Neuromancer: Let’s Hear It for the Girls

Brigitte Helm during the filming of "Metropolis"

Since I could not make up my mind as to which topic interested me more, here is a second essay on the June book for my reading group, William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Let’s Hear It for the Girls

In his stories set in the Sprawl, Gibson uses several recurring characters; the most emblematic is arguably Molly Millions, also known as Sally Shears, Rose Kolodny, Steppin’ Razor, Cat Mother, etc.  This deadly cyborg and free agent first appeared in the 1981 short story “Johnny Mnemonic” and would go on to be a central character in the novels Neuromancer and Mona Lisa Overdrive.  Because she is tough and dangerous, and because she features prominently in the stories, an initial reaction was to dub Gibson’s fiction post-feminist.

This evoked disagreement, and a number of authors [1, 2, 3, 4, 5  as mere examples] pointed out ways in which Molly and the more vulnerable Linda Lee’s characters fit with a traditional patriarchal mindset common in the literature that inspired it, such as science fiction and hard-boiled detective tales.  These are valid ways of examining the characters, but I would argue that we should not miss the forest for the tree. Continue reading “Neuromancer: Let’s Hear It for the Girls”

Neuromancer: Meat and Mind

Neuromancer game coverWhat’s my excuse this time for being late with the essay on the book of the month for my Goodreads group?  Here is a new one for me: I could not decide between two essay topics on William Gibson’s Neuromancer, so I wrote two essays.  And yes, I grant that neither of them is fabulously ground-breaking, but both topics nagged at me until I agreed to write them down, so here we are.

First, here is a discussion of what I think is the conceptual thrust of the book.  (Spoiler alert, duh!)

Dislocation and Integration

While William Gibson’s writing uses jarring sensory impressions and culture clash to make the reader feel dislocated, the whole plot centres around a split artificial intelligence trying to integrate its shards into true sentience.

Perhaps the most immediately notable feature of Gibson’s style is his use of flashes of information, world-wide cultural references, and staccato rhythm.  Throughout the book, Gibson brings dualities into the narrative: mind and senses, reasoning and intuition, brain-and-body, cowboy and street samurai, software and hardware, simstim and matrix inputs, culture and technology, individuality and connection, the struggle to tether the new to the old.  Continue reading “Neuromancer: Meat and Mind”

Neuromancer: More Resources

BRO neuromancerStill re-reading William Gibson’s Neuromancer for this month’s book club selection.  I thought I’d include some more serious resources:

Edit: Faulty link corrected, 2013/07/03.

More cyberpunk readings

The word “cyberpunk” was first used in 1980 in a short story of the same name by author Bruce Bethke. Decades later, he sounds a little bitter that he didn’t trademark the term (among other things), but he does make his story available free as a PDF (but requests donations if you liked it): “Cyberpunk” He also has some thoughts on the story of the word and genre here.

Then the word was popularized by science fiction editor Gardner Dozois to describe a then-emerging subgenre of literature, at least according to re-posts of old alt.cyberpunk Usenet FAQs. It’s no surprise at all that the cyberpunk subgenre was an instant darling with the old BBS and Usenet crowd.

I enjoy the cyberpunk range quite a bit, but my favourites are a trio of trilogies (ha-ha), as well as associated short stories.

Burning Chrome Neuromancer (Sprawl Trilogy, #1) Count Zero (Sprawl, #2) Mona Lisa Overdrive (Sprawl, #3)
Naturally, William Gibson‘s Sprawl trilogy of Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive plus the short stories gathered in Burning Chrome. The original, defining series — not the first, not the last, but the reference material for all other cyberpunk authors.

Next, as I’ve only mentioned about one hundred times:
When Gravity Fails A Fire in the Sun The Exile Kiss Budayeen Nights
George Alec Effinger‘s Marîd Audran/Budayeen trilogy, When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, and The Exile Kiss as well as the collected short stories Budayeen Nights (released posthumously). Honestly, I think Effinger was a better writer than Gibson at the time (though Gibson continued to develop while Effinger died). His blend of cyberpunk and hardboiled detective stories à la Raymond Chandler is smoother, more accomplished, his stories are stronger, and his characters are better developed.

That said, my third panel in this tryptic is William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy:
Virtual Light Idoru All Tomorrow's Parties (Bridge, #3)
With Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties, Gibson showed that he planned on continuing to grow as a writer and trying new things rather than serving us the endless series of sequels and self-pastiches that some authors might have opted for.

When talking about cyberpunk I should mention Neal Stephenson and Bruce Sterling, who were also pioneers of the genre and remain strong. While I recognize the former’s creativity and impact, I simply don’t derive as much entertainment from his books; and I have yet to read a story by the latter where I did not feel let down by the ending, despite some strong world-building.

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).