Neuromancer: Clones, AIs, and Ninjas

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Originally published in 1984, William Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer, has it all: clones, artificial intelligences that manipulate human affairs, and ninjas. In contrast, our burned out hero, Henry Dorset Case, is not very impressive. But he’s trying.

When we meet him, Case is doing his best to hustle a living in Chiba City, Japan. He used to be a hacker, but his employers corrupted his body when they caught him stealing. Now, Case is searching for a miracle cure or perhaps a ticket out of this life. Enter Molly Millions, a woman whose implants have endowed her with lightning reflexes. And razorblades in her fingers. Molly and her backer set Case up with a series of new organs so that he can ride his console one more time.

Gibson’s writing is often remembered for its influence on cyberpunk and science fiction. But make no mistake: William Gibson is an impressive writer. His writing in Neuromancer is detached and cold, and some readers may struggle to overcome this disconnect. Remember, Gibson is trying to produce a language for the Sprawl, a technological dystopia where the lower classes scuttle about trying to pick up the shreds left by the super rich. There’s not a lot of warmth in the Sprawl, and there’s not much in Neuromancer either.

When it comes to science fiction, characters, setting and prose are all well and good, but what about the ideas? Once again, Gibson proves himself a first rate author. Readers will come away with their own favorites, but mine are perhaps the rebuilt personality, Armitage, and the methods by which the Tessier-Ashpool family guard and control their fortune. There’s a lot here that warrants applause.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Neuromancer won the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick award. Some people remember William Gibson as a prophetic author who coined the term ‘cyberspace.’Neuromancer is more accurately understood as an excellent read and an impressive start to what has become one of the most acclaimed careers in science fiction. It’s required reading.

~Ryan Skardal


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.

~Kat Hooper


This is what Cyberpunk is all about… Brilliant blend of moral storylines with realistic extrapolations of modern technology.

~ John Hulet


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RYAN SKARDAL, with us since September 2010, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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4 comments

  1. Best Headline Ever!

  2. I haven’t read Gibson before, but I caught just a few episodes of History Zero on Sirius Radio’s Book Radio station, not enough to figure out what the story is about, but enough to realize that he’s a very good writer.

  3. Thanks, Marion!

  4. Greg, I read Zero History and I’m still not completely sure I knew what it was about! Seriously, though, part of the charm (?) of the book is that the main characters, and their assignment, is not what the book is actually about at all, as they find out at the end. So, normally, I would feel cheated, but I didn’t because he made it work. Sorry, probably too much information.

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