My General commentary in this book is here.
Neuromancer by William Gibson has proven to be both a prophetic and influential work. While Gibson inevitably got some things wrong, (he completely missed wireless technology) he got so much right. The depiction of the Matrix anticipated the Internet. This alone gives this book special distinction. On the cultural end, this novel predicted that people involved with digital technology would earn social approval within popular culture, or in more common terms, it predicted that digital technology and those who were skilled at manipulating it could be considered “cool.” In the mid 1980s, this seemed like such an unusual concept. I remember thinking this the first time that I read this book. Today, so much technology is considered “trendy.” Video games and the people who play them are often seen as hip and cool. Other groups, such as hackers and online social groups, are often romanticized. Gibson’s prediction that tech culture would become socially popular may have turned out to be the most prescient aspect of this work. The question arises: How much of this did Gibson predict versus how much did Gibson’s vision of the future actually shaped what is now a kind of “Techno –Cool?” From its initial publication, this book has been popular with young people and people interested and involved with technology. By influencing these people, Gibson may have actually helped to create this new kind of “cool.”
This was one of the first, perhaps the very first, books of the “cyberpunk” genre. As such, it has had an enormous impact on science fiction that has come since. Gibson painted a picture of a dark world that was dominated by digital technology as well as powerful and malevolent corporations, and one that was full of hip and colorful characters. I have read few other cyberpunk books, and although I am sure that there are some that are some very good ones out there, the books that I have read seemed to be pale imitations of this novel.
The character of Molly seems to be a template for so many characters that came after. These days, science fiction and young adult books, as well as films, often depict assertive female characters who are physically attractive, technically competent and also exhibit fighting prowess These characters are often depicted as cool and trendy. Molly is all of these things. To some extent, these female characters have become something of a cliché.
These attributes are on display in Molly’s first meeting with Case. It involves her taking him by force.
“My name’s Molly. I’m collecting you for the man I work for. Just wants to talk, is all. Nobody wants to hurt you.” “That’s good.” “ ’Cept I do hurt people sometimes,. I guess it’s just the way I’m wired.” She wore tight black gloveleather jeans and a bulky black jacket cut from some matte fabric that seemed to absorb light. “If I put this dartgun away, will you be easy, Case? You look like you like to take stupid chances.” “Hey, I’m very easy. I’m a pushover, no problem.” “That’s fine, man…Because you try to fuck around with me, you’ll be taking one of the stupidest chances of your whole life.” She held out her hands, palms up, the white fingers slightly spread, and with a barely audible click, ten double-edged, four centimeter scalpel blades slid from their housings beneath the burgundy nails. She smiled. The blades slowly withdrew.”
Molly is not as sanitized or toned down as many of her imitations are. She shows more than just physical prowess. She is a trained killer. Her violence is not always directed at malicious characters. Though she has a code of ethics, her morality is questionable at best. It seems few books dare to take their protagonist as far as Gibson went with Molly.
Later, Case observes Molly going on the attack,
“The right attitude; it was something he could sense, something he could have seen in the posture of another cowboy leaning into a deck, fingers flying across the board. She had it: the thing, the moves. And she’d pulled it all together for her entrance. Pulled it together around the pain in her leg and marched down 3Jane’s stairs like she owned the place, elbow of her gun arm at her hip, forearm up, wrist relaxed, swaying the muzzle of the fletcher with the studied nonchalance of a Regency duelist. It was a performance. It was like the culmination of a lifetime’s observation of martial arts tapes, cheap ones, the kind Case had grown up on. For a few seconds, he knew, she was every bad-ass hero, Sony Mao in the old Shaw videos, Mickey Chiba, the whole lineage back to Lee and Eastwood. She was walking it the way she talked it. “
The above passages paint a picture of “cool and tough” action. Yet, the text seems to question from where these images and ideas originated. Are we just glorifying something we learned from television, films and fictional characters? What impact do books and films have on our psyches? This passage highlights some of the complexities of this book and of Molly’s character. It is not just a futuristic action story about “bad-ass” characters. Gibson questions the origin and the validity of these concepts.
As I noted in my original post, I first read this book shortly after it was first published. At the time, it seemed original but in some ways also unusual. Rereading it now, when many of its concepts have become commonplace in both fiction and in real life, it is an enlightening experience. This book has held up very well over the years. It is still very much worth the read.