Neuromancer: The First Cyberpunk Story, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Neuromancer: The First Cyberpunk Story, Review

Most people interested in sci fi or fantasy stories have probably heard of the cyberpunk genre. It’s a type of (usually) dystopian world where everything is owned by massive corporations and everything is corrupt and filled with crime. The only way that a normal person is going to get ahead is through robbing, stealing, or winning that one in five million chance at a jackpot casino. The entire setting is usually cloudy, poor, trash filled, and polluted. It's a dystopian-like aesthetic.

There are a lot of popular movies, games, and books that fall into this genre. Things like the recently released Cyberpunk 2077 and the old classic movie Blade Runner. Even things like RoboCop are cyberpunk movies. While it’s far from the most popular genre out there it’s certainly up there.

Neuromancer is the book that started this entire genre. Written by William Gibson and published in 1984 it's a confusing tale of drugs, computers, and guns. The book has a lot of ideas. That’s the best way to describe it. It falls into the trap that a lot of older books happen to have where stuff just kind of happens.

Neuromancer is a confusing read and definitely not a light book to casually consume. A lot of the world building you simply have to accept as it's introduced because there's no going back over it. It jumps from scene to scene rapidly, The book can feel fast paced and you don't really have a grasp of why things are happening, they just are. Characters' backstories and motivations aren't shown to you, they're told to you (if you even get that much) which can really bog down the idea that these are real people. The characters respond weirdly and \are kind of indifferent little to things. They just breeze over and accept things. They lack motivation for their goals really, and if they do have them when they get to their goals they just accept it and move on and that's it.

While that might seem like it’s a very long list of bad things about the book (and don’t get me wrong it is, even if you try to look beyond them it’s still not that great of a book) there are certainly a lot of good things about this book. But to get to them you really have to go through all of these other things which can be why I feel the need to explain them to you. To get to the good stuff you are always going to need at least a basic idea of what Neuromancer is. So here's a short plot overview (spoiler alert) and an introduction to the cast of the book.

Plot and Characters of Neuromancer

The general idea of the book is that this guy named Case is a hacker. He hacks through this thing called cyberspace. It’s kind of a weird early idea of what the internet could’ve been.

But sometime before the book takes place he tried to steal money from the wrong person and got maimed. The people he tried to steal from injected him with a Russian neurotoxin and this means that he can't hack any more. Why can’t he hack anymore? Neuromancer doesn’t really explain, it just says so.

Anyways he’s now broke and living in a poor crime filled city called the sprawl. He's a drug addict, depressed, and committing more and more dangerous crime until he will finally get killed by something. Then a mysterious lady shows up who introduces him to a man with a shady business deal. One that sounds too good to be true and probably will be.

The story till now makes sense and is relatively easy to follow. It’s also only the first fifty pages of the book. After this, it requires a little bit more focus.

Let’s go through the characters first though…
  • Case. He is a hacker and a drug addict. His motivation throughout the entire book is… well nothing. Maybe drugs? But even that he doesn’t really care about. He just makes bad decisions surrounding drugs.
  • Molly. She's a woman with knives in her fingers. The muscle of their heist team. She has this tragic backstory of how she came to be what she is but none of it is ever relevant. The only way you know any of this is because the story just throws in random parts where she tells Chase her life story when she's bored.
  • Armitage is the guy paying Chase to do stuff and also give him surgery to fix him and make him able to hack again. He has this whole history involving the United States government and this big war and betrayal and mental illness. All in all, he's one of the few characters who actually feels like he has any "character" to them. Even if all the development and mental breakdowns he has to happen off camera and only affect the story suddenly and then it moves on.
  • Flatline. Flatline used to be this guy who was a really good hacker. He got his name because his heart had stopped a few times due to trying to hack stuff that really didn't want to be hacked. One time he actually died but luckily this company took his mind and uploaded it onto this driving thing. So now he exists as a computer program. He’s cool with that though, he just wants to be deleted though.
  • Riviera. He is this other dude who can project holograms with his mind. He's really messed up as a guy. Like he is a sadist that likes torturing women kind of messed up. Anyways he’s part of the team to distract this one woman? It’s very vague about why he needed to be part of the time. But he’s there. And he makes projections of things sometimes.
The deal Case makes with the shady business guy (aka Armitage) is to help hack a place in exchange for surgery to fix the bad stuff that was done to his nerves. All in all, it's a good deal or so it seems.

