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Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)
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William Gibson: NEUROMANCER > NEUROMANCER Thread 1: Parts1 & 2 (To end of Chapter 7)

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message 1: by Traveller (last edited Feb 04, 2014 05:00AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Hi everyone! I'm always going to want to chat about Neuromancer, so please join in at any time that you'd like whatsoever.

Part 1 of the book, Chiba City Blues, is quite slow-moving and short. It acts as a sort of introduction to the book, so I thought it would be okay to lump it together with Part 2, The Shopping Expedition.

In part one, we meet Case, our anti-hero who reminds me a LOT of Malcolm in Firefly , except that Case has landed himself into trouble and got burned, (almost literally), after he stole from an employer and the latter took their revenge by damaging his nervous system.

To realize the full impact of what they did, one needs to take stock of this world that Gibson has drawn for us. It's obviously pretty far into the future, a time of space travel, cybernetic augmentations, and an interesting concept of what has been done with the internet.

Now remember that back in the day that the novel was written, the internet had not become as prolific as it is now, and use by the man on the street was only starting out, so, at the beginning of the 80's, it was mostly people who were viewed as geeks and nerds and 'computer-nerds' who were using the internet.

But in any case, the internet, in Gibson's world, seems to have proliferated pretty much to the point that it has now, (perhaps even slightly more) with people using it for their banking, their security systems, and so on.

But in Neuromancer, cyberspace has an interesting flavor that we haven't bothered with in our world, because it's rather fanciful, and more the stuff of cyberpunk novels than something that would really be practical for us, namely one can view software and code and even hardware like servers and cores in a sort of geometric graphical form. Of course, it's not impossible to design software that can do this, but it would be (I personally think, though I suspect other members might disagree) rather cumbersome, and what for?

But I think that we need to look at this whole concept more as a metaphor, and I feel a suspicion that Gibson wrote a lot of metaphor, because remember, this is a guy that did a degree in English lit and some creative writing courses; so he is more of an artist than a qualified scientist, and he is telling us: this is what it would look like if I could show it to you in pictures.

..and if we look at it in that way, sort of as a representation of the spirit of how hackers/programmers function in Gibson's world, then it works beautifully. I found that Gibson is very deft with showing us his world from a sensory point of view, and especially from a visual point of view.

In any case, so in this scenario, besides that he uses quite sensual prose, Gibson also plays around a lot with the idea of illusions and human perception. As if mind-altering drugs aren't enough already, he makes use of, for instance holograms a lot (one of the early instances is the fight in the ring that we see in the background while Linda meets with a bit of misfortune.) Even a lot of the night shop-fronts and advertisements are holograms.

But besides that, objects in cyberspace are represented graphically on a 3-D grid, and as if that alone doesn't sound quite cool already, people can actually log in with electrodes strapped to their heads and sort of maneuver themselves through this grid. But it seems as if mainly programmers do this, and (I'm not sure) but it seems as if they can sort of push programs and code around, even.

In any case, it's not to say that there aren't normal computer screens as well, but it seems as if this ability to jack into this physical representation of hardware and software, can only be done by people with experience in doing it, and via these electrodes that they put on.

Derek who has read more of Gibson (how sad I am now that I ever listened to detractors of Gibson, which prevented me from reading him earlier), can maybe tell us more of his ideas.

In any, for now, what I basically wanted to do was try and set out this idea, and then of course, how it works is that if you're fast, that helps you to crack security codes to access data and so forth, and the neural damage that case's employers had effected on him, has now made him unable to surf in this colorful cyberspace construct; and hence, Case has turned to drugs and to living dangerously, and worse, he's on a sort of suicidal trip because, you know, he's sad about not being able to surf the 'net anymore. (Some of us internet junkies may be able to commiserate. :P )


Aloha | 63 comments I read this book a few years ago. Loved it. Not sure I have time to join in the discussion, though. But I'll peek in to see what everybody else is saying about it.


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Aloha wrote: "I read this book a few years ago. Loved it. Not sure I have time to join in the discussion, though. But I'll peek in to see what everybody else is saying about it."

I'm glad to hear, Aloha! As you might remember, our discussions aren't time-bound, so sure, peek in at any time, even if you just lurk around or make the odd comment here and there. :)

Gibson works with a whole lot of interesting ideas in this novel, which we can discuss as people catch up with the discussion.


