Tuesday, May 10, 2011

William Gibson - Neuromancer (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: I had to read it for a paper I was writing.

As soon as I started reading it, I realised that Neuromancer is a very curious book. At first, it's all a bit confusing, with paragraphs describing seemingly random images in the life of a man named Case. Case also seems like a totally random person; we told that he is something, and that he used to be something else, but we have no idea what those 'somethings' actually are until later in the book when we manage to cobble it all together.

In general, Neuromancer is very fragmented. Almost every paragraph deals with a different point in time and space than the previous one, and they all begin in medias res, so the reader is – at least in the beginning – perpetually confused. In other novels, after the initial shock of being thrown into the middle of a story, the reader would slowly get to know what is actually happening (and where); here, he only has time to register the unfamiliar setting before being thrown elsewhere. This has an interesting side effect: for me, reading Neuromancer was a bit like trying to read something written in a language I'm not yet fluent in – I knew it made sense and understood some of it, but mostly, I had no idea what exactly the names and the phrases referred to.

When the prose pauses to describe something in some more detail, however, it's surprisingly evocative:

He'd missed the first wasp, when it built its paperfine gray house on the blistered paint of the windowframe, but soon the nest was a fist-sized lump of fiber, insects hurtling out to hunt the alley below like miniature copters buzzing the rotting contents of the dumpsters. […] He saw the thing the shell of gray paper had concealed.
Horror. The spiral birth factory, stepped terraces of the hatching cells, blind jaws of the unborn moving ceaselessly, the staged progress from egg to larva, near-wasp, wasp. In his mind's eye, a kind of time-lapse photography took place, revealing the thing as the biological equivalent of a machine gun, hideous in its perfection.

When I finally managed to put enough pieces together to understand what was going on, I actually began to enjoy the novel. It's the first cyberpunk book I've ever read and I was surprised to find it more intriguing than The Matrix which it inspired (and which I loved). I don't know what exactly it was that drew me to the book so – probably that action is heavily laced with other things, like the mystery of Wintermute and Armitage, the depictions of Villa Straylight and the different parts technology plays in different social groups. I still felt a bit distanced from the story itself, though; maybe it was the jargon that is present throughout the book, but I think the real reason was the general tone of the narration. I don't read much SF precisely because there always seems to be this atmosphere of cold detachment which is also present in Neuromancer – I don't feel especially connected to the characters, even though I might find the book incredibly exciting, as was the case with Neuromancer.

I have to say that Neuromancer is a very good novel. I felt it in the way it was written and in the way the images were practically leaping at me from the pages. My reading experience, however, was not so pleasant – the book didn't really grip me until the last third of it, and by then it was too late – even though I felt that my efforts to keep reading have paid off, the fact remains that getting through the first two thirds were a bit of a chore. I've heard that Neuromancer is a love it or hate it type of book, but I don't really agree with that – I think everyone should at least give it a chance. Neuromancer can be a laboured read or a wondrous journey, and I found a bit of both in it.



Boll said...

Had to read it?

Man, I'd love having to read books like this for my papers...

Trin said...

Oh yeah, I've really had luck with my prescribed reading material this year (I had to read Left Hand of Darkness for the same paper and The Road for another one). :)

Conor said...

I felt about the same about Neuromancer as your review. I'm looking forward to your Hunger Games review.

Boll said...

So where's this school again? :)

Bruce said...

I appreciate the way in which you stated your initial reaction to the apparent chaos that you had found in "Neuromancer". It helped me to understand your review as a personal perspective in much the same way that Roger Ebert always puts his personal reaction first in the analysis of the story. For no reason, it reminds me of an undergrad English paper that I had written on the use of language in the Lord of the Rings. It was one of my favourite papers, but, alas, was taken by another student from the mail cubby in the English Department. I did manage to get a good grade for the course, but was so upset that I did not keep a copy in any form of my paper. A lesson to me, that was.


blogger templates 3 columns | Make Money Online