Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Review: Neuromancer

Release Date: Originally published in 1984
Publisher: Ace Books
Pages: 271 pages
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Library
Goodreads Summary: Case was the hottest computer cowboy cruising the information superhighway—jacking his consciousness into cyberspace, soaring through tactile lattices of data and logic, rustling encoded secrets for anyone with the money to buy his skills. Then he double-crossed the wrong people, who caught up with him in a big way—and burned the talent out of his brain, micron by micron. Banished from cyberspace, trapped in the meat of his physical body, Case courted death in the high-tech underworld. Until a shadowy conspiracy offered him a second chance—and a cure—for a price....
Neuromancer is a sci-fi classic hailed by some to be the most important and influential science fiction novel of the past two decades. It has received tons of awards and there is even a movie being made based on it. While I agree the book is revolutionary (I am amazed this was written in 1984), I found this book confusing, choppy and some portions of it downright distasteful.

The main character, Case, is a brilliant computer hacker who stole from his employers and they in turn maimed him by inserting a microtoxin into his nervous system, rendering him unable to jack into the cyberspace known as the matrix. Unable to find a cure, Case is now a depressed, drug addicted, suicidal hustler working in the futuristic city of Chiba City, Japan.

Case is approached by Molly, a technologically enhanced mercenary working for an ex-military leader named Armitage. Armitage promises to fix Case’s neurotoxin problem if Case pulls off a big hacking job for him. Case is so anxious to be able to jack into cyberspace again, he agrees without knowing the full nature of the job.

In my humble opinion, William Gibson’s brilliance lies in his ability to so adeptly portray cyberspace and the matrix at a time when the full nature of the capabilities of the internet were in their infancy. Remember, he wrote this book in 1984. The gritty underbelly of the sprawl in Chiba City and the excessive wealth of the orbiting community of Freeside are well described and give you a feel for what it would be like to live in this technologically advanced future where almost everyone is ‘upgraded.’

My issues with the book lay with the confusing terminology, jarring way the scenes jump around and most importantly, the characters. Case, our anti-hero, is a hacker, a thief who worked for other thieves. To fix the issue that prevents him from stealing some more, he steals again. I’m not talking about a Robin Hood like character here folks, Case steals to benefit himself alone. He is not a very sympathetic character and seems to only care about the success of his jobs, not the repercussions of them. The only humanity that Case shows is that he is angry about the death of his sorta girlfriend Linda Lee, and when he could have left Molly to die when she gets caught up in the job, he goes in to save her.

As for Molly, she is unlikable as well. She’s a mercenary who kills people for a living. She paid to have heavy technological advancements surgically placed in her body that she financed through prostitution, a job she thought had it pleasant moments. As for relationships, there aren’t really any in the book. Case and Molly talk about the job, their boss and have sex. It isn’t until two-thirds of the way through the book that Molly tells Case that she is attracted to him because he reminds her of her murdered lover, Johnny (from the short story Johnny Mnemonic that Gibson wrote as well). Of course, she does not tell him in person but opts to talk with him when he is jacked into her nervous system through an implant. It’s a one-way conversation because while he can hear her, she can’t hear him. Case and Molly never have an intimate, face-to-face conversation about their relationship.

As for Case’s anger over Linda’s death, I’m still not sure about the exact nature of their relationship. I get the impression that Case and Linda were together at one point but they were now broken up and Linda was desperate to get his attention. If Case cared about Linda so much after she died, he should have treated her better when she was alive. The other characters in the book are a lot more despicable than Case and Molly and very easy to hate.

Neuromancer took a long time for me to read and because I’m such a character driven reader, it was hard for me to like this book. The first two-thirds of the book were deadly for me and I had to force my way through the slang and techno-babble but it did get a little better towards the end when the mastermind and purpose behind the job were revealed. There are also some dark and twisted parts of the story and because I am a very visual person, I am now trying to scrub my mind’s eye to get rid of some of these images. I know Neuromancer is a cult classic and I see the appeal for others, but this was definitely not for me. 

Content: Graphic sex, heavy profanity, heavy violence and gore, heavy drug and alcohol use, prostitution and implied incest. I don’t recommend it for anyone under 18.

My Rating: Disappointing

4 comments:

Kristin Rae said...

This doesn't sound like a book I'd pic up, but I do think it's random that the character's name is Case. I just met my first Case a couple days ago. Cue The Twilight Zone music o_O

Truly Bookish said...

Kristin, his name is actually Henry Dorsett Case but his full name is only mentioned once throughout the entire book. You met someone that their first name is Case? That's an odd first name...
NC

Mary @SweepingMe said...

I am sorry you were disappointed. I hate that when a book has all this hype and then just falls flat.

Mary

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I read this one in college. I remember really digging it but you're right about the terminology. Great review. I love that you read an oldie.

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