Neuromancer (The Sprawl #1) by William Gibson Book Review 20, Nov


NEUROMANCER is the original cyberpunk novel which, along with the film version of Blade Runner by Ridley Scott, created the genre. The book, itself, is actually quite flawed but more than makes up for it with the sheer depth of the vision presented to the reader. In what is actually a fairly short book, an entire world is introduced and went on to inspire hundreds of knock-offs, pastiches, and some genuinely new ideas. If you're a gamer, watched a lot of anime, or enjoy dystopian sci-fi from the 80s as well as early 90s then you probably have seen something inspired by this world. Like the Lord of the Rings for fantasy, it is a work you owe it to yourself to read if you like cyberpunk.

The premise is the world has utterly gone to crap but technology has continued to advance. The world is a buffet of interconnected cultures, particularly Asian, but stuffed together in a squalid collection of polluted cities. Henry Case is a console jockey (a hacker before the concept became prevalent) who has been rendered chemically unable to link with the internet's virtual reality interface.

A ruthless criminal and drug dealer, he would do anything to be able to get back on the internet (called, I kid you not, the Matrix). The opportunity for him to get back online comes in the form of the beautiful Molly Millions who is willing to hook him up with her employer's contacts if he helps her with a mission to remove the restrictions on an already-insane Artificial Intelligence. It's a profoundly bad idea but Case is desperate enough to do it--as is everyone else the A.I. Wintermute has assembled to carry out its insane mission.

What follows is a surreal journey through everything from the space station belonging to a cryogenically frozen incestuous band of trillionaires, strip clubs for cyborged prostitutes, and even a universe existing digitally (which was far more impressive back in the early 80s). The grotesque mixes with the amazing mixes with the gritty, making a sort of techno Oceans 11 meets Alice and Wonderland combination--only for adults and on acid.

Part of what makes the book so good is the protagonists are deeply damaged but relatable. Despite Gibson having something of an "economical" relationship with description, you get to know Molly and Case intimately to the point they felt like real people to me. Molly was an early crush of my fourteen-year-old self and only slightly less real than the other girls around my nerdy self. Most of us wished to be like Case and attract her inexplicable attention. There's just something incredibly cool about the "Razor Girl" and she is a character is rightfully viewed as Gibson's best.

While Case and Molly are relatable, everyone else has stepped forth from a carnival funhouse. It says something about Gibson's world that a net-addicted criminal and his ex-prostitute turned cyborg assassin girlfriend (in the loosest sense of the world) are the two most normal people in the world. Their bosses are a brainwashed military commander and a A.I. with a God complex while their closest partner is the digital ghost of Case's former mentor. The characters in the book just get weirder from there.

In conclusion, do I recommend this book? Hell yes I recommend this book. Unfortunately, it does come with some caveats. The description in this book is amazingly lacking, especially for characters. It is also a book with a lot gratuitous action and sex scenes--the lure of the forbidden to its original audience of teenaged boys. The jargon the book throws at a reader is also at times indecipherable. Still, I certainly had fun with it.