Mindbenders

The weekend had not been kind to my arthritis, thus, I spent most of yesterday in bed willing the pain killers to work (alas, I left the really good ones in Scotland), but I did, like a Victorian invalid, make a circuit around the back garden and even walked as far as the elementary school playground in order to get some fresh air and stretch my legs a bit. My brain half-thinks it’s summer: it isn’t dark until 7 PM and I can wear short sleeves outside. Where on earth am I? Oh yes, South Texas. Where tomorrow the high will be 72 F/22 C.

The hairdresser at Supercuts asked if I was in high school. ‘Ah, no, I’m a graduate student.’ But somewhere between my answer and her next question I ended up being a college student at San Angelo State. I realised this mix-up too late to pull out gracefully; while I dug in my memories for Danielle’s stories from college, she fortunately did not ask any follow-up questions. The ability to ask a follow-up question seems to have become the lost art of conversation. I do not claim any proficiency myself, but I do appreciate finding a good conversationalist (except, of course, in situations such as the above).

And now, what you have all been waiting for with bated breath, the assessment of Neuromancer by William Gibson. The critic quoted on the front cover claims it is a ‘A mindbender of a read’, and it certainly is… strange. Neuromancer is the novel that created cyberpunk, a subgenre in sci-fi. Instead of dealing with outerspace, aliens and robots, cyberpunk is about the insides of computers and AI programs (but not robots, necessarily). For those unfamiliar with the cyberpunk genre but do watch movies, think of The Matrix. The creators of The Matrix have to have read Neuromancer: there are so many references that came directly from this book, even Zion.

It has been said that I read as a writer, and this is true. So while I can step back and appreciate that Gibson was pioneering a new genre, that no one really knew how computers worked when he wrote it in the early-1980’s, I do hold mostly criticisms. Gibson was repetitive, repeating character attributes beyond the point the reader should have remembered already. The narrator, who was presumably the main character, Case, frequently used vocabulary that Case would not have known; Case was not an academic, if anything, in the world Gibson created, Case had little formal education at all. Picking up some obscure vocabulary I can understand in the programming world, but not to the extent that Neuromancer had. The dialogue was choppy, with characters calling each other by name every other sentence even if there was no one else present. (Really, how often do you say the name of the person you are talking to? Think about it.) A final quibble on word choice: half-way through the novel, Case started using a curse word he hadn’t used before. I’m neurotic that I notice things like this, but I do, and it bothers me. The author should be consistent, or at least, have a reason for being inconsistent.

Kelly said that Neuromancer may have been expanded from a short story; if this is so, then it could explain some of the plot issues. The driving force for the plot—the question of ‘who, or what, is Wintermute?’—isn’t introduced until 70 pages in, so the first third of the novel seems episodic and irrelevant. Also, as I mentioned earlier, it was written in the early-1980’s, and it felt like it. It really is unfortunate when novels can be dated—not in the sense that one can place the general time period by the tone, but when the novel’s relevance is hindered by it being locked into a specific decade. Also, he didn’t ‘solve’ anything with the ending: the character passed out, and in the next chapter we find out that the AI’s took care of everything, and now the characters involved are all exonerated and rich. I don’t care for deus ex machina endings, myself.

Neuromancer does deserve to stay on The Literary Cat’s list of Essential Science Fiction, even if I didn’t like it very much. I appreciated reading it, despite not caring for any of the characters or the setting, and that the main reason I kept reading was to find out who/what Wintermute was. Oh, and I found out that the band Straylight Run got their name from this book. So there you have it.

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