Pop Culture Neuromancer

Neuromancer cover, 20th anniversary editionThe book for June in our Goodreads post-SF/F class reading group is William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984).  This book marked the next generation of SF authors and fans, and defined the fledgling subgenre of cyberpunk.

As usual, I gathered some pop culture resources to accompany it; however, I’m now faced with Problem Type 3.  You may recall that Problem Type 1 is when a book is old enough to have been half-forgotten and there are very few resources for it (for example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland); and Problem Type 2 is when a book is recent enough to still be covered by copyright but old enough to pre-date the Internet, yielding plenty of resources but few available online (for example, Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness).  Problem Type 3 is what happens when a book has become so intricately embedded into pop culture that it’s hard to select resources that are both representative and significant among a pervasive background!

While others had already written stories that we would now associate with the genre (Bruce Bethke invented the term with his story “Cyberpunk” in 1980, and John M. Ford’s Web of Angels pioneered the Matrix/Internet/etc. the same year) and a couple of movies had started influencing the visuals (John Carpenter’s Escape From New York in 1981, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982, probably also Tron in 1982), Gibson had already started shaping the new style with his short stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” (1981) and “Burning Chrome” (1982).

He was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third series of Ace Science Fiction Specials, which was intended to exclusively feature debut novels, and given a year to complete the work.  Although Gibson nearly gave up after multiple re-writes and crises of anxiety, the book was an underground success and became a cult classic.  It also received the 1984 Hugo and Nebula awards, and the 1985 Philip K. Dick Memorial Award.

Neuromancer fan movie trailer by Jarred SpekterThere has been a lot of talk over the years about film projects based on Neuromancer, but the projects have repeatedly fallen through.  Given how poorly the movie version of Gibson’s short story Johnny Mnemonic turned out, I can’t say that I particularly mourn the project; besides, there are still rumours of a movie project in the works.  However, there is a rather nice fan-made trailer for a non-existent movie, partly spliced from footage from other movies and accompanied by a fan-made poster.

The BBC aired a radio drama version in 2002, the clips for which can be found in a few places online.  Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of Episode 1 (playlist), and Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 of Episode 2 (playlist) on YouTube.

There have been partial releases as graphic novels, but to my knowledge none that gave the complete novel.

Neuromancer game screen captureA computer game also called “Neuromancer” and based on the novel was released in 1988 and got good reviews at the time.  Here is a remix of the soundtrack, with some stills from the game!  But the impact of Gibson’s vision is felt in many more games and movies than those officially licensed for his intellectual property.  Really, if a game description mentions “cyberpunk” anywhere, then it’s a safe to assume that it was influenced by Gibson’s Neuromancer and other stories of the Sprawl.

C yberpunk 2020 cover Shadowrun 4th Anniversary Edition coverThe Sprawl trilogy also deeply influenced the role-playing game scene, particularly with the games Cyberpunk from R. Talsorian Games (three editions in 1988, 1990 and 2005) and Shadowrun from FASA Corporation and later Catalyst Games, the latter of which adds magic and urban fantasy to the mix (1989, 1992, 1998, 2005, 2010, 2013), and their tie-in novels, sourcebooks, and derived materials.  Other significant cyberpunk role-playing games include GURPS Cyberpunk (Steve Jackson Games), Ex Machina (Guardians of Order), SLA Industries (Nightfall Games), and Tokyo NOVA (Enterbrain).

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