Michael | 1 comments i read this many years ago, when it came out, when the next came out, probably again about ten years ago to see how it held up, now that i had heard more about the technology. for a few years it was tech rumour that Gibson wrote on a basic typewrite, though by now he has moved on. he also is quoted in some interview saying that the fact there are no cellphones in the story might originally strike young readers as some important plot point: the fact is, he had no idea there woulds be cellphones. and his graphic idea of cyberspace came from watching kids play computer arcade games and seeming to want almost to be inside it...

so we should realize his skills as predictor of tech is all after the fact. it is his prose that reveals this sketched future, his metaphors, his images- i had read some of his short stories, later collected in Burning Chrome, so i knew what to expect. cool and cooler. now having read various authors cited as sources for this style- Chandler, W S Burroughs- i must say i like him more. his attitude or that of his characters is more romantic than usual sf, certainly not tech celebratory, but entering this world is a puzzle on puzzle- who are these people who want his skills and what are his skills anyway? read on, reader, it answers these questions only to set new...


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Saski (sissah) | 266 comments Traveller wrote: "Hi everyone! I'm always going to want to chat about Neuromancer, so please join in at any time that you'd like whatsoever.

Part 1 of the book, Chiba City Blues, is quite slow-moving and short. I..."


Quite slow moving?! That must be me, cuz I was struggling to keep up with all the visual images being thrown at me at neck-break speed, lol


message 6: by Traveller (last edited Feb 04, 2014 09:34AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments thegift wrote: "i read this many years ago, when it came out, when the next came out, probably again about ten years ago to see how it held up, now that i had heard more about the technology. for a few years it wa..."

Hey, so nice to see our quieter members popping in!

I have read some appraisals that claim that he is techno-stupid, but I can't see it. Yes, I get that his graphic representation app is the equivalent of wanting to be "inside" your computer; but after all, who hasn't wished that they could do that? (or is that just me? :P) ...but still, his methods of achieving it, are quite clever, and almost all of them theoretically possible. (Okay, not all of the detail, but it is possible, for instance, to represent data in graphic form, of course, and the simstim tech is also possible, though I think you'd only get a rough idea of the other person's sensations, I don't think one brain would interpret another brain's data with such detail, but maybe we should leave off discussing the simstim and the internet aspects for the next thread of our discussion, where we've seen more of it at work, so to speak.

Yes, I've decided to get myself some Burroughs- I've had the Naked Lunch for a while but needed a push, and same with Chandler, whose work is of course classic Noir.


message 7: by Traveller (last edited Feb 04, 2014 09:27AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Ruth wrote: "Traveller wrote: "Hi everyone! I'm always going to want to chat about Neuromancer, so please join in at any time that you'd like whatsoever.

Part 1 of the book, Chiba City Blues, is quite slow-mo..."


Ha ha, Ruth. I'm glad to see you're giving it a go, at least. One does get more used to it as you get the hang of his rather strange world. The lingo that Gibson uses also adds a bit to one's initial confusion, I think.

Btw, since you also read Snow Crash, I was starting to think towards the end of this book, that Molly, the rather scary Samurai with the blade fingernails, reminded me a bit of Hiro in Snow Crash, ha ha.

I like that Gibson made a bit of a stereotype mix-and-match. Molly and Case are both stereotypes, but I like that she is the female and he is the male in an interesting partnership.


message 8: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments Hmm. I was thinking it was more than a hundred years into the future, based on the Finn's peek into the background of Tessier-Ashpool: "Supposedly you can buy into an S.A., but there hasn’t been a share of Tessier-Ash­pool traded on the open mar­ket in over a hun­dred years." In hindsight, that doesn't exclude T.A. existing in the early 20th century.

Interesting that Screaming Fist, however far it may be into the future, takes place in a war against Russia, not the Soviet Union. I wouldn't have predicted the demise of the Soviet Union in 1984 (Gorbachev didn't become Party Secretary until 1985, and Andropov had been more Stalinist than his predecessor until 1984—Chernenko, between them, didn't count for much).

"…I personally think, though I suspect other members might disagree…"

Perish, the thought!

Oh, OK, I'll disagree, but in a qualified way. I have often thought (as I mentioned elsewhere) that a desktop metaphor based on Neuromancer's Matrix would be interesting and useful. However, the fact that nobody has done it suggests to me that it might not actually be either!

I agree "it seems as if they can sort of push programs and code around, even." I'm not at all sure what happened to that concept, but back in the 90s there were 4GL computer languages that were basically programmed by "pushing code around". I guess they weren't flexible enough to be useful, because I don't know anybody still using them. Still, intrinsically, object oriented languages are about building code from existing blocks, and there's nothing inherently wrong with Gibson's metaphor.

I like any number of features of this future world. Maglev trains. Cash is used only for very shady (or actually illegal) deals. Watergate is a verb. On Jersey Bastion's (I loved that!) personality: "…a very rare type, … one in a couple of million. Which anyway says something good about human nature, I guess." Naturally, there are going to be lots of things that are not remotely improvements on the current world, but just as in this world, they tend to get glossed over.

