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William Gibson

Review by Gabe Gregoire

If all the computers in the world were turned off, would the internet still be there?

The question couldn?t have been framed in 1984, when William Gibson wrote Neuromancer, as the web didn?t yet exist. But today, it points out the omnipresent, almost religious, nature of cyberspace, a place where anything is possible and where people find connections that transcend the physical world.

In the novel, a hustler named Henry Dorsett Case has suffered neurological damage that prevents him from "jacking in" to cyberspace, and he gets by on the streets of Chiba City by dealing drugs, betraying his associates and giving in to paranoid fantasies of persecution. But in this case, "they" really are after him. Case, on the verge of self-destruction, is targeted by a mysterious and powerful group for recruitment.

They leave him no choice but to cooperate, but there is a payoff: The nerve damage will be repaired, and the young cowboy will once again have the ability to surf the matrix of information and sheer possibility that he loves so well.

Gibson, a Vancouver resident since he dodged the Viet Nam war draft, has said that Neuromancer is "an adolescent's novel," a comment that is borne out by his protagonist?s development from a selfish thug to a man with something to lose. In Chiba City, Case is befriended by Molly, a woman whose tightly wound hyperawareness is only matched by her penchant for combat. She arranges a meeting with her employer. Case moves from his magnet-locked "coffin hotel" to a world of glitz and high commerce, where boardroom deals and politics mean a trip to the edge of sanity for an average Joe. One thing, however, remains the same: Case and Molly, who form a tentative alliance, still have to look over their shoulders, wondering if friends are really enemies,and vice-versa.

Gibson's novel, with its depiction of a borderless, computer-generated network, was prophetic. Case, if he existed today, would be a hacker who sells his services to the highest bidder, yet has enough presence of mind to question the motives of the people (and other entities) above him. In the story, as each trip to the electronic ether reveals another layer of subterfuge, Case encounters an enigmatic figure called Wintermute. The nature of this being, and of existence itself, is called into question as the novel progresses.

After running the caper for which he was hired, Case gets a chance to speak directly with Wintermute. He asks, "You running the world now? You God?"

The construct's answer leads Case to hurl a shuriken through the screen. Wintermute's image disappears from the broken display, but Case knows he hasn't damaged the consciousness of the thing.

I wouldn't recommend that you destroy your interface in a fit of existential angst, but I will tell you this: Read the book, and you'll never again feel the same way about logging on.

Neuromancer won the Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick awards upon its release, or Cancel below.becoming a word-of-mouth cult classic. William Gibson and his contemporaries, Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner, had forged a new genre with their postmodern, gritty tales of technology?s effect on humanity: Cyberpunk.

Gibson went on to write other novels of the urban sprawl, including Mona Lisa Overdrive and Count Zero, among others, before leaving cyberpunk behind in recent years to focus on the concerns of today. One might say that, now, technology has nearly caught up with the author?s imagination, making speculative writing unnecessary. But to understand on a gut level how we have arrived at the twenty-first century, and what it means to have a place in the overarching invisible lattice of information and power that is the internet, one could do worse than to study and appreciate Neuromancer.

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