William Gibson’s Neuromancer: the Creation of a Language


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William Gibson’s Neuromancer: the Creation of a Language

Published in 1984, Gibson’s Neuromancer, with its vision of technological and impersonal life in the twenty-first century, echoes George Orwell’s ironic commentary on the controlling and dehumanising bureaucracy associated with post-war society. Writing in an era when technological and scientific advances are increasingly prominent, often to the detriment of humanity, Gibson differs from other science fiction writers in that he uses existing contemporary themes and issues, forecasting a possible and believable future and simultaneously providing a commentary on late twentieth-century society which his audience can relate to. His version of this not-so-distant future stems from an observation of contemporary post-colonial society in which national identity is shown to be insignificant, as uniformity reigns supreme. Speaking of the influences on his fiction, he states:

I see myself as a kind of literary collage-artist, and sf as a marketing framework that allows me to gleefully ransack the whole fat supermarket of 20th century cultural symbols (Maddox, Tom. “Cobra, She Said: An Interim Report on the Fiction of William Gibson.” Fantasy Review 4: April 1986, 46- 8).
Through the novel Gibson was responsible for creating the terms “virtual reality” and “cyberspace”, and in an increasingly computer literate age these terms would be adopted by a generation of users, becoming an independent and universal language. Within the novel cyberspace is described as a

consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. (Gibson, William. Neuromancer, 67).

As technology has advanced with inventions such as the Internet and computer simulated images, the possibility of existing within this alternative world has become a reality. Therefore it can be argued that Gibson’s futuristic vision has in fact been realized, within a few years of the novel’s publication, and reinforces the view put forward by Maddox: “If the 20th century has a distinct narrative voice, this is it” (Maddox. Fantasy Review, 46-8).

Gibson addresses global concerns with his depiction of advances in technology leading to the computer becoming an independent life form. Despite the intentions of those responsible for creating this technology, it is this artificial intelligence which triumphs at the end of the novel. Echoing the viewpoint of Jean Baudrillard, who believes that reality is shown to be irrelevant in contemporary society due primarily to technological advances, the simulated world of cyberspace is shown to offer individuals greater possibilities and rewards than the harsh reality ever could.

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As inhabitants of this society, Case, the protagonist of the novel, and his contemporaries are unable to interact with each other, except in terms of the degree of profit they can accumulate from physical encounters. Reflecting the materialism of late twentieth century life, an end product of the disintegration of society, the novel indicates that body parts - and as a consequence, the perfect body, cosmetic surgery in the future being the norm rather than the exception - can all be bought for a price. Stemming from this existence, Case undertakes one last job, in an attempt to kick his addiction to the drugs which shut out reality, and buy both his life and freedom. Reflecting life within this impersonal and nightmarish society, personal relationships are shown to be invalid, and it is after his affair with Molly breaks down that Case subsequently finds a degree of solace within the alternative world - the realms of cyberspace.

An American who has lived in Canada since 1968, Gibson, who would be influential in creating an alternative form of expression, would be honoured with the Philip K. Dick, Nebula and Hugo Awards for his first novel, as well as becoming the most successful science fiction writer of 1985. Similar to Douglas Coupland, the novel was warmly received by critics in America and Europe, who praised this critique of contemporary society. However, due to its subject matter, the Canadian literary establishment initially overlooked the science fiction genre, before belatedly heaping praise on this acceptable award winning author, whose fiction and voice appeal to many who recognize this depiction of end of century life.


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