Context. Sometimes the key to understanding something is context. And never is that more the case than with the book Neuromancer. Neuromancer is a ver...moreContext. Sometimes the key to understanding something is context. And never is that more the case than with the book Neuromancer. Neuromancer is a very famous, genre creating/changing book, winner of many awards. I’m reading Neuromancer for the first time; while not quite done, I find the story to be decent and the writing to be ok. As just a book that I am reading, I would call it fair. But that is an evaluation without context.
Under what context does my evaluation change? Well, one of the first things I noticed when I picked it up is that it was originally published nearly 25 years ago, in 1984. And it is at that point that the context suddenly clicks and becomes crucial. Neuromancer is a book about, in large part, individuals exploring and exploiting cyberspace and, to a lesser extent, about artificial intelligence. When this book was written, the vast majority of people did not own a computer; it was just around the time when the idea of a family buying one started to become prevalent, and the computer they could buy did not have a hard drive and probably had no more than 64kb of RAM (the Apple IIe my family got in 1985 was “expandable” to 128kb of RAM…more than almost any program we would want to run could possibly need). Pretty much no one had heard of the internet and email was virtually unknown. The World Wide Web and webpages as we think of them today were still about 8 years away (I was reasonably plugged in at the time and I first heard about WWW and html around ‘92/93…prior to that the internet for most people was email, independent bulletin boards [anyone remember CompuServe?:], anonymous FTP, and Gopher). When one considers what the world was like, what fiction about computers was like, at the time it was written, Neuromancer must have been absolutely stunning. The innovation and direction were ground-breaking in a way that little other fiction has likely been during our lifetime.
An analogy would be the movie Citizen Kane.Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the greatest movie ever made. Sit down and watch it with someone who enjoys movies but has never seen it. Citizen Kane is a decent film with a decent story, but is hardly a stunning, blow the mind away movie, in any sense. I’m not sure it has aged particularly well, and I suspect a lot of people today find it a rather boring film. But again, that is if we view it without context. Contextually, Citizen Kane is one of the most influential movies ever made. Many have said, rightfully so, that it not only taught Hollywood how to make movies, it taught the audience how to watch movies. Citizen Kane uses nonlinear plot and flashbacks. It uses unique camera angles and closeups and shadow, all in ways that were completely innovative and unheard of for the time. Today, we watch Citizen Kane and it seems sort of ho-hum, because generations of movie makers (and watchers) have been influenced by it. At the time Citizen Kane was revolutionary, and it is in that context that its importance and influence are judged.
While everything is created in some context, the context is not always critical. Some works are timeless and stand fairly well on their own: I think a book like The Count of Monte Cristo or The Hobbit can largely be enjoyed (or disliked) by someone without appreciation of when and under what circumstances it was written (others will disagree). Other works are best appreciated with respect to context. The Jazz Singer is a rather poor film, but as the first “talkie” it killed the silent picture and changed Hollywood. Citizen Kane was arguably even more revolutionary, although in somewhat subtler ways. And it is with a consideration of context, that the importance and value of Neuromancer can be judged.
I'm not trying to claim that Neuromancer is as important or ground breaking as Citizen Kane. Neuormancer was likely not the first novel to explore the themes and concepts that it did, but it popularized a way of thinking about the role and future of computers and computer networks like no other novel has since. The word “cyberspace” was popularized by this novel (although original coined by Gibson in an earlier short story) and Neuromancer has had both direct and indirect influence on all social cybernetworks and games (e.g., World of Warcraft or Second Life). I suspect the book is much easier to read now then it was when written, because so many terms and concepts which were new at the time are now just part of our current culture.
If you newly read Neuromancer, you may or may not enjoy it (as I already stated, I’m finding it to be rather middle-of-the-road overall), but you certainly will not understand its importance or influence (for better or worse), without some consideration of context.(less)
A future in which the mind can be stored and transferred into alternate bodies, it completely changes society's concept of things such as murder and d...moreA future in which the mind can be stored and transferred into alternate bodies, it completely changes society's concept of things such as murder and death and morality. Morgan paints a fascinating world with a main character who retains his own personal sense of morality, despite having been mentally trained as an Envoy (Soldier/Killer/Troubleshooter)
While very interesting and well written, probably not a book for everyone, given it can be a bit heavy on sex and violence.(less)
I didn't care for this as much as Altered Carbon. Broken Angels retains the fascinating mental downloading concept that makes for such an interesting...moreI didn't care for this as much as Altered Carbon. Broken Angels retains the fascinating mental downloading concept that makes for such an interesting backdrop for the stories, but otherwise diverges in theme a bit, being half military science-fiction and half wandering philosophy (ok, maybe 75% and 25%), with none of the mystery elements that drove the plot of the first book. Would be 3 1/2 stars.(less)
The Quantum Thief is a very confusing book. In some ways it makes me think of something Philip K. Dick would have written if he actually had known any...moreThe Quantum Thief is a very confusing book. In some ways it makes me think of something Philip K. Dick would have written if he actually had known anything about science and quantum physics.
Some of the confusion is purposeful and a lot of clarity is gradually gained as the book goes on, but even at the end it felt like there were a lot of things I simply didn't understand or missed in the convolution of the writing and logic. There were also a few cases where it felt like the author simply accidentally left out some basic bit of plot but then later keeps referring back to a scene/action that never occurred within his own narrative (I actually went back and reread a specific section three times to be sure...it just isn't there).
This may be one of those books that simply requires two readings. I suspect if I were to sit down and reread the book immediately, I would pick up quite a bit more of the nuance and understand quite a bit more of what is going on from the beginning. Even so, I'm fairly certain there are aspects of the concept I just wouldn't quite be able to wrap my brain around, perhaps because the author is being too subtle or couching the logic in language or quantum theory that most of us just aren't familiar with. The book is filled with a tremendous amount of jargon, much of it invented (I think) for the book. Quite a bit of it is explained as the book progresses, but it is partly what makes the earlier chapters harder to follow since much of the jargon precedes the eventual explanation.
It should be noted that the book is apparently also just the first volume of a series (length unknown). A major plot point is that there is a planned theft, but the object to be stolen is never even described or discussed (sort of a virtual MacGuffin, I suppose, which in and of itself is somewhat ironic), but apparently is still to be pursued in the future. The somewhat out of place ending also very clearly sets up the basic concept for a sequel, with a few of the main characters continuing but likely in a completely new setting.
Overall the book is clever, but perhaps overly so, sacrificing clarity for concept. While not in any way a work of humor, there are scattered humorous elements in the writing, more-or-less tongue-in-cheek jokes that the knowledgeable reader might pick up on and appreciate, although by no means the focus of the work. It's certainly an interesting read, but lacks something I personally look for in the very best of reads.(less)