Tue
Aug 28 2012 12:00pm

Does Neuromancer Hold Up Now That its World Isn’t as Unique?

John Bonner

Does William Gibson's now-classic Neuromancer, the book that coined the term “cyberspace,” hold up to a reread now that a lot of the tech and social structures it depicted have been realized in real life? John Bonner put on his fedora and set off to see (in comic form).

Every so often, comic artist John Bonner reviews books, audio, and more, then turns his reactions into a comic strip. You can check out many more of them at Bonner’s site and more of them here on Tor.com.

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28 comments
Sam Brougher
1. Azuaron
Yeah, I read Neuromancer for the first time just this year, and it took me two tries to do it. As a big fan of Shadowrun and Snow Crash, I knew I had to read the book that basically kicked off the genre, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer density of Neuromancer, a smaller than 300 page book with an exhaustion level greater than an 800 page Wheel of Time book.

I stopped halfway through and read a couple Discworld books and Mistborn before starting over and powering through. In the end, it's probably one of the few books that warrants a reread, and I'm glad to have read it, but it wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience.
Tina C.
2. Tina C.
I've taught Neuromancer in a composition course before and students (i.e. 18 & 19 year olds), with a minimal amount of handholding, get it and*mostly* enjoy it. That being said, it's a serious peice of literature and like most serious literature (think Moby Dick) it's heavily into metaphor. Perhaps not for the faint--or shall I say fluffy (as in like fluff books that don't require critical engagement)--hearted.
Tina C.
3. Gerry__Quinn
Lethal moob metaphors... that'll teach you to diet, man!
Chuk Goodin
4. Chuk
Like many SF classics (e.g. Tolkien), it is not actually all that fun to read now. I enjoy Gibson's more recent stuff a lot more.
(I think it was Gibson himself who said all his books are set around the same time period and when he started writing, it was the future but now it's the recent past. Can't find a citation for it though.)
Matthew Brown
5. morven
I don't remember it being all that hard to read when I read it in my late teens. Dense, though -- yes.

And Chuk, the elven police are coming round to elegantly kick your ass for saying that about Tolkien.

I suspect that a modern first-time reading of Neuromancer may suffer from the fact that its better & more accessible ideas were adopted by others, so it might seem (naïvely) to be a rip-off of those but with a strange take on it.
Scott Silver
6. hihosilver28
I'll be a dissenting voice here that might be a little relevant. As I didn't read the book until last year, I don't have any nostalgia attached to it. I absolutely loved the book and blew through it. The book definitely gets quite dense at the end, but I had a blast reading it.
Tina C.
7. Cat
It's worth noting that it is not really wrapped up 'till the very last words of the third book, Mona Lisa Overdrive. I've read the trilogy three or four times over the years and I find it holds up very, very well.

Oddly enough, Neuromancer and Count Zero are availible as ebooks but Mona Lisa Overdrive is not...
Tina C.
8. Totalitat
an exhaustion level greater than an 800 page Wheel of Time book

Nothing can even equal that, as Nynaeve yanks at her braid again.
Tina C.
9. Doug M.
And nobody has even mentioned all the references to Dante yet. Well: it's just packed full of references to Dante. Mostly the Inferno, but the other two books as well.

(Molly is Violence, Armitage is Treachery -- notice all the ice imagery around him? Rivera of course is Fraud. And it even ends with "stars". Two different ways!)


Doug M.
Joe Romano
10. Drunes
Read it a long while ago and loved it. I remember it as a tougher than normal read, but well worth the (small) effort.
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
I thought it excellent then and stands up well. I love metaphor myself.
Tina C.
12. jONELLIN sTONEBREker
This was in so many ways the ur-text of the modern age.
Soon Lee
13. SoonLee
DOes it hold up to a re-read? Most definitely yes, so long as you can get past the clearly obsolete terminology.

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."


"His buyer for the three megabytes of hot RAM in the Hitachi wasn't taking calls."
Michael Maxwell
14. pike747
It is a great book, recommended by a younger co-worker.

When I first began using computers, RAM was one hundred dollars per megabyte. That would put the value of the memory in my current computer at four hundred thousand dollars!
All inquiries from 1994 will be considered if you can bridge the architecture and the time space continuum.
Dystopia here I come.
Tina C.
15. GuruJ
I found Neuromancer much more accessible than Snow Crash actually. I agree that it's not as much "fun" as some of the cyberpunk literature and I do prefer Gibson's later works as being even further grounded in reality and thus convincing.

