Book Reviews

Book Review : Neuromancer

neuromancerTL;DR:

My experience with William Gibson’s Neuromancer reminded me of a Mark Twain quote, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water.” Neuromancer is definitely wine. Overall the story was interesting enough, the world bright and colorful, and the characters were interesting, even if they were a bit wooden. But the story was very difficult for me to follow and digest. It’s not that the plot was complex, just that the overall flow of the novel was frequently interrupted. I think there were two main reasons I felt this way. The first culprit  can be found in the descriptions present in the book. Frequently, I felt like I was being beat over the head with sensory information in an attempt to communicate to me that an experience was very alien. The second was the fact that the book deals  heavily in computer networks, the internet, and technology that didn’t exist while the book was being written, which made the technologies exotic, mysterious and somewhat magical. But these technologies exist today, are commonplace and well understood, effectively disabling part of the book’s magic. But in the end, if you’re a fan of the Cyberpunk genre, and you’re up for what you may consider to be a bit of a difficult read, I’d feel pretty comfortable recommending Neuromancer to you.

The Good:

1. Gibson builds a vibrant world, complete with slang, dialects, and social issues–the whole nine yards. Not only does he create this world, he keeps you immersed in it for the entire story, showing you everything it has to offer. The reader experiences everything from seedy underbellies rife with drugs and crime, third world countries, the “sprawl” of Atlanta and “New” New York, space stations filled with Rastafarians, and private playgrounds of the world’s super elite.

2. This book is credited with being the genesis point of the entire Cyberpunk genre. I am a huge fan of the Cyberpunk genre. Every “console cowboy” that I’ve loved started here. Makoto and Neo were both birthed here. Ghost in the Shell, Ergo Proxy, The Matrix and Akira. All of these things found their roots in this book. It’s always really cool to go back to the beginning of a thing.

The Bad:

1. The book can be difficult to follow. Between some of the slang that is never explained, uncommon words (If I wasn’t reading this on a Kindle, I would have been lost) and the use of brands in place of object names, it becomes very easy to become lost in the tangle of words. I’m still not sure what a Hosaka is. (I’m fairly sure it’s a computer of some sorts, but as prominent as the term was in the book, it’s meaning should be be crystal clear to me by the end.) Many people argue that this is one of the brilliant parts of the book, and it simply comes along with the territory that one must walk through to create a new genre. I disagree; I feel like it could have been done in a much more eloquent manner.

2. The characters in the book are interesting in their most basic templates, but beyond that they don’t develop much. I left the book with the impression that the characters didn’t matter much to Gibson, that they were more like pawns on a chessboard which he used to illustrate his plot. While I feel like a good plot is a key element to any good book, characters are what really drive a book. At the end of the story, Case is still a drug addict and Molly is still Steppin’ Razor.

The Meh:

1. Gibson’s descriptions and predictions in terms of technology read as a bit dated. I couldn’t get past this. But that is the double edged sword that is technology. What may seem cutting edge, futuristic and amazing one year could easily be outdated, boring and incorrect the next. All of this can happen in just the space of a year. This book has weathered nearly 30 years (at this time of this review’s publication) of technological advances. And while the book still holds up, time has not been kind to it.

Synopsis:

In this book the reader follows Case, a down and out console cowboy living in the dark and seedy city of Chiba. He was taught by the best, and rode a constant wave of adrenaline until he broke his own first rule: never steal from your own employer. When he did, they smiled and laughed at him while they burned out his nervous system with a subtle mycotoxin. Now, Case is waiting to die. All of this changes one night when a mysterious woman shows up and tails him through Chiba. After a long chase, she finally corners him and offers him the one thing he wants the most. She offers him the ability to jack in again–she offers him the matrix. Case takes her up on her offer only to find that is working for an even more mysterious man named Armitage who seems to have limitless knowledge and resources. His adventures under Armitage take him around the world, and even out of it. But it all may end up being too much, too great a strain on himself and Molly. The only way to find out is to read Neuromancer.

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