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Someone to Wachowski me
on 30 December 2007
I have mixed feelings about neuromancer: one one hand, circa 1982 it was such a staggering imaginative feat, conjuring up a breathtakingly close intellectual equivalent to the internet, coining the term and then strikingly predicting the commercialisation of "cyberspace" and it is also such a valiant stylistic effort, amalgamating Chandler's gumshoe noir with Dick's post-modern dystopian sci-fi that you can't help but be totally swept along.
On the other hand it is such a horror-show of a literary artefact, on a technical level so poorly conceived and executed, that it is almost impossible to slog through.
But slog through it I did, after a couple of aborted runs at it, and while I remain impressed at Gibson's conceptual prescience, thanks to his needlessly affected, sub-Burroughs, Beat-for-the-hell-of-it writing style I often had little idea what was going on, much less why, and from my tenuous grasp of the plot, conceptual scheme and literary motivations can't for the life of me fathom what Gibson was trying to make from his portentous ending. The thing is, and unlike many substandard novels of this type, I suspect Gibson did have a coherent point, but he buried under such a thick coating of cod-style it remains forever concealed. In his afterword he pretty much concedes all this (and handily summarises the ending in about two lines!).
There is a real art to successful stylism, evident in someone like James Ellroy whose prose, even though initially forbidding, suddenly "clicks" and carries the reader along enhancing the impression, the images, and the comprehension. Gibson's style, whilst cool, is uneven, obscure, and never manages anything other than to get in the way of a (fairly) good story.
Only fairly good: there are far too many characters, most are introduced arbitrarily and fulfil no particular function other than building the dystopian atmosphere, and even the five or six main ones are poorly drawn, wafer thin, and appear to prescribe little by way of developmental arc (Case, I think, does, but thanks to the vapid style I couldn't tell you what it was).
Reading Neuromancer in the age of the internet puts the story at another disadvantage: we now have the actual internet to compare Gibson's matrix with, and while it is undoubtedly a remarkable previsualistion in many respects, it diverges utterly in others, to the point where it is difficult now to imagine the universe Gibson paints for us.
Hardly Gibson's fault, of course, but an internet arranged in a fixed three-dimensional space seems quaint and fairly pointless when the internet we do know and love is constructed for its infinite flexibility and re-orderability - the data is just there, and you the user can use what tools you like to order and navigate it to your convenience.
They're apparently making a film of Neuromancer: I couldn't help thinking good luck; rather them than me - not only do they have to pare down and disentangle Gibson's contorted prose and plotting, they have to do it more convincingly that the Wachowski brothers did: Their Matrix franchise owes almost as much to Neuromancer as Blade Runner did to Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, and the bits that are different are all marked improvements.
Then again, Neuromancer was a first novel, and on that count alone it is pretty extraordinary.