Neuromancer | Study Guide

William Gibson

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Neuromancer | 10 Things You Didn't Know


In 1984, when William Gibson's Neuromancer was published few people owned personal computers. Early, rudimentary virtual reality systems existed but were inaccessible to the average person, and the World Wide Web didn't exist. Yet Gibson envisioned technologies in his book that share a resemblance to modern virtual reality systems and the World Wide Web. Gibson's first novel is the tale of a computer hacker who loses his job when he is caught stealing and punished by having his ability to enter cyberspace destroyed. A shady character offers him a chance to merge his consciousness with the web again ... but at what price?

Called "kaleidoscopic," "intense," and "science fiction of exceptional texture and vision" by reviewers, Neuromancer anticipated today's world of technological overdrive. Science fiction fans, computer geeks, and ordinary readers have found the story both prophetic and chilling in its vision of a high-tech future.

1. Gibson coined the term cyberspace.

Gibson is widely credited with inventing the term cyberspace. Though he didn't know much about the concept of virtual reality when he was writing Neuromancer, he had a sort of vision of what cyberspace might be. He explained how it came to him, in a description that many of his followers are able to recite word for word:

Assembled word cyberspace from small and readily available components of language. Neologic spasm: the primal act of pop poetics. Preceded any concept whatsoever. Slick and hollow―awaiting perceived meanings.

He also said that the idea of cyberspace came to him while he was watching kids play video games at an arcade: "I made the imaginative leap that behind the screen of each personal computer, there was a notional space. And what if the notional space behind the screen of each computer was a shared notional space?" Many critics think the concept and the naming were prophetic. The idea of a global network of millions of computers, all linked, was many years away from reality in 1984, but Gibson's "virtual world" has come to pass in many ways.

2. Gibson was asked to write Neuromancer before he even had an idea for the book.

Gibson was 34 years old and had only written a few stories when he was commissioned to write a novel. He was asked by Terry Carr, a science fiction anthologist, to write a book for Carr's publishing imprint, Ace Books. Carr had been impressed by Gibson's stories in Omni magazine and was willing to take a chance with a very small advance on an unknown. Gibson described his reaction as "utterly and indescribably terrified, something I remained for the next 18 months or so, when, well out of my one-year contract, I turned in the manuscript."

3. Gibson wrote Neuromancer in a state of "blind animal panic."

Because Gibson didn't have so much as a plot in mind when he sat down to begin Neuromancer, he was utterly terrified at the thought of writing a novel. When a friend told him novels were usually around 300 pages long, his response was a stunned, "My God!" His writing, he claimed, had "a desperate quality that I think comes through in the book pretty clearly: Neuromancer is fueled by my terrible fear of losing the reader's attention."

4. Gibson is considered the leading figure of the cyberpunk movement.

Critics claim that Neuromancer launched cyperpunk, a literary movement characterized by "high tech/low life," or characters who use technology for their own ends but live on the fringes of society. Among elements of cyberpunk are drug use, specialized language or slang, and clothing that includes black leather. Gibson, however, didn't think much of the term cyberpunk, calling it "a marketing strategy" and noting:

Really, though, I'm tired of the whole cyberpunk phenomenon. I mean, there's already bad imitation cyberpunk, so you know it can only go downhill from here. All that really happened was that a bunch of work by some new authors landed on some publisher's desks at the same time. People didn't know what to make of us, so they gave us this tag.

5. Gibson wrote one of the last lines of Neuromancer to ensure that there wouldn't be a sequel.

Gibson said that in a great trilogy, each third is "in perfect balance." He couldn't imagine that being true of Neuromancer and any sequels he might write. Gibson added the line "He never saw Molly again" to Neuromancer in an attempt to prevent himself from writing a sequelan addition he later admitted was "a well-intentioned but pointless gesture." He did go on to write two sequels, Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).

6. Gibson predicted the creation of the World Wide Web in Neuromancer.

When Gibson began writing Neuromancer in the early 1980s, the Internet consisted of a group of university-owned computer servers connected by a telecom link. The author's vision of a web of millions of interconnected computers didn't actually become real for nearly another decade, when the personal computer became popular and the web truly linked them all to a virtual shared cyberspace.

7. Gibson didn't know anything about computers when he wrote Neuromancer.

Gibson explained that when he wrote Neuromancer he had only seen one computer in his life, "the American version of a Sinclair ZX, hooked to a thrift shop television set that an eccentric friend of mine had in the 70s." He admitted that it took an enormous imaginative leap to create the computers in his novel, which he called "sexy and powerful beasts." He was thrilled to get his own first computer because he was a terrible typist and, with a computer, could edit his work "endlessly."

8. Gibson wrote his first published story because he didn't want to write a paper for a college class.

When Gibson was in college at the University of British Columbia, he took his first science fiction course. Gibson told his professor that he didn't have time to write a term paper, and she suggested that he write a short story instead. Gibson did so, but the story, "Fragments of a Hologram Rose," took him three months to perfect. It was finally published in the magazine Unearth in 1977.

9. Neuromancer was the first original paperback to win the three most prestigious science fiction awards.

There are three major science fiction writing awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Phillip K. Dick awards. Until Neuromancer was published, no novel had won all three awards. Gibson's work has won numerous other awards, and he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2008.

10. Gibson was afraid to see the film Blade Runner while he was writing Neuromancer.

The Ridley Scott film Blade Runner (1982) came out while Gibson was writing Neuromancer. He admitted that at first he was afraid to watch it because he feared its imaginative world would be much better than any he could create. He said, "In a way, I was right to be afraid, because even the first few minutes were better." Although the movie did poorly at the box office, he felt its huge impact:

In some weird way it was the most influential film of my lifetime, up to that point. It affected the way people dressed, it affected the way people decorated nightclubs. Architects started building office buildings that you could tell they had seen in Blade Runner. It had had an astonishingly broad aesthetic impact on the world.

Scott's concept of an "urban archaeology" is reflected in Gibson's own work. His city, like Scott's, is not a "brand-new" futuristic place but more "like compost heaps—just layers and layers of stuff. In cities, the past and the present and the future can all be totally adjacent."

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