I don't like the whole business of Armitage strongarming Case into working for him. This is a guy who is suicidal because he can no longer do the only thing that makes life worth living for him: he would do anything for what Armitage offers him. Yet he asks Molly what hold Armitage has on her, and she says "Professional pride." They're supposed to have such a good profile on him, that Molly feels she already knows him, and they don't even have that much straight.

I'm not sure that being fast and experienced is enough to be able to use the Matrix. Though I'm also not sure about the new pancreas. I thought he had to use speed to use the Matrix, but the new pancreas means he's "biochemically incapable of getting off on amphetamine…" (incidentally, would it really be his pancreas they needed to fix, and not his liver?). So, unless, the improvements allow him to get the reaction times he needs without any of the other effects of amphetamines, Armitage would seem to be shooting himself in the foot. In any case, there seems to be a little something more that's needed. I don't think Case can even make the Matrix appear when he "jacks in", until Armitage has him fixed. As if only certain people (perhaps because of specific neural structures) can enter cyberspace.

“So why’s he got that stash in London? Nostalgia?”

I really wondered about that from the beginning — it has to be a setup, that Case is intended to find.

"so we should realize his skills as predictor of tech is all after the fact."

I don't think I agree with that.


message 9: by Traveller (last edited Feb 04, 2014 12:46PM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote: " Still, intrinsically, object oriented languages are about building code from existing blocks, and there's nothing inherently wrong with Gibson's metaphor...."

You are quite right, of course. When using OO Languages, we DO physically manipulate blocks of code in 'cyber'space, albeit more on a 2D plane, but still close enough.
I suppose that in some way we represent our data graphically, think of color-coded databases and icons to represent types of file formats, for instance.
Re the pancreas- they also "plugged" his liver, whatever that means.

Well, he didn't have a choice re the pancreas and liver, remember? Armitage's lot sneaked that bit in. Case thought he was just having his neural damage reversed, and he was that desperate to have it done, that he basically trusted them to operate on him. I suspect the reason that they don't want him addicted, is that not only does it tend to make a person unpredictable, but the lows that you get after being high makes it very difficult to work with a "wired" person.

Btw, I actually thought he started using speed as a substitute for the thrill of chasing ICE in cyberspace.


message 10: by Traveller (last edited Feb 04, 2014 01:02PM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Oh! Which reminds me that perhaps our readers haven't come across ICE yet: " intrusion countermeasures electronics". Security software. Like when you put a password lock on a file, only more sophisticated, I'd imagine.

Oh wait, I found a nice definition here: http://williamgibson.wikia.com/wiki/I...

Intrusion Counter Electronics [...]refers to the encryption and defence programs of a computer or computer network, similar to the firewalls, anti virus and anti hacking programs of today. They are the programs that protect sensitive data from hackers and any other form of unauthorised access.

Man, how can people call this man technostupid! He also talks of viruses further on in the novel. I won't be surprised if our use of the term computer virus actually came from Gibson.

Btw, the next thread goes on here, for the enthusiastic.
https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...

I still need to start colonizing it, though. But anybody else can too, if they like. :)

Oh, and Derek, to avoid spoilers, I'd like to continue our speculation of how far into the future this may be playing out, in the last thread. I was thinking of making either three or four threads.
One for Part 3 and perhaps 2 threads for part 4, because it's pretty long.


message 11: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments Traveller wrote: "Btw, I actually thought he started using speed as a substitute for the thrill of chasing ICE in cyberspace. "

Yes, I think I misread that. I've gone back and looked for refs to "speed" and "amphetamine" and there's one that specifically implies that: "All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep,…" and none that I see that suggest he needed it to work in cyberspace.

I realize Case had no choice about the pancreas — what I didn't understand is why Armitage would think that was an intelligent thing to do if he needed the speed, and since I already think he did a very stupid thing by threatening him with the virus, I wasn't holding out hope that Armitage was very bright.

ICE is a lot more sophisticated than a password lock. Passwords are passive, the whole sense you get every time Case mentions ice (so endemic, it doesn't usually have even one capital!) is that's it's very active.

According to wikipedia, "In 1984 Fred Cohen from the University of Southern California wrote his paper "Computer Viruses – Theory and Experiments". It was the first paper to explicitly call a self-reproducing program a "virus", a term introduced by Cohen's mentor Leonard Adleman."

But the term was used by Brunner in The Shockwave Rider in '75. Brunner was cyberpunk way before there was cyberpunk.

But I think, when Gibson calls Mole IX "the first true virus in the history of cybernetics", he might be meaning that it demonstrates even more similarity to DNA viruses than our modern computer viruses. Something more like the viruses Brunner speaks of: "I’d have written the worm as an explosive scrambler, probably about half a million bits long, with a backup virus facility and a last-ditch infinitely replicating tail." Sounds very biologic.


