miércoles, 24 de febrero de 2010

Neuromancer

Neuromancer (Ace, 2000)
by William Gibson
USA, 1984

As part of my rehab from Virginia Woolf's monumentally boring/annoying/occasionally racist Orlando a week or two ago, William Gibson's cyberpunk classic Neuromancer was prob. just what the doctor ordered: a taut, high-octane thriller that I actually looked forward to reading when I got home from work.  Having said that, it was also sort of a letdown on the big ideas front.  Imagination, now that's another story.  Beginning with the celebrated opening line mentioned in almost every review of the work by straights and geeks alike ("The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"), the novel instantly transports you into a noirish otherworld of the future where a few multinational corporations dominate what seems to be a dramatically-altered, grim post-apocalyptic landscape.  Molly, a genetically-modified "razorgirl" working as the muscle for a dubiously-principled ex-special forces officer named Armitage, recruits the self-destructive but once über-talented hacker Case to join a team specially assembled to breach artificial intelligence giant Tessier-Ashpool's vaunted security network defenses.  Things, somewhat predictably, go awry.  Although this three-sentence plot summary will fail to do justice to certain of Neuromancer's narrative twists and turns, it's more than enough to make clear that the novel's basically just a caper story where the devil's in the details.  Gibson's great, for example, at describing a world where old school humans (genetically-modified or not) interact with ninja robots and other artificial intelligence life forms in a way that feels plausible.  I also liked how both Chiba City, the Blade Runner-like Japanese underworld where we first meet Case, and the imagined or reconstructed memory scenes that take place in virtual reality elsewhere (on the beach? in the afterlife? jacked into somebody else's head?) score high on the atmosphere meter in compellingly different ways.  Mostly, though, I just really fell in love with how cool the Molly character was written.  Suffice it to say that her back story--with its jarring references to the sordid world of virtual reality prostitution--did more to elevate Neuromancer above its genre roots for me than all of the "prophetic" references to the matrix/microsofts/etc. combined.  An entertaining read, to be sure--but hardly the "mindbender" that sci-fi fans and those establishment wackos at Time and the Village Voice might have you believe.  (http://www.penguin.com/)

A Brazilian version of Neuromancer with the scene-stealing Molly, suspiciously looking just as I had imagined her, on the cover.

William Gibson:
"The future is already here--it's just not evenly distributed" (2003 quote lifted from Wikipedia).

14 comentarios:

  1. The guilt of sending you to cyberpunk rehab is weighing heavily upon me. My husband likes this book as well. Maybe it's something about me that drives you two to the edge of geekdom? Or maybe I should stash the snark and actually read this?

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  2. I've been wanting to read this book. I got it for my brother for Christmas but I think he's too bogged down with college at the moment for leisure reading.

    If you're interested in more cyberpunk, I totally recommend Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell.

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  3. Ha, I like the your straights/geeks opposition. Sounds like this was a breath of fresh air for you, & I'm always surprised and delighted at female characters who are bright spots of characterization. (OK, I'm delighted at any bright spots of characterization, but maybe female characters have a little edge.)

    Also, eek! Where did the name/URL option for comments go? Were you getting lots of spam? Open ID can kiss my pasty white ass.

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  4. Ah, sci fi/cyberpunk, where I run to when I need sheer entertainment. Thanks for the review, Richard. This is one of my favorites, I need to read it again. Have tou tried Snowcrash?

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  5. I read this a year and a half ago and liked it fairly well. Actually my reaction was similar to yours - I wasn't blown away by the ideas, but the story, and the characters especially, hooked me. Frances makes me laugh - I'm afraid I definitely dwell at the edge of gookdom. I've just been roaming farther afield in the last couple of years! :)

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  6. My husband liked this book a lot and reminds me now and then that I still haven't read it. It's sitting on a shelf somewhere. I should probably go dig it out.

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  7. *Frances: I think you must be the common denominator in driving us to the edge of geekdom because I tried to read Neuromancer years and years ago and just couldn't get into it at the time! Don't sweat it, though--I kind of liked cyberpunk rehab. Enough for a happy face, in fact. :D

    *E.L. Fay: Buying a family member a book so you can read it after they're done is a time-honored trick that I support fully (whether or not you actually did that in your case). I haven't read the two works you mention, but I'll keep them in mind since you're not the first to hype them to me. Thanks for the tips!

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  8. *Emily: I think the straights/geeks idea might have been a "readymade" (or at least a near readymade) found elsewhere, but I'm happy to take Duchampian credit for that entertainment urinal if it amused you somehow! By the way, I've changed the comments setting back to the way it used to be--had wanted to eliminate anonymous comments since I've been receiving a lot of spam lately from losers, but I didn't realize Open ID would complicate things so. Anyway, complaint resolved!

    *Gavin: I haven't tried the work in question, but I'll definitely keep it in mind now that both you and E.L. Fay have mentioned it to me within such a short space in time. Thanks for the rec!

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  9. *Sarah: So we agree on the characters and the story. And on the comedic stylings of Frances. And on our lamentable inability to correct typos in a comments box. Hey, I like how you think!

    *Stefanie: Another husband vote in support of Neuromancer? And you and Frances both have librarian backgrounds? I almost sense...a trend!

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  10. Richard, it is petty & weird of me to care so much, but thank you for restoring my nombre/url option! Please feel free to tell me to man up and deal if it results in too much spam. :-P

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  11. No worries, Emily! I was just surprised to learn that Blogger won't let you block anonymous comments without also deleting the other line you mention. I'd like to get rid of comment moderation, too, but I don't want to spend lots of time deleting spam after the fact. Decisions, decisions...

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  12. Ah, cyberpunk! I read this about 20 years ago, and I didn't really get it, but at the time it did seem kind of mind-blowing. Definitely check out Snowcrash, which is funny as well being prophetic, in terms of the web and how wired our society is.

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  13. Isabella, wow, another vote for Snow Crash! That whole "Hiro Protagonist" main character thing sounds a little too overly "clever"/cutesy for my tastes, so I'm glad to hear you say that it's funny. And I don't imagine you and E.L. Fay and Gavin would all steer me wrong unless you were mad at me or something. Thanks for the rec!

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