Martine's Reviews > Neuromancer

Neuromancer by William Gibson
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Jan 26, 08

bookshelves: science-fiction, modern-fiction, north-american, blokey-books, dystopia, postmodern
Recommended for: sci fi fans
Read in January, 2008

I'll confess I had a hard time getting into Neuromancer, the book that started the cyberpunk craze back in the mid-eighties. The first few chapters were so disjointed and deliberately obscure that I wasn't sure what was going on, nor whether I actually cared. Then things gradually started to fall into place. Seventy pages into the story I got the hang of Gibson's style, one hundred pages in I actually began to enjoy it, and now that I've finished it, I actually look forward to reading it again at some point. I'm not sure if that makes Neuromancer a good book, but it's certainly interesting.

As the blurb has it, Neuromancer is about Case, who was the sharpest data thief in the matrix, until an ex-employer crippled his nervous system. Now a new employer has recruited him for a last-chance run against an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence. With a mirror-eyed girl street-samurai riding shotgun, he is sent on an adventure in a futuristic world where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred and where nothing is quite what it seems, to fight an enemy he doesn't know. On the way to the final showdown, the reader is taken to Japan, America, Turkey and a few imaginary places, gets to meet quite a few bizarre people (if they are even human) and generally wonders what the f*** is going on.

You have to give Gibson credit for the virtual reality world he created over twenty years ago, long before the Internet and virtual reality as we know it were a fact. His futurama is a pretty fantastic and well-realised place, with characters of its own, a vernacular of its own, the works. The reader is thrown headlong into this world and is not given any explanations along the way, which makes the first few chapters hard to get through. After a while, though, you start getting a feel for the patois, and the book becomes much easier to read. However, it still has a few major flaws, which only become more obvious as you continue reading. For one thing, the characters aren't developed nearly as well as the world in which they live. They are interesting, but Gibson doesn't give them an awful lot to do or feel, which is a great shame. The same is true for the story as a whole. While there are plenty of interesting ideas floating in there, somehow they won't gel into a proper story, as Gibson is so busy focusing on the cool world he has created that he forgets to add such basic things as backgrounds, emotions, story arcs and smooth transitions. Even more damagingly, he fails to provide his heroes with a clear quest. While their actions and adventures are quite exciting, it is not clear exactly who or what they're up against or what they're trying to achieve or prevent, which makes it hard to identify with them or root for them. Throw in a rather vague bad guy (or bad guys?) and you have quite a few examples of bad story-telling -- things that any creative writing teacher would warn his students to steer clear of, and which have no business being in a book as famous and acclaimed as this one.

And yet... For all its flaws, Neuromancer IS pretty cool, and I genuinely look forward to re-reading it at some point. I just wish Gibson had made better use of the superb ingredients he's working with. Neuromancer could have been a brilliant book; as it is, it's merely interesting.
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