Already Case has doubts (and for good reason) due to the fact that while he was a good hacker he certainly wasn’t the best so there shouldn’t be a reason why this one random guy is willing to spend so much money to make him able to hack again.

So pretty much stuff happens, and by stuff happens I mean stuff literally just happens. What's a really big thing in this book is how everything keeps just happening. You don't get informed on what's going to happen or why in the book, the next scene is just happening and you have to accept it is and move on. Characters don’t really move from point to point they just kind of are.

The book is filled with time jumps too so entire parts (where character development happens too by the way) are just skipped over and the plot moves on. Having to deal with things barely being explained and the expectation that you’ll get everything from context is practically what the entire book is.

So after Case gets the job they start traveling the world to collect people and things. They break into this one place (where they get multiple random innocent bystanders killed and cause a riot by the way) to steal a drive that has a better hacker than Case’s mind uploaded onto it.

Do any of the characters face any sort of moral dilemma at getting a bunch of random people killed? Of course not. These people worked for the mega corporation, after all, they are just mindless drones.

So the story continues.

They pick up this other person named Riviera so that he can do something on the team. His role is vague and will remain vague. He likes drugs and they control him by having his drugs. Why doesn’t he leave since drugs can be found on literally any street corner in this world? No idea, it doesn’t say and it won’t say ever. Maybe he just really likes the idea of doing this job or something.

Now the real job begins. They get the information about their real mission. They need to break into a super duper rich family’s mansion in space and hack an AI that lives there. Why? Because as Case slowly figures out by looking into it, the real leader of this mission isn’t Armitage but actually another AI!

What a twist.

In the world of Neuromancer, there is this worldwide organization called the Turing Foundation. Their sole job is to make sure AIs don't become smart enough to take over the world. They are surprisingly good at their job and are a mild threat in the book. To make some unnecessary details short pretty much somebody wanted to create a super AI to do stuff but couldn’t create the AI as one whole because the Turing Foundation would find out fast and destroy it. To work around this someone created two AIs, both of them handicapped enough to pass by the Turing Foundation but with the ability to someday merge together. The abilities of both would counteract each other's handicaps making it a fully fledged AI. Once that happened it would be smart enough by itself to avoid detection from the Turing Foundation.

The whole heist plan that Case was hired on to do was the plan created by one of these AIs. It wants to merge with its twin but it physically can't access the other one without help. Fail safes were built in to stop it from ever merging on its own and the person who created both AIs died before they were able to merge them. So Case and pals do it for them. Do they have any moral objections to creating a super AI that could probably very easily take over the world? Nope. Not at all. In fact, Case barely even cares that they have discovered the smartest computer ever created that is practically a sentient creature because “AIs have never really been an interest of his”. In the end, the AIs merge and that's it. That's the end of the book. Nothing happens. Case becomes a drug addict again, half the team is dead and life goes on.

Was there anything good here?

You might think I have a very negative opinion of this book by how I described its story, and you would be somewhat correct. I don’t think Neuromancer is a well written book but I do think that it is still a good book. You have to look at it from the perspective of the time it came out.

While a lot of the ideas inside of Neuromancer aren't quite that unique nowadays; almost all of them were brand new ideas in the literary world. William Gibson created the ideas of cyberspace, the ideas of the internet in books and using it of hacking. He did create a diverse world that actually does have a lot of world building done well in it.

While his dialogue and characters certainly leave… a bit to be desired if you want to look back on the cyberpunk genre and where it came from Neuromancer is a must read simply because of its history. But if you want to read a cyberpunk book as a fun read and to get invested in characters and a plotline, maybe you should read something else.

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