William Gibson’s Neuromancer is the Penultimate Cyberpunk Novel

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William Gibson’s Neuromancer is the Penultimate Cyberpunk Novel


It could be the near future or the distant future. It could be in the biggest companies or in your den. It could be traditional science fiction or it could be cyberpunk. Technology is pervasive. There is nothing in our lives that technology does not touch; it doesn’t matter if you use it directly, chances are that something (if not everything) in your life relies on technology to function or even exist. "Traditional" science fiction, if there even is such a thing, uses extrapolation as a foundation for its stories. Extrapolation, predicting or tracing a path of continuation for an idea or event, is also used in cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is known for its use of extrapolation in the fabric of daily life. (Sterling 348) It takes common science fiction themes, such as body and mind manipulation, and events of daily life and describes them with intensely dizzying detail. Neuromancer by William Gibson is a perfect example of cyberpunk writing because it uses this dense, rapid-fire description and language in combination with the themes of body/mind manipulation.

The body manipulation in Neuromancer is so obvious it’s accepted as commonplace to the characters. When Case first meets Molly, her eyes draw his attention. He first thinks she’s wearing glasses, but then realizes that the lenses "grow from…her cheekbones" and are "surgically inset" into her eye sockets. (Gibson 24) Does he find this odd? Does he question it at all? Nope. He recognizes it, makes a note of it, and moves on to her next implant—the steel claws under her nails. Same response. Why is that? He is used to the fact that bodies are meant to be manipulated. Gibson even gives the reader a push in that direction by naming the lead "Case"—as in: he is nothing but a case in which to store things. Within a matter of hours Case has had his own body manipulated, his pancreas is replaced, his blood is changed, and he has new liver tissue which is "biochemically incapable" of allowing him to get high off coke or speed (36). All that and the only thing he’s worried about is when he’ll be able to get back to work!

The descriptions of these modifications border a foreign language at times. They are detailed and technically specific, a hallmark of cyberpunk. A head-spinning example of this is the scan of Molly: "Silicon, coat of pyrolitic carbons.

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Your glasses give me the same read they always have, low-temp isotropic carbons. Better biocompatibility with pyrolitics." ( Gibson 49)

Huh? Cliff’s Notes please! The style of description, the highly technical multi syllable words are what made this a great cyberpunk novel. If Gibson had simply said "Your scan is normal, same things I’ve always seen, but that’s because they work together well." It wouldn’t have the same effect. Cyberpunk is meant to be disorienting and rapid-fire. Words that are complex and uncomfortable thrust the reader into a complex and uncomfortable place—the realm of cyberpunk.

Where the language gets especially complex is in describing the manipulations of the mind through the Matrix and the simstim connection between Case and Molly. The Matrix is described as "Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination…a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system" that is accessed through a "cranial jack". (Gibson 51) In 1990’s English, the Matrix is a picture of everything people have stored in computers seen by plugging it into your brain. This is what Case does for a living; he plugs a computer into his brain and tracks down information in the Matrix. For this particular assignment, he also needs to have a simstim connection with Molly and a construct to help him in the Matrix. Simstim allows him to experience all that Molly experiences. When he first jacks into her he feels like he’s out of control and tries helplessly to control her body. (Gibson 56) He has to mentally will himself to relax and ride rather than drive. Neither Molly nor Case finds this at all odd—it is common, daily life to them. The fast paced description and the lack of response by the characters all lull the reader into a state of "normalcy". Cyberpunk treats all of these high concept ideas as commonplace, which is what sucks the reader into the underlying story.

Cyberpunk helps us to "create flexibility in situations where it is required" (Gibson 162) Where it is needed, the characters--and through them the readers--become whatever is needed to complete the task at hand. Neuromancer is the penultimate cyberpunk novel for a very good reason; simply put, it blows your mind, tears down the boundaries and then reconstructs them to fit the needs of the author and his characters. While cyberpunk may not be the easiest read in science fiction, it is the cheapest thrill ride you’ll ever find…that is until we can mind jack into the Matrix.

Works Cited

Gibson, William Neuromancer. New York, Ace. 1984.
Sterling, Bruce "Preface from Mirrorshades." Storming the Reality Studio. 1991.


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