But all that aside, its success in predicting the rise of Anonymous is nothing short of astonishing.
Tina C.
16. Gilmoure
I read Neuromancer and the rest of the trilogy as the came out and have rad them every few years nice then. For what it's worth, I'm still using the same username I used when BBS'ing in early 80's on my Ti-99/4a (with 16k of RAM! Three megs was unreal at the time!). Anyways, was already a fan of John Brunner and his Stand on Zanzibar and Shockwave Rider. I also liked The Adolesance of P1 and was quite familiar with the lingo and concepts. If anything, Gibson helped bring into focus what I was feeling when I telneted into a remote system. It tied in with Tron imagery as well. So yeah, for me, it's held up. I'm actually not that taken with his later stuff. Oh yeah, I now work with machines with over 50 Terbytes of RAM. What a wild ride!
Aimee Powalisz
17. longhairedspider
I haven't read anything else by Gibson (ducks), but I read Neuromancer for the first time last year. I loved it - the fact that some of the futuristic terms are obsolete/out of date doesn't mean anything. Read it in the context of the time period, and you're fine. The idea of the construct especially is still relevant, with today's "thinking" computers and robotics reseach.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
18. Lisamarie
I read the book about a year ago and I was a little bit underwhelmed - but I don't know if that has anything to do with the book itself and more with my own tastes. I could recognize that it had really interesting ideas, and I love books that just throw you into the world without lots of exposition (and I love the evocatove opening line so much, it's one of my favorites, even though the book itself is not) - but I just wasn't that into the seedy atmosphere and didn't really care about any of the characters that much. Might just be that the genre is not for me ;)
Kat Hooper
19. Kat_at_Fantasy_Literature
The audiobook version which was produced last year by Penguin Audio is superb. I think the book holds up really well (except of course for the little things that SoonLee mentioned above).
Tina C.
20. gwern
* Its, not it's
jazz tigan
21. tredeger
I think Count Zero is just as lush yet reads with the urgency of a summer blockbuster. I think it's the perfect intersection of literature and adventure / genre fiction, heartache and thrilling suspense. It's cleaner than Neuromancer but not quite as spare as he's become recently (and for my taste I like the lush Gibson). I think it's his nadir really (along with someo of Burning Chrome.

I think oneo f the most interesting things about the Gibson canon as a whole is that his early characters in a distant future are dealing with the strangest stuff and are less alienated by it than the contemporary characters in his new stuff are by things that we are encountering ourselves. The closer you get to us, the greater the anomie.
Tina C.
22. Clint S
I think the whole trilogy beginning with Neuromancer remains fresh and inspiring. Gibson isn't dated. What you need to remember is that he is very much into visual description and material culture. That accounts for at least a part of the density of his prose. He is also simply an incredible prose stylist, which I think is more true of his earlier than later work.

I read the book once in college, and have read it twice since then. I think it remains in my top five novels of all time, together with Moby Dick and The Great Gatsby and a few others.
Tina C.
23. Z-man
it's/its, your/you're
ARGH! These typos are killing me!
Tina C.
24. dissembly
If I may, I think everyone here is interpreting "3 MB of hot RAM" in a very strange way.

Why are you all assuming he had a bundle of blank RAM sticks to sell? That doesn't make any sense to me, even if you do treat "3MB" as a lot. I assumed it had something on it that was valuable to somebody. You're forgetting that "RAM" doesn't strictly mean what we use it to mean nowadays, it can refer to storage as well as memory (especially in the early 80s). Kind of like the way some people use "USB" to refer to flash drives... who knows, thirty years from now, someone might get confused when we refer to our USB keyboard. ("Look at those people from 2012, thinking that people in the future would store data in their keyboards! How wacky and anachronistic!")

A random word file on my desktop right now is 67KB. 3MB "of hot RAM" could have 44 such documents, which could be anything; leaked government embassy cables, confidential corporate product designs, password dictionary files... 3MB sounds like a pretty reasonable size for "hot RAM" to me. Sure, we'd just e-mail that to ourselves nowadays, but you could come with any number of reasons for someone to have wanted to keep some volatile data on a physical medium.

ANYWAY.

I read it for the first time about a month ago, and was blown away. Absolutely one of the best science fiction stories I've ever read. I am finding Count Zero a bit difficult to trudge through (really can't bring myself to care about the bounty hunter character, but most of the book seems to be him so far... I'm just working my way through his bits to get to the title character's far-more-interesting-story.)

