Elitist Classic: Neuromancer

Posted: March 3, 2020 by in Elitist Classics Meta: William Gibson, Cyberpunk, Science Fiction
Neuromancer

While putting together our Best Science Fiction Books page (EBR Archive) I realized that we didn’t have a review up for this book, and decided that I had better put one together. It had been long enough since I’d first read it that I decided to ingest it again. You know, it’s really nice to be able to read a book for a second time (especially after a long while has passed) and find out that you enjoyed the story just as well that time around. I think it says something important about that story. I remember doing that for the main sequence of the DragonLance books by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman (Amazon), which I absolutely loved as a kid. Good stuff.

NEUROMANCER (Amazon) was written by William Gibson and published back in 1984, which is, incidentally, the title of another science fiction novel. The opening line is one that is, for a child of my generation, easy to understand:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

This line also, of course, dates the novel a little. As “dead channels” no longer show the mess of shades of gray I grew up calling static.

Brilliantly good cyberpunk from an era when cyberpunk was all but undefined. NEUROMANCER is great science fiction and should be on every genre reader's list

Henry Case is a hustler in the rough underworld of Chiba City. He used to be a great computer hacker, surfing through the virtual reality of the matrix. But, after stealing from one of his temporary employers, his nervous system was vengefully damaged by a toxin that left him never able to jack into the matrix again.

That is, until someone comes calling with the chops to do just that. All he has to do is take a job. Of course he dives in, wanting nothing more than to feel the thrill of the matrix flowing through him again. It’s only afterward that he finds out that there’s a catch. The job that these people want him to complete is dangerous, and they need him to finish it within a certain amount of time. If he doesn’t, then a certain number of micro-sacs that have been embedded in strategic spots of his body will release the same poison that damaged him those many years ago. His body is even now attacking those micro-sacs, and after a certain amount of time, if his new employer doesn’t remove them, the sacs will be dissolved and Case will be right back where he began.

Trying to summarize this story is almost a bit ridiculous because it is so jam packed with ideas and concepts. They just keep coming. It’s full of tech and history and people. Just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Doesn’t stop. Between all of the various people and groups and companies and the multiple AIs throwing their chips into the pile, the plot is in constant flux and movement. If I had to be critical of something it might be that the sparseness of the prose sometimes made it easy to lose my place unless I was paying very strict attention. This story isn’t like some of the more modern epics, fantasy or science fiction, that are being written today. Instead, it’s concentrated story and concentrated prose. It’s lean and mean and ready to take you on a ride. And even though the level of characterization follows closely to this standard, I never once had to question what was happening or why someone was doing what they were. Good stuff there as well.

There are several great reasons why you should read this book. Yes it was there right at the beginnings of what we now know as cyberpunk, and it’s a great example of that now familiar genre. But it’s also just a great read. There’s a reason why we put this one on our list of Best Science Fiction. If you haven’t read this one yet, get to it. It’s waiting for you and it won’t be one that you soon forget.

  • Recommended Age: 17+
  • Language: Strong but infrequent
  • Violence: Quite a bit of real/digital violence, blood, and threat
  • Sex: One detailed scene and a handful of other references

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