on air, Mila Kunis falling out of the skies everywhere, Eddie Redmayne as a glittering sociopathic ruler whose name is Balem Abrasax (sniggering), and Sean Bean (spoiler alert) doesn’t die for once. So let go of your inner critic and have some fun!