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January 17, 2012 / Leslie

Scifi Experience: Neuromancer by William Gibson

One of my favorite genres is science fiction. So I was pleased to see that Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting The Scifi Experience which runs from January 1st through February 29th. There are no rules, this isn’t a challenge, only an invitation to experience how exhilarating science fiction can be.

Neuromancer
by William Gibson
Read by: Robertson Dean

While looking through the new arrivals on the audiobook display at my library I noticed a copy of Neuromancer, a 20th anniversary edition. Wow, I thought, has it been that long? It had been years since I first tried to read it, details were fuzzy and now I had the opportunity to listen to it in audiobook just in time for The Scifi Experience. Perfect. Well, almost.

Neuromancer is set in a dystopian future. We meet Henry Case in Chiba City, Japan, which has a gritty, dark, underworld feel to it. Case was once a brilliant “Computer Cowboy” (ie hacker) who can no longer access the global computer network. Case made the mistake of stealing from his employers. They hunted him down and damaged his central nervous system with a toxic poison, leaving him unable to jack-in to the matrix. Case now lives in constant pain, is addicted to drugs and would do anything to reverse the damage. His wish comes true when he is offered a cure in exchange for a hacking assignment. But his mission is far more complex than he imagined.

This is definitely a book that was ahead of its time. In the early 1980s we were introduced to “cyberspace” before the existence of the internet. In a new introduction Gibson discusses the fact that he didn’t envision small communication devices and that he was guilty of having an ignorance of cell phone technology; but had the characters used cell phones instead of pay phones, it would have changed the way they interacted. Other times characters speak of “hot megabytes of ram” having street value (which would be worthless today) and Case asks for a “modem” to get onto the net. Although Gibson did not foresee those future changes, it doesn’t take away anything from novel. The opening line:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

still has meaning to me. But how will the next generation, raised on LCD display, tubes interpret it? I’m sure they will do just fine.

The audio production itself was excellent. Robertson Dean is a skillful narrator with nicely performed accents and characters that were easily distinguished from one another. However, this is one of the few books that I feel would be better in print than audio for most people. There were a lot of times I wasn’t sure what was going on and had to back up and listen again.

I don’t normally have trouble with science fiction and world building, but this is a dark, depressing world, with frustrating dialog and a lot of words whose meaning were often unclear. The complex nature of the book and the style of Gibson’s writing contributed to my difficulty at times in grasping the plot. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the book. On the contrary, I liked it a lot, but this is a book you may have to read multiple times to finally “get it”. Usually I don’t like to put this much work into understanding a novel, but with this one I feel it’s worth it. The book’s greatness lies in what it ushered in. It served as inspiration for the next generation of techies to invent the things that Gibson only imagined.

5 Comments

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  1. Suko / Jan 17 2012 5:07 pm

    I like the fact that the Scifi Experience has no rules–that suits me! It sounds as if you enjoyed this audio book, even though you had to backtrack a few times.

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  2. Susan Bennett / Jan 17 2012 10:35 pm

    Sounds a bit too much like hard word to be a good bedtime read.

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  3. Leeswammes / Jan 18 2012 6:09 am

    This book is on my wishlist. After your review, I don’t know whether I’ll like it but I do know I want to try it! Thanks.

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  4. Alex / Jan 18 2012 8:16 am

    Sorry, I just skimmed your review because I plan to read this one soon and was afraid of spoilers 😛 It’s been on the TBR for ages, but now that movie adaptation is around the corner it went up the priority list. I’m reading Dune for the Experience!

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