Neuromancer Redux: Twenty Years Later
a Velvet Delorey Review
Nearly twenty years ago, a new science fiction book was published, one that proved to be visionary and timeless. The cross-generational sampling of Neuromancer's readers may disagree strongly with the author's contention that the book was really set in the present (that "present" being the world that Gibson saw around him in the formative years of the 1980s), but all can agree that any work of fiction that still stands on its own two feet from the Me decade must be a very well-written piece of fiction indeed. What a strange world the Eighties must have been, at least according to Gibson, who was able to step outside of it all and show SF readers something they had never seen before.
Rereading Neuromancer in the new millennium, however, isn't a literal recreation of the Eighties that you may remember growing up in, or living through. The Eighties Server it ain't. If it's a reflection of the world I grew up in, I must have missed something somewhere along the way, because Neuromancer and the Sprawl trilogy was the world I went to in order to escape the Eighties I was living in at the time. Put me in the camp of Gibson readers that looks at Neuromancer and goes, "This was the Eighties? What?!"
Whatever aspects of the Eighties Neuromancer may have extrapolated from, however, much of the Eighties influences, both -punk and cyber-, seem to have taken their cues from Neuromancer, instead of the other way around. Or am I the only one who remembers the Billy Idol album of the same name?
Contrary to what neophyte Gibson readers might believe, Steely Dan was more of a driving musical influence, as was Velvet Underground and Joy Division. According to the man himself, Roky Erickson was also on the record player while Neuromancer was being laboriously pecked out on an olive-green 1927 Hermes typewriter.
As for what music the current version of William Gibson listens to, he apparently favours the Johnny Cash cover of Trent Reznor's "Hurt" (Note: You will need to register, for free, as a Launchcast member to watch this video.), as well as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Saint Etienne.
All of the above information taken, of course, from the William Gibson Blog Yes, it is an actual blog, by the actual man himself. No, it won't be around for too much longer. Go while you still can, before it becomes nothing more than the fond memory of a unique, interesting, and sometimes even startling jumping-off point for all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Much like the original Gibson site that was floating around the Vancouver Freenet many years back, the William Gibson Yardshow, only with less graphics. Ironic, since most of the Gibson site surfers (we've been likened to Gibsonites on the discussion board, but that term makes me feel like I'm one of the undiscovered elements on the Periodic table), wouldn't have had the bandwidth (in some cases, they might not have even had the Internet connection) in 1996-97 to get the full experience out of the Yardshow site, whereas more of them would today. However, the current site is minimal, focusing on content versus Flash. Literally. The launch of the William Gibson Yardshow, coinciding with the launch of Gibson's novel Idoru, the completion of the Bridge trilogy series, was truly a work of art, a thing of appreciable early Nineties pop culture beauty, and is sorely missed. A search of the Internet Archive reveals that although the pages have been cached, it is unfortunately without their content.
Gibson fans stopped running through their old bookmarks and the more-frequently-updated Aleph site in despair shortly after New Year's Day, 2003, however, with the launch of William Gibson Books, a site with a bio, a blog, links that most of us have seen before, and a discussion board that's cooler than well, anything I've seen in recent memory.
But back to the book. Google Neuromancer and you will get every term paper, doctoral thesis, study guide and/or book review ever written about this slim, innocuous-looking volume. Well, the Ace Special paperback edition is innocuous-looking, although I'd love to get my hands on one of those Gollancz limited first editions. Yeah. When I scratch just the right Cash for Life ticket, eh?
Here is one such of these virtually mythical first editions for sale.
Another one, if you want the signed version.
One more, for the third millionaire out there who wants to score a copy.
Since ABEBooks doesn't provide a picture of the book in question, should you ever find it at a flea market sale for $5, here is what it looks like. Grab it, and run screaming for the nearest safety deposit box, if you do. Then call me. Collect.
Neuromancer was Gibson writing about the present as reflected through a lens of the future. Not only was he attempting to write science fiction in the literary style of Postmodernism, he introduced the world at large to post-humanism as well.
Of course, at the time, hardly anyone outside of elite academic circles had ever heard of either movement, such as they were, in the late Seventies to early Eighties.
(Sidebar: For a just-slightly more accessible (shorter) piece on Postmodernism, see this. For the Wikipedia definition of PoMo, try here. Of course, if you really want the inside scoop on Postmodernism, you need look no further than The PostModern Generator, thanks to Communications From Elsewhere, which has this to say about Gibson.)
Read Neuromancer today, however, and you can Google both postmodernists and posthumans (and sometimes even crossbreeds of the two), in plentiful supply. Which is why Neuromancer, the book, still stands up twenty years later: After two decades, the world has finally caught up with the reality pictured in Neuromancer, in more ways than one.
Let us not delve into the sharp, biting irony of the fact that the world of Neuromancer was originally designed by Gibson to be a dystopia. That way lies madness.
Of course, through it all, we have the running thread of cyberspace, something that wasn't visionary so much as eerily prophetic, since it was written during a time when DARPANet was still used primarily for military purposes, and hadn't fully been given over to the student and university networks yet, and most writers, and even non-writers, used typewriters for business and other correspondence. Cyberspace didn't make so much of a ripple on the academic levels as it did in popular culture, however, birthing everything from the World Wide Web (the "matrix", to a large degree), and countless Sfnal spinoffs that are still going strong in the first part of the new millennium.
(Two examples in point: The Matrix trilogy: and Madonna's "Drowned World" tour, which was swimming in cyberpunk costumes, dance moves, and electronica music. (And you thought she should have stopped with the one and only Clockwork Orange riff ever made possible in pop music culture, thanks to her performance of the B-side tune "Keep it Together" from her Blonde Ambition tour.) Revenge of the 80s, indeed.)
Indeed, the World Wide Web as it exists now might not be quite the same as it is, if there had been no Neuromancer. Maybe it would have turned into more of the future dystopia depicted into the book. Then again, it's certainly not that far off the mark, as it is.
Neuromancer. Don't be all cyberpunk and read the poorly-scanned, OCR-bit-rot-encrusted version available at the bootleg Russian library. Find a real library, or ask one of your friends who still remembers the Eighties to loan you their copy, or get your local bookstore to order you a copy. It's the only look you'll ever get inside a world that almost wasn't.