William Gibson has a pretty stellar reputation in science fiction circles. He helped create “cyberpunk” and coined the word “cyberspace,” and has had a huge influence on other writers. Neuromancer is the book that started it all. First published in 1984, it won the Nebula, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo, a feat that had never been done before. Gibson had been making a name for himself with short stories when asked to write a novel for Ace Science Fiction Specials. He had a year to write the book and was terrified that it would be a flop. Little did he know what was in store.
Neuromancer is often said to be the first time anyone used the word “cyberspace,” but Gibson had used it in an earlier short story called “Burning Chrome” that became a seed for Neuromancer. I won’t give you a summary, you can find those lots of places including Wikipedia where I also got the information about Gibson, above.
Some people have found the book really confusing, especially in the beginning. I didn’t find it confusing, but I did have to pay close attention. The thing with scifi is that there is often a part in the very beginning in which the author is world-building, throwing out words and places and events as if the reader is supposed to know what is all means. But I have found that if I pay attention and don’t try to figure it all out, just keep reading, there is a point where it all eventually makes sense. And if it is a good book and well-written like Neuromancer, the author can continue to add all kinds of things that won’t even make me blink twice.
I really enjoyed the book and it is clear its influence has spread far and wide throughout science fiction because a lot of what was so amazing about the book in 1984 is pretty commonplace now. Cyberspace of course has entered our everyday vocabulary. “Jacking in” to the “matrix” is nothing novel anymore. The idea of neuro-implants and body modifications, of saving someone’s consciousness as an artificial intelligence, of hacking and creating viruses to break through “ICE” (intrusion countermeasures electronics) is not so new and astonishing. On the cover of my copy of the book is a blurb from the Village Voice that says, “A mindbender of a read.” My mind did not get bendy. If I had read this in 1984 though when I was 16, wow, would I have been so totally blown away. But in 2011, not so much.
Don’t let that keep you from reading the book though. Neuromancer might not have the same mindbending effect it did originally but it is still classic science fiction and an excellent read. This is the first time I have read Gibson and it definitely won’t be the last. I believe I have a copy of Pattern Recognition around here somewhere.