Reviewed by Galen Strickland
William Gibson didn't invent the cyberpunk sub-genre, but he was the first to bring it wide recognition with his first novel, which was also the first book to win a Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Award (presented to books originally published in paperback), and it was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He did coin the term cyberspace, but that was in an earlier short story, "Burning Chrome." The story revolves around Case, a computer hacker who's hit the skids, punished for stealing from an employer and chemically altered so he can no longer access the cyberspace matrix. Then along comes Armitage, a man who says he can reverse that situation if only Case will help him crack a particular A.I. There have been many words written about the book's revolutionary concepts of future computer constructs and the matrix that might be seen by the mind of man, but I'd rather concentrate on Gibson's literary style.
In many ways it is reminiscent of noir detective fiction. The characters are other-worldly but also familiar; the loner anti-hero reminiscent of those noir detectives, but also of westerns (Case is referred to as a "console cowboy"); the hard-hearted, scorned woman, represented here by both Linda Lee and Molly Millions; megalomaniacal men (Armitage and Peter Riviera); the decadent rich (Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool and her father). The bizarre and futuristic setting is made believable by these archetypal characters and their realistic dialogue. Gibson describes the cities and landscapes in such vivid terms it is easy to visualize. You can feel the grit and grime of Chiba City, the glitz and glamour of the Sprawl, the confining quarters of the space ship Marcus Garvey and the dazzling wonder of the space habitat Freeside. When it rains or the wind blows you can almost feel it. Even the careening trips through the matrix are similar to an exhilirating car chase in a cop movie. Nothing is that unique or surprising, except for the way Gibson combines them in a new package and enables you to see them from different perspectives.
The novel was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third iteration of the Ace Science Fiction Specials, which were all debut novels from various writers. Gibson struggled with it for over two years, rewriting constantly, and has said he was particularly discouraged after seeing the 1982 film Blade Runner, convinced people would think he had ripped-off his visual descriptions from it. He shouldn't have worried though, because just as Blade Runner is now considered an SF classic, so is Neuromancer. It has been thirty years since its publication, and I'm sure people will still be talking about it thirty years from now, and way beyond that. It may not be the best first novel, but it is certainly high on the list, and it deserves its reputation.
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