The Good: Fast-paced, interesting
The Bad: Tech-heavy genre work that is low on character
The Basics: The archetype of cyber-punk, a literary disappointment that does little to nothing of lasting value outside the genre. At least it's a fast read!
A friend of mine bought me Neuromancer as a gift in an attempt to expand my literary horizons and I appreciated Neuromancer for that. In fact, if one is trying to sample every genre and sub-genre in literature, Neuromancer is as good a cyber-punk novel as any to use as representation for that sub-genre.
The problems, then, in Neuromancer are not so much in the novel, but in the genre itself. Cyber-punk, like much of science fiction, fails in two essential ways: 1. It focuses overmuch on technical aspects of the world it creates and 2. (Often as a by-product of the first) Too often neglects character. In movies, this is easy to define as placing spectacle over substance. If you read my review of the film Dune, you'll see another great phrasing of this problem.
Neuromancer, is a novel set in the future which is basically an adventure in which Case, a hacker, teams up with a shady character named Molly to hunt down Wintermute, which would be a very powerful Artificial Intelligence.
So, William Gibson succeeds quite well at creating a unique and impressive vision of the world and the future. Perhaps the most impressive facet is the true visionary nature of the work; Gibson writes about a computer collective well before the Internet actually existed.
I salute Gibson for his vision and his ability to predict the massive changes in the world and, to some extent, pioneer bravely what has become commonplace in our world. It's easy to see, upon reading Neuromancer how many ideas and whole films were ripped off of his original great idea.
The problem is, I'm not a computer person and Neuromancer (like most cyber-punk) is very heavy on the technical jargon and abbreviations and a culture that transcends simple geekdom and delves into serious programming issues and ideas. That's not to say I didn't "get" the book - I did. It just required a lot of thinking. Before you consider bashing me, allow me to say: literature should be a thinking experience, it ought to be contemplated. The problem here is what I ended up contemplating. All of the brainpower I had focused and invested in this novel was spent keeping track of computer concepts and technical details instead of the emotions and thoughts of the characters.
Fortunately, Gibson doesn't do much with the human characters. They're all fairly flat. Understanding their motivations doesn't take much effort because they are, essentially, unchallenging. That's not to say uninteresting, because I (for example) like Molly. She was definitely "cool." But several months after reading the novel, I remember very little of interest about Case, the novel's protagonist.
This novel won all sorts of science fiction awards and it deserved them. For genre fiction, it's passable, for the sub-genre of cyber-punk, it's ground-breaking and visionary. It defines the sub-genre. Unfortunately, it's the ushering in of a fast-paced, low character, high spectacle form of entertainment that has little residual impact or advancement of the understanding of the human condition, which all great literature should have.
Recommended only to those who like very hard-core science fiction; there's very little to like in the novel otherwise that can't be gotten from watching The Matrix.
For other science fiction and fantasy novels, please check out my reviews of:
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Dragons Of Winter Night by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner by Stephanie Meyer
For other book reviews, please check out the index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.