Monday, September 28, 2020

Review of Neuromancer by William Gibson (1995, Harper)

Case used to be a skilled hacker, until an ex-employer compromised his ability to jack into the matrix by crippling his nervous system. Instead, he is left to hustle in the dark economy of Chiba City. Now he’s being given a second chance, recruited by a mentally unstable former military operative, and paired with Molly, a mirror-eyed samurai, and the construct of a former hacker, to make a run against a powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth that serves the Tessier-Ashpool business clan. He finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly conflict between AIs and family members, with little choice but to continue given the poison stored in his body, the antidote held by his employer.

I’ve read Neuromancer a couple of times before and have written about the book in some of my academic work. It’s twenty years though since I last read it. It’s aged remarkably well given the centrality of digital technologies to the storyline. In fact, if it were published today it would hold up on the tech side of things given its precedence. And the storyline does as well; a cyberpunk thriller that pits Case, a has-been hacker, and Molly, a cyborg, street-smart samurai, against a powerful AI that serves a shady business clan. Along with a whip-smart, intriguing and well-paced plot, the prose is evocative and delightful. It’s easy to see why the book won so many awards and how it became so influential in shaping thinking about networked technologies and the worlds they create. It remains an excellent, engaging, thought-provoking read.

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