Monday, March 23, 2009
William Gibson's Neuromancer
Technology is obviously key to the vision of Gibson, but as he himself notes in his Introduction to Neuromancer, "I suspect that Neuromancer owes much of its shelf life to my almost perfect ignorance of the technology I was extrapolating from" (xi). This vision includes his use of cell-phone technology throughout the text, and he acknowledges that the text has taken on a life of its own - much like that of an adult child one never sees, though in fact his interest lies with the "13 year-old, curled on a sofa somewhere, twenty pages into the book and desperate to get to the root of the mystery of why cell phones aren't allowed in Chiba City" (xi).
The text is also marvelously prescient (if indeed, that is the word, for Gibson notes that other writers had used hand-held communication devices before him) in its terminology, but then again, I'm not sure what was considered the norm in 1984? It certainly seems ahead of its time. At the end, it mentions the matrix, as when Pauley establishes a deal with Wintermute/Neuromancer to be freed from the construct so he can exist in this matrix. Case, who was once a cyber cowboy, able to hack into ROM constructs - among other things - tries not to flatline, and on several occasions enters cyberspace, as when he attempts to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a powerful icebreaker program (ICE is apparently intrusion countermeasure electronics).
And certain people on the edge of society (I picture a type of tatoo parlor that instead consists of DNA manipulation and mechanical body parts) have actually integrated technology into their bodies (genetic surgeons in Tokyo specialize in reseting DNA codes), as with Molly's eyes, which seem to be 10X holograms of reflected color lenses - though this feature stamps her as unladylike.
At a certain point, the book's use of computer/Web terminology is just ridiculously ahead of the curve: no wonder it has a cult following. Apple I computers had only been in existence since 1977 and IBM PC's didn't arrive until 3 years before this book was printed. Most people were lucky to know someone who owned a computer, and were hardly expert users or familiar with the terminology. So how in the world, in his first novel, did Gibson manage to write/dance so fluidly with the technology?
The plot of the book is rather convoluted, and I am not sure whether that is a strength or weakness. Perhaps I am not enough of a die-hard science fiction fan to appreciate it as a strength, but by the time the text enters the halfway mark, it becomes extremely difficult to keep it together. I need a map. One has to keep in mind that Wintermute is partially a Neuromancer, and that Corto has a hidden objective, and that we have no idea why one-half of a super-AI entity would be banned from connecting with another (Turning Law Code), or why the Tessier-Ashpool dynasty, which seems determined to hide its actions, would attempt to merge with the other half-Neuromancer. The characters themselves are also quite odd, as with the unfrozen daughter clone Lady 3Jane Marie-France, or the psychopath Riviera. And Case has conversations with a dead girlfriend, in the sense that he seems able to contact to her in the beyond - a place which is never really referenced as either heaven or hell.
Obviously, it is easy to see both the cyber and punk aspect of the novel - humans as machines and the rebellion against authority. I certainly see Haraway's point that the cyborg is "resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence" (152). It sounds pretty horrid. I keep expecting her to mention incest and bestiality as additional qualities. Whether, as in Dr. Spark's notes, this mechanization is ultimately a good thing is never really answered, but at least for Case the end is positive (the drugs are dissolved without hurting him, he can continue with his "career" and he finds a new girlfriend). But as with many of these sci fi books we have read, I still wonder if in our advancement we've really advanced. I certainly wouldn't want anything to do with this world they inhabit, whether on the fringes or not.