Neuromancer - William Gibson (Review)

Amazon Summary: The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace.

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Review: Never in my life have I been this simultaneously impressed AND bored while reading a book! I had a lot of mixed feelings about Neuromancer which leveled me out at about a 3.5; because of the sheer immensity behind the concept, and no sexism to boot, I'm letting it fall just a bit over the halfway mark into the positive. This book is most well-known for its very in-depth, visual descriptions of a "cyberspace" that was conceived before the internet. Some even go so far as suggesting that this book potentially put the "concept" of the internet into the public consciousness which eventually led to its creation. Just from reading it (and doing very little further research) I wouldn't go quite that far - but there is an obvious correlation. I will always have a very strong sense of identity wrapped up in the internet. As a 90's baby my childhood development occurred simultaneously with the growth of the internet. I've spent a lot of time wondering how it must have felt to grow up without an innate understanding of this huge shift in the way the world works which is what made Neuromancer sound so interesting to me.

When I say I was bored, that's not to say that the book did not deliver on the aforementioned subject. To the contrary - Gibson's bizarre descriptions of the physical cyberspace his characters inhabit were interesting, to say the least. Despite being written before our current conception of the internet - Gibson's universe seems to have made a logical jump in such a way that it still could be a variation on our own future. Everything made sense in a way that ties in very well with the current state of technology.

The story follows a "cyber cowboy", Henry Case, a hacker who was recently laid off and has damaged his central nervous system making it impossible for him to re-enter the "matrix". He is contacted by another company and offered the option to have this damage fixed and paid for given that he agrees to work with them on a project. Henry eagerly agrees, wanting nothing more than to return to his fast-paced lifestyle within cyberspace. The story continues to follow Case as he works with his mysterious benefactors, along with his partner Molly Millions. I was grateful to Gibson for allowing Molly to unapologetically take on the physical, "kick-ass" role while Henry primarily remained safe at his virtual station. Too many stories (lets even think modern day television: Arrow, The Flash) feature the amazing male hero out in the field and the nerdy, brilliant female counterpart relaying information from a desk. To see someone immediately flip that dynamic before it became such a cliché was a wholly pleasant experience. No complaints a la Stranger in a Strange Land - I realize one was written in the 60's and one in the 80's but there's a stark difference in it's treatment of women only 20 years later.

Despite these many positives, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a difficult one for me to dredge through. While I can admire much of what Gibson created, I found the story difficult to understand. In retrospect, I can follow the plot, but paragraph to paragraph I would get lost and have to re-read things before I could even figure out the location of a scene. Naturally the metaphysical aspect of the story doesn't make this any easier, but I think I've read enough sci-fi and magic realism to say that I'm pretty good at following that sort of thing. The characters personalities themselves were non-existent which was the stories biggest downfall for me. If you asked me what the defining aspects of Henry, Molly or any of the other characters were I wouldn't be able to give you any. The personalities held no distinction and I felt no emotion towards them. Nothing really stuck out at me as far as "the human experience" is concerned, and the more impressive technical aspects of the story were too complicated to really have fun with. Was there a moral? I'm not sure, but if there was I certainly didn't leave understanding it.

Final Thoughts: I probably wouldn't recommend this to most readers. If you love science fiction and cyber-punk is something you're into, it's worth a go. I know that's not the case for the average person, and while I stand by my 3.5 for what it did bring me, I would imagine a lot of people getting just as bored as I was.

I know this is a favorite for some people so I'd love to hear what you took from it in the comments!

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