William Gibson, Neuromancer
The sci-fi classic that predicted our world
In 1982, an obscure sci-fi author was commissioned to write his first novel. He was given just one year to do it, a tight deadline in any case but a virtually insane one for an uncertain, first-time novelist. It’s stories like that that become the stuff of legend: The writer was William Gibson, and the resultant book, Neuromancer, became an unprecedented success — not only was it the first ever to take sci-fi’s three top awards, it’s also generally regarded as predicting the world we now live in.
At a time when computers were still rare, expensive and prone to break down, Gibson envisioned a world in which they were ubiquitous, so common that the harshest punishment possible would be to cut off a human from the “matrix” of interconnected computer reality spanning the globe. (Sound familiar?) This is exactly the punishment meted out to über-hacker Henry Dorsett Case, but he’s soon offered a chance to get back into cyberspace. All he needs to do is use his hacker skills to help the seductive and dangerous Molly Millions pull off a little job…Of course, that little job turns into a big mess that ends up taking Case to the heart of the most powerful computer in the world.
Gibson can plot like a madman, and Neuromancer is a flat-out sprint of forward momentum, full of twists and turns. As far as plots go it’s more than enough, but the real draw here is Gibson’s demented vision of a connected globe pushed to Hobbesian extremes and full of exotic drugs, bizarre body modifications, DNA resetting, and an armada of consumer products that add up to one seriously atmospheric, whacked-out future. The fact is that Gibson not only showed sci-fi its future — he also reminded the genre that it could and should have beautiful writing, with fresh descriptions, witty dialogue, and quotables aplenty. It’s likely that no sci-fi novel has aged better than Neuromancer in the three decades since it was published, and if it’s lost something of its capacity to shock (only because we live in the future it predicted) this sci-fi classic has lost none of its capacity to entertain.