The Cyberpunk genre is seeing a slight revival in recent years between shows like Altered Carbon and movies like Bladerunner 2049 and Ready Player One. Part of this is due to the general 80s nostalgia that is being found in all pop culture as is often the trend when the people who grew up in an era are now the ones making movies, TV shows and videos games. However, it is hard to believe that is the only reason. The other reason is that the predictions and word that the genre predicted are now much more of a reality with digital technology and instant communication becoming more and more integrated into every aspect of life and tech companies creeping ever closer, between IBM’s Watson and Google’s AlphaGo, to true Artificial Intelligence. It is with this in mind that a look back should be taken at William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that started the whole sub-genre.
The plot of Neuromancer is less complex in structure than some of Gibson’s later works as it only follows a single character as opposed to weaving multiple character perspective together into a single climax. The character here followed is Chase, a hacker brought back from the brink, who is joined by a collection of other misfit characters drawn from the fringes of society to complete a task none of them really know the true purpose of. Everything unfolds wonderfully as any good mystery should and firmly establishes the genre as a descendant of the noir. Likewise, as any good science fiction story does, it comments on human conditions, both in its modern form and what it could become.
One of the most striking things about it, reading it over thirty years later, is how much of Neuromancer is now a reality. The most obvious one of these is, if not quite in the technological side of things, how Gibson would lay out much of the form of the internet six years before the World Wide Web was invented in 1999. Concepts such as cyber-security and hackers also play prominently in the narrative. And as VR gets more and more affordable and prevalent, Gibson’s writing becomes more and more prophetic. Likewise, Gibson coined and Neuromancer popularizes the now commonplace term of cyberspace for referring to the internet. Not all of it is perfect, space travel is still limited, the astronauts in the ISS are still the only people living in orbit and Gibson way overestimated the spread and staying power of Rastafarianism.
So anyone interested in the genre or just good science fiction should go down to the local bookstore or library and pick up a copy of Neuromancer.