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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

cover of 'Neuromancer'

Watching Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse" this spring made me think of Neuromancer and want to read it again, because what happens in the Dollhouse made me think of Molly and what little we are told of her history: how she worked at what the characters call a "meat palace" (like a doll but with a "cut out chip" and "software for whatever a customer wants to pay for"), to make money for all her enhancement surgery (blades under her nails, inset lenses over her eyes, enhanced reflexes, etc)-- but she starts remembering. Of course, that is just one small bit (half of a page) of what is a fascinating ride full of strange, fascinating, dark characters. Reading this book the second time, it was nice to have some idea where the narrative is heading; when you read it the first time, you're just as disoriented as Case, Molly, and the other characters are-- you don't know who has hired them or what job they are supposed to pull or why, and as the hints start coming it still takes a long time to find out who or what Wintermute might be.

This book creates a fascinating, dark world where human bodies are what everyone is upgrading, modifying, and accessorizing. Case is a "cowboy" who jacks into the matrix to hack in and pull jobs or heists; Molly is a razor-girl, a fighter. They're both hired by Armitage, who in turn has been hired and manipulated by an AI named Wintermute. In this high-tech world run by multinational corporations, there are strict limits on what AI software is allowed, and there are Turing police to enforce them. After gathering other recruits and the tools for the run (including a ROM construct of a dead cowboy Case used to know, the Dixie Flatline), Case and Molly head up to Freeside, the space satellite owned by the ancient and inbred Tessier-Ashpool clan-- who also happen to own Wintermute.

The end result of all the plotting and maneuvering is strangely beautiful and a little bit mysterious. The mother of the Tessier-Ashpool clan was a visionary, and saw that all the surgeries that could extend your life and going in and out of cryogenic suspension wasn't real immortality, and even though she was murdered by her brutal husband (he disagreed with her philosophy), she still managed to set up two very different AIs: Wintermute, adaptable and decision-making, manipulating events and people; and Neuromancer, who we only meet briefly near the end, who understands people and personality in a way that Wintermute cannot. And in the process, this dead woman plant the seeds for a new phase of evolution, or maybe something even grander.

There's lots of interesting things here (also plenty of violence and sexuality, dark, broken people doing disturbing things). It is strange to read it now and wonder how many words Gibson coined, and to notice the analogies that might not make sense to someone now because of how technology has changed-- like the sky "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel", which we know is static and grey, not the bright blue of "no signal" that is more common now. It's also pretty obvious what a huge debt "The Matrix" owes to this book-- not just the flipping and jacking in to the matrix, or the "simstim" that lets Case virtually ride along with Molly and feel everything she feels (including excruciating pain when she gets injured), but even the Rastafarian Zionite Maelcum and his tugboat spacecraft that ferries Case and the rest, and helps in the end-- to save "Steppin Razor", as he calls Molly, but not to get in the way of Babylon destroying itself.

Great, fascinating book, well-written-- much here to think about, but the language is also well-crafted (the imagery when Case is hacking through some particularly bad ICE is pretty cool). I'm glad I read it again, I think I understand it a little better now; makes me want to read more Gibson, which I'm not sure was the case the last time I read it.

Author:William Gibson
Date published:1984
Genre:Cyberpunk, Science Fiction
Number of pages:271
Notes:second reading


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