Skip to main content

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Nothing what so ever to do with 
magicians bringing dead brains
back to life to perform evil. Ah. Hmm.
Maybe also the opposite.
Two things have stopped me from enjoying this novel for longer than I care to think about it. The first is frankly ridiculous. The second only marginally more so. Number 1: my brother loved it (I believe, or else my memory is misremeberating). Therefore, being a littler brother than him, I was to refute immediately anything he enjoyed*. And number 2: because he loved it (I believe) I grew to hate the cover and went out of my way to avoid reading anything which looked even remotely similar, which over the years has been, mainly, other Williams Gibson novels.

A disservice both to William Gibson and to myself, then, perpetrated by a youthful reactionary who robbed me of years of smug sanctimony whenever some twat mentioned how The Matrix changed his or her life***. Indeed, as far as I know, this novel contains the first gem of the literary idea of an alternate, virtual reality created by and in the streams of data flowing between linked mainframes and servers, ridden by hackers called cowboys, thrill seekers looking for the rush in avoiding ICE (that's online security measures to you and me although I forget what the acronym means) and by guzzling stimulants. Amazingly prescient considering it was first published in 1984, a full 14 years before the incorporation of Google, and 15 years before the Bros. Wachowksi cottoned-on and cashed-in.

Our link to this dubious world is a suicidal ex-cowboy named Case whose predilection for bucking authority leads him to an injudicious betrayal of an employer who in return decides to destroy his ability to connect to the matrix with a viscious virus - no claims to be the first to use the term virus however as work on self-replicating programs was underway by the end of the 1940s by John von Neumann. Case, wandering the streets of Night City, losing friends and influencing people (to kill him), is an easy mark for a team of specialists looking for a cowboy with motivation to make a big score, a huge score, but of course, nothing is quite what it appears, especially when he learns that there's AI involved.

There are clunky terms, overuse of what might be now almost archaic brand names (but highlighting the trend towards the use of such as common nouns and even, in some cases - shudder - verbs) and of course, with recent advances in technology, some aspects of the tech described are anachronistic given the advances outlined in neurological sciences. But screw that shit. This is a bloody marvellous novel, whether you like sci-fi or not, whether you're into the internet or not, whether you're a gamer or not. It's a crime caper, a spy story, a dystopian view of the future; it's a hipster novel, a jazz novel; it zings and pops with latent energy, and I gnash my teeth together that I didn't pick it up in the nineties when my brother left it lying about the house (I think). Of course, I did pick it up, back in the noughties, when my own prejudices were challenged by some twat I met in a bookshop, who told me what I wouldn't enjoy (which was this book) and what I should stick too. I nearly told him what to stick and where. And what makes me cross, makes me fizz with embarrassment and shame, is that it took one tweet from the lovely Scarlett Thomas:

AND a surprising but not unreasonable cameo appearance on screen for a mere five seconds in AMC's decent series Halt And Catch Fire (set in 84 and 85) to make me remember how much I loved it and how I longed to read it again. Why oh why did I wait? Well, now I have finished waiting and I can only urge you to follow suit. Don't be put off by covers or family or allow yourself to be goaded into things by people in bookshops. Just do as I tell you.


*Except for music for which I had no frame of reference other than his so mostly adopted*. 
**'Mostly' is quite important, as he had (and still has as far as I know) a penchant for terrible Manc-folk Indie bands with flutes and tin whistles and whatnot, and I damned well did/do not. That much I could figure out on my own.
***And I don't think I'd deserve a challenge here if I were to drop the 'or her' part.

Comments

How's about that then?

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Argh, Neil Gaiman blah blah, waffle waffle, and so on.
There, that’s out of the way.
I can’t help but equate the resurgence in popularity of the Norse mythos, Icelandic sagas, and Skaldic and Eddic poetry in all their new televisual, literal and figurative forms, to the similarly resurgent popularity of comic-book- and super-heroes. In fact, they’re two sides of the same interrogative coin: one asks, “How did we get here?” whereas the other asks, “Who can save us?” for the world needs heroes, and people to blame.
I will leave it up to you to project your own personal Them into the nice Them-shaped gap that leaves behind.
You may think it very necessary and timely to have brought out such a book. Alternatively, you may be suffering from hero-fatigue and see it as all a bit unnecessary. Or you may have been seduced by the big hammer on the cover and the lovely tactile matt-finish cover. In any case and in my own humble opinion, other than talk William Warder Norton into springing for a lov…

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

I can hold nothing against or up to either Neil Gaiman or the late Terry Pratchett. In respect of their fans and their work, my problems are mine and mine alone. In general, both are of the highest standard. In context however, I can only judge Pratchett’s early work, such as TruckersThe Carpet People (currently reading to my four-and-nine-tenths year old who is loving it) and The Light Fantastic etc. (all of which I enjoyed as a very young teenager). Post-Carpe Jugulum I have read exactly diddly squat, and the stage plays and TV adaptations have passed me by without so much as a flicker of interest. Whereas Gaiman continues to intrigue, chipping away at my natural scepticism with his charm and wit and style and great children’s books, and I did enjoy Stardust the movie, for the most part because of Robert De Niro, and also in spite of Ricky Gervais. Of course, were they to collaborate on a novel (not De Niro and Gervais; that would be one to avoid), then I would expect the world to…

Our Ancestors by Italo Calvino

Now is as good a time as any I suppose to admit that I regularly confuse Italo Calvino with Umberto Eco and when struggling for the name of one of them, invariably come up with the name of the other. What value does this add to a review of either’s work? None whatsoever. I just thought it would pay to be honest up front, so that if I start talking about semiotics, the discourse of literary criticism, or beards, then you’ll know my train of thoughts has switched tracks and is heading for a bridge under construction.
Of course, reading the Wiki pages on the two of them (to make sure I was talking about the right fellow) I noticed with some dread that Our Ancestors is one of the best known works of the most translated contemporary Italian writer (at the time of his death) and here I am, trying to make sense of it in my own personal context. Well, I’m always going to be treading down some fool’s heels so why should I care if it’s actually most people? Indeed, Calvino mentions in his own i…

Fairyland by Paul McAuley

Twenty-three years ago, as of the writing of this, Paul McAuley hadn't yet seen the birth of online monstrosity Google and was ten years ahead of Facebook. Only one year ago, Jeff VanderMeer was tinkering disturbingly with biotech in his [*FABULOUS] post-apocalyptic horror/sci-fi novel Borne. And yet McAuley seems to have predicted the moral and legal morass of genetic engineering (not the first, I might repeat, referencing John von Neumann etc...) misappropriated for fun, profit and warfare. He also predicted the smoking ban. And that's just in the first few pages. Whereas a lot of speculative fiction is vulnerable to senescence, Fairyland has remained surprisingly spry, aging gracefully whilst maintaining it's whip-smart wits and energy.

Perhaps building on William Gibson's classic (was it a classic in 1994?) Neuromancer, McAuley plunged into the proto-pools of his biologist and botanist background and pulled out the dolls and fairies that populate his future European…