sábado, novembro 30, 1996

Unhook the Modem: "Neuromancer" by William Gibson


(My own copy)

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”

In “Neuromancer” by William Gibson



A friend of mine tried to read "Neuromancer" and he really struggled to follow what was going on, he told me. Who was doing what to whom, and were they in the real world or a virtual world? Were the characters alive, dead or artificial? I think there was a section where the protagonist was experiencing things via another person's eyes, adding to his confusion. There were some space Rastafarians and a woman who spoke like Lady Penelope towards the end, whom at least he could tell apart from the others. The book was like a mix of Blade Runner, Tron and The Matrix. For him, I think it might have worked better as a graphic novel. And I said, "WTF?? Neuromancer was one of the first to have a Stream of Consciousness feel in SF. You should go read Twilight instead! Maybe you're trying too hard - or maybe not, but some people do. I should be clear that I think Neuromancer is a wonderful book, one I've reread many times, but in the hands of a writer who thought he needed to explain what is happening (as so many SF writers do) it would have been purely dreadful. Its magic comes from the way it seems to wash over the reader, much as some moments in life often do. The pace is amazingly sustained, but not if one pauses very much to think it through. I should also add that it can be reread and thought through, and it holds together if you do it. But I think that most of all it's an unbelievably fast book that needs to be read the first time in something of a rush.

I've read a lot lately that Neuromancer is hard to get into - I genuinely don't understand why. My very first impression, reading it in 1996, was that it was written in a very compressed language, dense with meaning, so that a short sentence actually has to be read carefully as you might miss something - not so much in terms of motivation or insight, but in his description of things and places. That's what I loved about it, actually; that and the brilliant dynamism of the plot. Later, I came to appreciate more the story concept of 'nested realities', or what we might now call avatar-based realities of various types, that feature in it, beautifully summarised by the line "Tell the Hosaka to tell Maelcum to unhook the modem", spoken by Case to the 'dead' personality in his head, with which he is interfacing via a hotel phone line in a space station above Earth that is connecting him to a phone in a spaceship nearby, on which is the Hosaka (computer) .... so yes in that sense it might be hard to get into, but not in any other. 


(Bought in 1996)


I love it when Case jacks back in for the first time in months: And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military systems, forever beyond his reach. And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face.

The appropriate question: is Neuromancer SF?

It's a spectrum, so there isn't some nice, neat definition of what belongs. The best I can say is that it's at the softer end, if it belongs. The universe, the technology, even the AI - mostly a means of driving the plot forward, with minimal consistency and none of the justification that's de rigour at the harder end of SF. I wouldn't call the book particularly original. H. G. Wells had written about universal information services, Doctor Who had covered scheming artificial intelligence (War Machines) and virtual realities inside of a "Matrix" that you could jack into (Deadly Assassin). What Neuromancer did was draw these ideas together in a single, almost memorable package that could easily be mass-produced by a range of people (Shadowrun being an example). It did so poorly - almost nothing predicted has happened, many bold pronouncements turned out in reality to be utter carp, most of the core ideas about life and death have been shown wrong, about all the book got right was Google Glasses. And those have turned out to be far less useful than expected.



NB: SF = Speculative Fiction.