Neuromancer – William Gibson

When people are asked what the most influential books are, they often give what I consider to be wrong answers. They talk about the books they would like, or they would like to think, are influential in our society, but in truth really aren’t. The ones that truly are often find themselves slipping under the radar.

A synopsis of the story is not hard to write, but hard to write in a way that wouldn’t put a modern reader off by seeming to be little more than a collection of clichés stitched together. Neuromancer follows a hacker commissioned to perform various crimes, all of which ultimately coalesce to a final caper. He is hired to do this by a mysterious agent, is assisted by a powerful hitman (who doubles as a lover), and is being played by forces greater than all of them combined.

What is lost in that pastiche is that this is the book that kicked off many of those tropes. It also set the aesthetics of much of the media that came after it. The cultural impact of the book cannot be understated, as can understood from the fact that it had characters jacking in to digital worlds a good decade and a half before The Matrix. One imagines that the Asia-fied opening scenes of Blade Runner has more to do with Neuromancer’s downtown Tokyo opening than with the LA of Dick’s Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep. Were that not enough, the book is also fast paced and engaging, the characters and situation interesting, and the world fleshed out enough for you want to enter back in for more upon completion.

But not everything in this book works perfectly. While it was pretty predictive to see that information technology was headed where it was (again, this book was written in 1983) the broad stroked of what the technology ultimately looks like are wrong. The internet is not any kind of fully immersive experience, and no one can really imagine why anyone would even bother having such a thing available or why demand for it would ever come about. Silly too seems some of the window dressing in the world. When a character is mentioned to be a ‘samurai,’ ‘cowboy’ or a ‘ninja’, we know that these are meant to be futuristic extrapolations of those concepts, and yet it still seems silly, and the original connotation is slightly hard to shake off.

Something can be said about the fact that all the crime drugs and grime of the world building (not to mention the hyper-corporatism) give the whole thing a very 1980’s flavor that date the book pretty heavily, despite us still having crime, drugs, grime, and hyper-corporatism still to this day.

But these are nit-picking points, and I had to dig pretty deep just to get at them. None of them really do a whole lot to offset just how influential this book really was.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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