Sunday, November 16, 2014

Neuromancer's Influence

William Gibson's Neuromancer, along with Stephenson’s Snow Crash, fully envisioned an entirely new SciFi idea: cyberspace. Essentially virtual reality, it was famously described by Gibson as “a conceptual hallucination… 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…”  This concept was also very exciting to those of us who were limited to going to the arcade to pay-to-play or by playing Atari chunky-pixel games or text-based games at home.

Case, the main character of Neuromancer is an addict hacker tricked into jacking into a corporate network, after which, of course, complications ensure. The novel alternates between the incredible cyberspace scenes and his real live in "the Sprawl,” a megalopolis ranging down the east coast of North America from Atlanta to Boston (think Bladerunner).  With the help of Molly, a hip augmented "street samurai", Case tries to get his life under control while also changing the entire face of cyberspace.

It feels almost quaint now, since that vision of an electronic frontier with hackers as noir-like freedom fighters died an early death after 9/11 as government has taken more and more of a role in total mediation of the online experience. (This is one of the themes in Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, among other things.) It’s also incredibly influential – everything from the Matrix movies to the Lego movie owe Gibson a debt. He also predicted the modern focus on hacking, surveillance, terror, and an almost workship of technology. It should be said that Gibson's writing isn't the smoothest prose out there, but it gets the job done. For me, it’s hard to separate the strength of the book from the impact that it made upon me as a young’en. It sparked the cyberpunk aesthetic (google that term for fun pictures!), which was very exciting to a kid like me living in rural America that didn't even get Fox on our televisions. In the end, this quote sums up a lot:
"Neuromancer," says novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow, "remains a vividly imagined allegory for the world of the 1980s, when the first seeds of massive, globalised wealth-disparity were planted, and when the inchoate rumblings of technological rebellion were first felt. A generation later, we're living in a future that is both nothing like the Gibson future and instantly recognizable as its less stylish, less romantic cousin. Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses."

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