Thursday, June 19, 2014

On "Neuromancer" by William Gibson ****

On sentence level, this is one of the best-written books on my science-fiction reading list. Gibson seems genuinely interested in writing pretty words. I have on some level intended to this this book for decades, but on another level, it's always scared me a bit--seemed a bit too dry and detailed--and so I've stayed away. I'm glad I finally dared get past the first few pages. It is dense, but it's also a great read.

I wanted to read Gibson's work on the science fiction list in part because it is considered, so far as I understand, seminal in the creation of the cyberpunk genre. I never quite knew what that was, but now that I've read Gibson, I think I have some understanding. We're talking Matrix here, and indeed, much of what would later show up in those Matrix is anticipated here in Gibson, who himself writes of the Matrix and of people living in and out of a cyberspace world. Amazingly, this book was written back in the mid-1980s, when the Internet was the playhouse mostly just of the military and of a few true computer geeks (like some of my friends were).

The story revolves around a man named Case, who once did some high white-collar crimes, bilking companies he worked for of millions with savvy computer hacking. He might have had loads of money, but his accounts were frozen and the companies fried his brains to ensure he never worked in computers again. When we meet him, he is a drug dealer and a drug addict hanging on the streets of Tokyo.

Someone wants him to go to work for them. They want him badly enough that they offer to pay for surgery to correct his brain ("offer" may be a light word here--they more or less insist). In exchange, Case has to do some computer work for them. As it turns out, this computer work involves a lot of hacking into alternate cyberspace worlds, monitoring others, and searching for something. This is where things are a bit murky and dense and why Gibson's work demands close or second readings. Case doesn't know exactly who his boss is working for--and thus who he is working for--so he goes in search. In part, this is because the correction to his brain is temporal; if he quits, toxins will be released that will return him to his fried-brain state. Eventually, Case figures out that he's working for an artificial intelligence (that's right, for a computer), called Wintermute. Wintermute's got designs on the human race, on computer's generally. What exactly they are never became clear to me. At points, the narrative shifts so often between the computer world and the real world that the two begin to blur.

Nevertheless, it's a fun ride.

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