Fiction Reviews


Neuromancer

(1984 / 2016) William Gibson, Gollancz, £8.99, pbk, 297pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21738-6

 

This first appeared in 1984 and this 2016 Gollancz edition is a very welcome reprint given that this novel instantly made a significant mark on the SF landscape and part of a movement that soon became known as 'cyberpunk'.  Movements are notoriously easier to spot in retrospect than they are at the time, though ‘cyberpunk’ was a little more obvious than some. The 1980s love affair with information technology, and the emerging Worldwide Web (internet), was bound to be reflected in the SF of the time – indeed, it had been predicted, cf. John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider (1975) – and, willingly or not, Gibson was certainly seen as a figurehead of the cyberpunk movement. The world of Neuromancer can be said to fairly represent all the elements that are common to cyberpunk works: the near-future time-frame; the Chandler-esque urban environment; the subversion of technology by criminal elements; and the heavy emphasis on IT.  But it is also a pretty basic antihero-driven story.

Case, an ‘interface cowboy’ who steals data from cyberspace, has had his physical bodily electronic connections burned out, having been caught for a previous crime. Then someone wants to employ him for a specific job, and is willing to pay the large sums required to have his interfaces restored. Throughout the action (which involves Case’s acquisition of a minder, and travel from Earth to orbiting arcologies) he is unaware that the data he has been hired to steal is a special piece of software called Wintermute, and it is only towards the end that Case discovers who has hired him and why…

Neuromancer was one of the first novels originally to be published by Ace as part of their then ‘new’ Ace SF Specials series, edited by the late Terry Carr. They must have been very pleased when Gibson’s first novel won the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards for Best Novel in 1985.  Count Zero (1986), Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988), and the collection Burning Chrome (1986), all expand upon the Neuromancer universe, though are only loosely connected with each other. Neuromancer also came joint 9th in the SF²Concatenation All-time Best SF Novel poll, and it has been adapted into comics form, though sales of this were low and the title was cancelled before the story was completed.  The novel's opening line has become famous by genre aficionados: 'The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel.' However it also says a lot about SF, its writing and place in time: in the 1980s television signals were broadcast (not online, there being no internet) and analogue, so tune to a 'dead channel' and you pick up on a grey natural microwave background hiss.

The 2016 Gollancz edition comes with an extra: the first chapter of Count Zero. This extra boosts the page count beyond 297pp. In addition to Neuromancer Gollancz are reprinting Gibson's Burning Chrome and Mona Lisa Overdrive in addition to the aforementioned Count Zero. All these titles in this Gollancz run come with a similarly styled cover livery of urban building mosaics.

Neuromancer is very much a classic of modern SF and anyone who considers themselves something of a genre aficionado will want this in their collection.

Jonathan Cowie


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