Review: NEUROMANCER by William Gibson

Book Reviews

NEUROMANCER. Probably not the first cyberpunk novel (if it’s even possible to identify such a thing) but arguably the one that had the most influence on the development of the genre and, from a personal perspective, the first one I ever read. There’s so much juicy cyberpunk goodness to dig into here, from cyberspace-faring console cowboys to nihilistic terrorist subcultures, from vat-grown Yakuza assassins to rogue artificial intelligences taking on the ever vigilant Turing Police, this book is pure cyberpunk.

It’s the story of a down-on-his-luck hacker called Case, once the best data-thief in the business who made the mistake of trying to steal from his employer. Now neurologically crippled by his vengeful former boss, he’s no longer capable of jacking in to ‘the matrix’. That is until he’s offered a cutting edge cure by a new, enigmatic employer in return for taking on one last heist. Working alongside a ‘razorgirl’ street samurai and the reconstructed consciousness of his dead mentor, Case must unravel the puzzle of his mysterious employer while pulling off the most daring job of his life.

I love this book. I’ve read it several times now and every time that opening chapter hooks me right in. Straight away we’re drawn into the seedy underbelly of Night City in all its infamy and ill-repute. The dive bars frequented by drug dealers and pimps, the street vendors hawking illegal software and black market weapons beneath the counter, the hustlers and the smugglers and the black market clinics dealing in experimental biotechnology and gene-editing techniques. Gibson sums up the dystopia of his setting and the complete domination of multinational corporations in this world of monopoly capitalism in this opening chapter when he describes Night City as ‘a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast forward button’. That description highlights the lack of control the powerless underclass of the book have to affect any change in the world around them and is really what Case is rebelling against throughout the story.

The weird thing about Neuromancer for me is that it isn’t hyper focussed on character, which is usually a big deal for me. And by that I don’t mean the characters aren’t interesting, they’re very interesting people, I mean this is less a story about diving deep into the inner workings and relationships between individual characters than it is about people fighting systems of power in whatever limited ways they’re able. I realise those things aren’t mutually exclusive, and maybe it could have been a better book if there was more focus on character, but for me it didn’t matter. The star of this show is the setting and the way people interact with technology, and that’s coming from someone who usually thinks character is paramount.

One thing I will say though is don’t necessarily expect to feel comfortable immediately because Gibson does not over-explain anything. You get dropped into this familiar-yet-jarring world and you’re expected to roll with it and do your best to keep up. It’s actually one of the things I love about this book, that the world has its own vernacular that can be quite rattling and unsettling to start with, but which does become second nature after a while. I think its a very clever narrative technique where the fragmented dialogue and disjointed jumps from scene to scene mirror the kind of uncontrolled disintegration of the hyper-globalised, postmodern setting. I’d liken the sensation of reading Neuromancer to somehow being able to watch unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay in real time at an alarming rate.

If you’re new to cyberpunk this is honestly a fantastic place to start and somewhere you quickly become acquainted with all the hallmark trappings of the genre. A fantastic book that changed the direction of science fiction for a generation.



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9 thoughts on “Review: NEUROMANCER by William Gibson

  1. Very intriguing review! I have long been aware of this – can I say “seminal”? – work in the genre, but have always been wary about trying it, I’m not exactly sure why… It’s interesting to know that despite the passage of time (the book is from 1984) it still feels up-to-date and accessible, and now that I’ve read your post I’m seriously thinking of giving it a chance. Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah it’s surprising how readable it still is without feeling dated. The book never says what year it’s set in, but it’s definitely not that far in the future from the year it was written. So it could very easily have been outpaced by the actual passage of time but it reads very much like it’s still taking place in the near future of our own time as well.

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  2. I second Maddalena- I’ve always felt wary of Neuromancer. I think I’ve always seen it as a very ‘masculine’ read and felt intimidated. But it sounds so much more interesting than I realised … am going to have to read it now! Great review! 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can def see why you would get that vibe, though I personally think that’s probably more to do with the subculture that grew up around 80s cyberpunk and ‘hacker culture’ than it is anything inherent to the book. I dunno, I’d be very curious to hear what you think about that if you do read it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! I’ve actually never heard of this book before and, I have to admit, cyberpunk has never been a branch of sci-fi that’s really called to me, but you’ve definitely piqued my interest with this one. I do love reading about messy, seedy cities!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fab, I hope you enjoy it if you do decide to pick it up 😀 I would say though there’s really not much optimism in cyberpunk haha, so if you do like any kind of soft edge to your dystopia there really isn’t any of that. It’s very gritty and pessimistic.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay, I’m going to admit I never made it out of the first chapter of this book–but that’s NOT because I didn’t like it. I have no idea why I put it down over two decades ago and didn’t pick it back up. I always meant to, and I consider its opening line to be the best one in contemporary literature. It’s on my 2021 Book List, which means it WILL get read, come hell or high water. Next year is the year, especially with your seal of approval.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good thing is it’s fairly short and fast-paced so isn’t much of a time investment. I’m not sure how you’ll land with it, I feel like it really could go either way. It has that gritty edge to it that I think you’ll really like but potentially other things that might turn you off? I’ll not mention what cos I don’t want to poison the well haha, but I’m very curious to hear what you think once you’ve read it 😀

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