But I don't see how Neuromancer is considered difficult to read. There are parts that made my hair stand on end. Something incredibly soulful and beautiful about that book; I hope Mona Lisa Overdrive recaptures it.

ADDENDUM: I thought people might be tickled by the fact that my captcha word is "mminari"... which is very close to the name of a more-or-less famous computer in Melbournian internet history.
Tina C.
25. Kevin P.
I love NEUROMANCER. It remains one of my favorite books of all time. I initially read it back in 1985, and I give it a reread ever few years (most recently this year, in fact). To me, it only gets better with age. It is amazing how prescient Gibson was in this book, and how stylish in his presentation. Word for word, this is a classic for the ages. It is one of the few books that I want to reread again immediately upon finishing the last page.
Tina C.
26. Mongoose
@dissembly

If it was the contents of the memory that was being sold, then I think that would have been made clearer, and instead of RAM it would have been some super futuristic storage medium such as a floppy disk. If it was some important data, why would Gibson specify the size of the memory, but not give even the slightest hint of its contents? Can you imagine a modern sci-fi author doing the same?

As it was, I think it's pretty clear he is selling blank memory, and it is the size of the memory that is supposed to attract a buyer.
Tina C.
27. greenlily
Brace yourselves, kiddies, auntie greenlily's gonna tell a story.

During my high school years (1988-92), several of the guys I hung around with were obsessed with Neuromancer. It influenced their writing, the way they dressed, the way they fantasized about their potential post-college lives as programmers, all of it. I read it dutifully, didn't get it at all, and couldn't figure out whether it was because I was a girl or because I wasn't into computers or what. Eventually I wrote it off as being, like Depeche Mode and Warhammer 40K and the fedora-and-black-trenchcoat aesthetic, one of those Boy Things I would just never comprehend.

Fast-forward a couple of years; I'm in college, studying music and theater tech, still hanging around with programmer boys. Reeling from a combined overdose of Valdemar and Weetzie Bat, I pick up Neuromancer again. Not only does the book make sense, but unnumbered other things begin to take on a clarity I hadn't hoped for. "There is a world," says Gibson's writing, "where the ability to understand information and the possibilities of information and the information conveyed by connections among people and things, will be at least as valued as the ability to program a computer. And it's coming faster than you think."

Fast-forward twenty-mumble years from when I first tried to read Neuromancer. I'm employed (by a music and theater college) to find better ways to manage information. The programmer boys are all married and posting adorable pictures of their kids (in Yoda onesies and teeny little Iron Man shirts) on Facebook.

I still have the paperback of Neuromancer that I bought in 1991, sitting there on the shelf next to the collected Weetzie Bat and the later Valdemar books, but these days it mostly stays there.

A copy of one or another of the Bigend Trilogy novels, on the other hand, is always in my purse along with the Rough Guide To Playlists and one of my three equally beat-up copies of Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. The single most popular story I've ever written has a sort of sparse paranoia about it, a sense of an enormous vast connection that the characters both do and don't know they know, that a few people have said feels like the best kind of familiar.

I own neither trenchcoat nor fedora, but the jacket without which I never leave home would never have made it home in the first place if I had never heard of Cayce Pollard's Rickson's. And Cayce herself would never have made it onto my bookshelf if, two decades ago, I'd given up on Case.

Sometimes a book stands the test of time, not only because of how it affects its fans, but because of what its fans grow into--to say nothing of what its author becomes.
Ryan Dick
28. Wilbur
I listened to Neuromancer again this past week, and I was struck not only by what a good stylist he was for a (nearly) first-time author, but by how prescient his thinking was about a world divided into the corporatists and the individuals.

When I first read Neuromancer in the 80's, it was a shocking new way of experiencing science fiction, with all kinds of novel metaphors for what (for me) was a bunch of lines on a screen and ridiculously long connection time.

In college I took a literature course as an elective solely based on the fact that Neuromancer was one of the texts, and I discovered how a modern book can draw from so many other, earlier texts with allusions and references to enrich the reading experience for the experienced reader.

But it is really only now that I truly appreciate the social, economic, and political divide between the corporatists, private equity guys, white-shoe lawyers, Beltway insiders, banskters, and hedge fund administrators and the common American that is so keenly described in the novel.

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