Book #22: Neuromancer
I really wanted to like this book.
That’s probably a bad way to start a review, right? I mean, it probably communicates, right away, that Neuromancer didn’t meet my expectations. I’m saying right away that that something about the novel excited me but, for some reason, Neuromancer fell short.
Is that what I’m saying?
Yep. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know it takes a lot for me to negatively review a book. All the books on the Time list are excellent, well-reviewed novels, and I try to keep that in mind as I read each one. So that makes it difficult for me and, sometimes, unsettling to go against the flow, as I also did with Mrs. Dalloway.
But I’ll start with the positive aspects of Neuromancer.
I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that the book is groundbreaking. To think that William Gibson was writing about “cyberspace,” “computer viruses,” and “artificial intelligence” in 1984 is mind-boggling.
I don’t think my first dip into the science fiction world could’ve been with a more revolutionary novel. The accuracy of Gibson’s vision for the future is frightening in many ways. Whether or not you like the book, you really have to appreciate that.
Now, what about the negative?
First, I found Gibson’s writing style to be dry and mechanical. Sure, that’s an issue of personal taste, but it’s an issue I couldn’t overlook. The style matched the tone of the novel well. But, for this reader, I simply couldn’t focus on the story because Gibson’s writing lulled me to sleep–literally on a couple of occasions.
Also, the dialogue in Neuromancer annoyed me. The dialogue, at times, had the feel of a 1980s cheesy buddy cop movie. Here’s an example:
“Hey, Case,” she said, barely voicing the words, “you listening? Tell you a story….Had me this boy once. You kinda remind me…” She turned and surveyed the corridor. “Johnny, his name was. … My Johnny, see, he was smart, real flash boy. Started out as a stash on Memory Lane, chips in his head and people paid to hide data there.”
And on and on.
Meh. The dialogue in Neuromancer reminds me of my favorite line in Infinite Jest when Hal Incandenza says, “I do things like get in a taxi and say, ‘The library, and step on it.’” I love that line because of its irony–no one talks that way, cheesy, forced, something out of a movie.
The difference is that David Foster Wallace wrote with irony. Gibson doesn’t–unless I’m totally missing something here. I couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like I was reading a movie script.
Another reason this novel was so difficult for me: the imagery. Or lack of it. Don’t misunderstand: Gibson is a visual writer. He focuses a lot on imagery and environment, almost to his detriment.
But when you’re being dropped into the middle of an unknown world, you need something you can relate to, something you can visualize. If I’ve never heard of lions and tigers, then the author of a book about a safari better be good at describing and casting a vision of the African plains and the animals that inhabit them.
With Neuromancer, the reader is thrown into some foreign, sterile, computer-enhanced world, and Gibson’s descriptors do little in the way of providing some type of context, at least for the casual reader who isn’t down with technical jargon and science fiction lingo.
Punching his way into the sphere, chill blue neon vault above him starless and smooth as frosted glass, he triggered a subprogram that effected certain alterations in the core custodial commands.
Or this one:
Cowboys didn’t get into simstim, he thought, because it was basically a meat toy. He knew that the trodes he used and the little plastic tiara dangling from the simstim deck were basically the same, and that the cyberspace matrix was actually a drastic simplification of the human sensorium, at least in terms of presentation, but simstim itself struck him as a gratuitous multiplication of flesh input.
That’s the third or fourth time I’ve read those quotes, and I still can’t get a visual grasp of what’s going on. Maybe I’m just stupid.
One last thing. I didn’t care about these characters. Had they all died in a cyberspace virus attack, I wouldn’t have cared. Had they all been relocated to The Death Star and forced to serve as Darth Vader’s slaves, I wouldn’t have cared.
Gibson didn’t really make me care about Case, Molly, and the rest of the cast of characters. I honestly can hardly remember their names.
I’m sure that readers more inclined toward science fiction would appreciate this novel much more than I did. Or maybe readers with a better sense of technical, computer verbiage. Or maybe Bono.
But Neuromancer lost me. I tried and tried. I focused, concentrated, re-read chapters, and I could never get into this book or care about its characters.
Science Fiction: 1. Robert: 0.
The Opening Line: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
The Meaning: “Neuromancer” is a blend of words. Gibson describes it as, “Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead.”
Highlights: Described above. I was blown away by Gibson’s vision for the future, his foresight. Kinda scary how accurate it was.
Lowlights: Out of the several things I mentioned as negatives in the review, I’ve got to say the dialogue was the low point for me. Cheesy. Over-the-top. Kept picturing Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The dialogue didn’t fit Gibson’s writing style.
Memorable Line: Gibson’s version of cyberspace: “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.”
Final Thoughts: I’m not a fan of Neuromancer. I can appreciate Gibson’s vision and execution of this story, but he just lulled me to sleep with this one. The cheesy dialogue. The dry writing style. The flat characters. The bland and vague visuals. If you’re into science fiction, maybe you’ll have a different experience. But I’ll leave this one on the shelf.