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Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Oh, wait, we get to meet the Flatliner in this section already, right? McCoy Pauley. Interesting idea; that his personality was reconstructed as a software construct. Of course it's theoretically possible. The way to do it, would be to put a bug on a person and to record all of his or her reactions to everything and then to program it much like the 'Suri' app on an iPad.


message 13: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments I'd say "hypothetically" rather than "theoretically". We do have "expert systems" that essentially do that, but only on a very tiny scale. To actually create a human-like software construct you pretty much need to already have the capacity to create AIs—and they do!


message 14: by Puddin Pointy-Toes (last edited Feb 04, 2014 08:17PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Puddin Pointy-Toes (jkingweb) | 201 comments Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime) wrote: "Interesting that Screaming Fist, however far it may be into the future, takes place in a war against Russia, not the Soviet Union. I wouldn't have predicted the demise of the Soviet Union in 1984 (Gorbachev didn't become Party Secretary until 1985, and Andropov had been more Stalinist than his predecessor until 1984—Chernenko, between them, didn't count for much)."

The Soviet Union was commonly referred to as Russia in those days, though, and there's also references to Leningrad in the book. Armitage's escape in a gunship is also referred to twice: the first time (Julie's retelling) the gunship is "Sov" in origin, and the second time (Case summarizing records) it is "Russian".

I'm not so sure he predicted the USSR's demise so much as independently invented it. ;) Anyone can write speculative fiction and later be proven "right" by blind luck so long as you don't consider the details. If the Soviet Union did collapse sometime before or after the Mole IX incident (is it clearly stated somewhere and I missed it?), it probably wasn't in the same way or for the same reasons as actually happened.

Still, had it been a complete de-Sovietization it would have lent the book an even greater believability now that we're examining it retrospectively...


message 15: by Traveller (last edited Feb 05, 2014 04:04AM) (new) - added it

Traveller (moontravlr) | 1838 comments Hmm, and now that we're on the issue of the international political scene, that's something else that Gibson handled well--is globalisation.

..but once again, I think I'd prefer to discuss that on the next thread, so that everyone knows what we're talking about about.

But while I'm posting here, does anyone else also find that Gibson writes in beautiful prose? He was quite a fan of noir writers like Chandler, and I think he managed to capture a noir atmosphere pretty well.

But also a sort of burnished chrome and city lights with holograms cityscape, reminiscent of Bladerunner.
The first paragraph that struck me in me in this regard, is this one:
"And now he remembered her that way, her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as Wizard’s Castle burned, forehead drenched with azure when Munich fell to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon.

Wow, that's a clever way of describing the setting, and indeed, people's faces do sometimes weirdly reflect night lights in this way, and he is at the same time as writing something that sounds and in your mind looks cool, showing you what things look like- for instance skyscrapers with neon signs- and, don't you just love 'skyscraper canyon?'

..and not only does he show our neon cityscape to us, but he manages to introduce us this early already to the cyber theme of the novel with "features reduced to a code " ..and with those few words, he also elegantly foreshadows the theme of human personalities being abstracted into code, like with the Flatliner and others that we'll meet later on in the novel.

I think I've just convinced myself to mark Gibson as a fave author even though I haven't read anything else of his yet.


Stephen Palmer (stephenpalmersf) | 1 comments He is a great prose stylist, but for me it's the overall vision that is so brilliant. How many authors did this man influence...?


message 17: by Derek, Miéville fan-boi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Derek (derek_broughton) | 761 comments J. wrote: "The Soviet Union was commonly referred to as Russia in those days…"

Sure, but not so commonly as Gibson does here. The two were used pretty much interchangeably. Anyway, I'm not trying so much to suggest that he predicted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, as that he wrote in such a way as to give the greatest chance that he wouldn't be wrong in the future. Which, as much as I love Snow Crash, I recall commenting that Stephenson didn't. Good catch on the "Sov" gunship, though, because I searched the e-book for "soviet", and forgot that abbreviation! Though, note that Snow Crash had a Soviet gunship, too, and it was definitely post-Soviet era.

Stephen wrote: "He is a great prose stylist, but for me it's the overall vision that is so brilliant. How many authors did this man influence...?"

Yeah. I thought as I read Traveller's reading updates, "really? is his prose that great?". I guess it is! But he just sucks me so far into the story that I don't think about it. Which is a Good Thing™'


Puddin Pointy-Toes (jkingweb) | 201 comments Derek, I agree there are too many references to Russia for it to be coincidence. I didn't actually clue in to how pervasive they were until I saw the reference to the Soviet gunship, which stuck with me due to its incongruity. Speaking of Russia feels natural to us today, after all.


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