Henry Dorsett Case is a washed up computer hacker. He used to be one of the best, traveling cyberspace and sneaking through computer defenses, stealing money and information for his employers. But after he got greedy and embezzled some money, his employers damaged his brain so he can’t jack into cyberspace anymore. He spent the stolen money trying to get his ability back, but it didn’t work, and now he’s suicidal and wandering the squalid streets of Chiba City, Japan… Until Molly the razorgirl shows up. She wears tight black leather, has mirrored glasses implanted in her eye sockets, and has retractable razors embedded under her fingernails. She delivers Case to her boss, Armitage, who says he can fix Case if he’ll hire on as his hacker. Case’s new hacking job turns out to be a lot bigger and a lot stranger than he and his new colleagues expected.
There’s very little exposition in Neuromancer and it’s got its own slang and culture. So when William Gibson drops us off in degenerate and dystopian Night City with its neon lights, holographic arcades, drug dealers, meat puppets, black market surgeons, and silvery sky, you’ll want to either hide in the nearest alley, or start running… and hope you don’t bump into any of Gibson’s characters. Once you meet them, you won’t forget them, but you’re unlikely to fall in love with any of them because, like their city, they’re cold and criminal (“Towns like this are for people who like the way down”).
The unfamiliar language and setting and the aloof characters will be a turn-off for some readers, but those who think it’s exhilarating to be dumped into new and unknown territory will find that Neuromancer is fast-moving, flashy, decadent, and sexy (think The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell). For a novel written in 1984, it feels surprisingly stylish, its cultural issues are still modern, and it has accurately anticipated some of our 21st century technological developments.
The most obvious thing that Neuromancer anticipated — and this is what makes it classic science fiction and the seminal cyberpunk novel — is the internet, which Case calls “cyberspace.” In his afterward to Neuromancer, Jack Womack suggests that Neuromancer didn’t just foresee the internet, but that the novel may have actually created the internet (or at least influenced how we use it) because the people who developed it read Neuromancer back in 1984.
As a product of the 1980s, a fan of dystopian science fiction, a neuroscience researcher, and a denizen of cyberspace, I’ve been waiting years for Neuromancer to be released on audio, so I was thrilled to see that Penguin Audio finally produced it this summer. The audio version is excellently read by Robertson Dean and includes Jack Womack’s afterward in which he discusses the novel’s influence and his friendship with William Gibson. There’s also an introduction by Gibson in which he talks about how Neuromancer has aged — pretty well except for the mention of modems and the lack of cell phones (something I’ve noticed that most old SF novels are missing).
One thing I’d like to alert audio readers to: Neuromancer is not an easy read because of the lack of exposition, which makes it even more difficult on audio. If you’ve not read the novel before, it will require full concentration and occasional rewinding, but it will be rewarding. No science fiction fan should miss the first novel to win the Triple Crown of SF awards: the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick awards. And for audiobook readers, now is the perfect time to enjoy Neuromancer.