Friday, October 3, 2008

NEUROMANCER by William Gibson

William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which won the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award, is considered the seminal cyberpunk novel. Indeed, the profound influence of Neuromancer can still be seen in cyberpunk of all kinds, from Shadowrun to Deus Ex to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Cyberpunk as it exists today largely reflects Gibson’s vision, from the use of loner characters to the portrayals of hackers, technology, and corporations to the very concept of cyberspace.

Neuromancer is the story of Case, a down-on-his-luck hacker, who gets a second chance at his career when he gets hired to do a mysterious hack for a mysterious employer with mysterious motives. In many respects, Gibson’s concepts are excellent. His world, inasmuch as he describes it, is immersive.

The fundamental problem with Neuromancer is Gibson’s narrative. He does a bad job of describing places, which makes the story jerky. The reader can easily keep track of who is doing what, but not why or where people are doing things. Actions just happen, seemingly arbitrarily, one after another, building toward an underwhelming climax. The reader may very well ask, upon the novel’s conclusion, “so what?” The story itself is fairly pedestrian – it seems like it would make a better video game than novel (and Deus Ex did borrow heavily from it, successfully). The book also suffers because none of the characters are particularly well-developed or sympathetic.

In Neuromancer, Gibson is, annoyingly, addicted to the use of the word “lozenge.” He uses it frequently, for all kinds of things, most of which aren’t actually lozenge. You could make a lozenge drinking game for this book. You could do the same with all the random drugs all the characters are on.

Undeniably, Neuromancer has style. It just isn’t a very good story.