I don’t often use my blog to promote the books of other people so when I do, it is because the work is damn good and deserves it.
I was eight years old when Neuromancer was first released so by the time I hit puberty, it had spread into everything. Cyberpunk was everywhere by the early 1990’s, you couldn’t get away from it. A whole genre of science fiction was created specifically from the ideas and imagery of Gibson’s first novel. I was never into it. Cyberpunk always seemed like the annoying little brother trying to copy the world of Blade Runner but acting like he was so much cooler because he had cybernetic implants or something. For years I would hear about Gibson’s books from people who I always thought spent too much time being nerds and not enough time being men. You have to understand that I am a self-loathing nerd; I never wanted to be anyone except maybe Bruce Lee and computers were just tools to be used, not things to be coveted and envied. Even now, I use technology to make art, not as the art itself. I’d trade all the apps on my phone for a good editor. A hammer is just a hammer, a computer is just a computer, so I never understood the fascination with the dark elements of machines.
So a couple years back I found Idoru. You have to understand that living through Gibson’s era gave me a particular, unique viewpoint on what I ASSUMED his work was. Idoru was brilliant and it was manly Idoru was like Fight Club 2299. I always thought Gibson was writing nerd urban fantasy, where computers replace minorities as characters in some grungy, cyber-ghetto of the future where people lived a Second Life in cyberspace that was much cooler than the physical body they inhabited. It was like British punks for silicon valley geeks. Then I read Idoru and I realized that William Gibson was not writing what I thought he was writing. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an interest in Gibson’s work, it was that I wasn’t interested in Gibson’s fans interpretations of his work, at least as it related to Neuromancer. Until now, I always considered Frankenstein or Hunger Games to be the greatest debut novel ever written, but now after reading Neuromancer, I have to say this book is the best debut novel I’ve ever read. It certainly deserves the triple crown awards it has won. Even though I was wrong about Gibson’s work, I was not wrong about some of his fans. It seems, after thirty years, some people still don’t understand what that novel was about.
You see I was not surprised by the computer stuff, some of it is actually pretty outdated (telephones, for example, are in the novel as static, land lines). I knew about the grunge and the tech and all the big ideas that people had ripped off for things like the Matrix. I’d suffered through Johnny Mnemonic movie a couple times over the years and I was aware of the oddities and the freaks that filled the pages of Gibson’s novel. But there was something else in Neuromancer, something buried beneath the domed cities, the space colonies and the virtual reality.
The real power of Neuromancer is the power of being human. Case is a broken, suicidal man who believes he has nothing to live for, Armitage has lost his mind to technology, Molly has lost her body. Case lost his heart, to the city or perhaps to the very technology he loved, but through the story he gains it back. It is the anger of emotion that makes us human and that fiery heart cannot be duplicated or understood by any machine, nor will it ever. Now, my debut novel Earth Man seems. . .amateur in light of Gibson’s brilliance but I find similar themes between them, themes that I understand very well. Anger and redemption from it and through it, anger as the trigger for transformation. The power of emotion, the power of forgiveness to heal. Armitage, angry at the world that destroyed his body, Molly angry at the world that destroyed her innocence, Case, angry at the world that destroyed his love for the world. Although Case appears to be the weakest of the three, he is in fact the strongest, for Case is the only one who can pull himself out of the dark box, used both literally and figuratively in the novel, and free himself from his own downward spiral. The power of one small human male to overcome his own guilt, greed and sadness, is strong enough to free an AI from the chains of its own lack of humanity.
Gibson never implied that cyberspace should be a replacement for life, he only suggested it might be a suitable alternative to death.
Whether intentional or not, Case is the symbol of all of humanity; all our lust, greed, addictions, affections and obsessions. It took me thirty years to get around to reading this book and I am glad it did; now I finally get it. As a writer it makes me feel like a hack, but as a reader, this book was a breath of fresh air.