Book Review: Neuromancer

There’s something about Cyberpunk.  Since I was a fairly young kid, something about the spirit and the aesthetic always resonated with me.  Films, video games, TV series, comic books, novels, and tabletop RPGs.  I couldn’t get enough.  I still really enjoy it, unironically, in both its influences on contemporary Science Fiction and as a retro-futurism.  So, it’s odd that I really bounced off William Gibson’s Neuromancer when I read it the first time.  It was probably 20 or 25 years ago that I sat down to read the book that’s often considered the birth of the subgenre, though of course, it didn’t spring from a vacuum, and there are plenty of books and movies that predate it you could easily call Cyberpunk.  My memory of reading the book was that it was difficult to read and had awkward use of language.  I believe I’d said something about it being needlessly obscure or something.  There was a bit too much of the Beats in it.

Honestly, I have no idea where I got all that.  It goes to show how different a reader can be with a couple decades of life behind them.  Reading Neuromancer again, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit.  The world felt much more vivid and alive to me, and the characters more compelling.  There are elements of the final act that don’t work especially well.  The actual ‘run’ gets bogged down.  What should be a fast paced sequence takes up about a hundred pages of a book that’s less than 300 pages long.  Still, while that section didn’t set me on fire, a lot of the book did.

Case is an odd protagonist.  As someone recently pointed out to me, his driving motivation for the first chunk of the book is trying desperately to get high.  Molly works for me more than her type of character normally does.  At first she feels like a Luc Besson, “born-sexy-yesterday” type of badass-girl action hero, but as the book plays out, she’s got more depth than that.  Some of the supporting characters are fun and colorful.  Though there may have been a few too many, as I was trying to remember who a few of them were in the latter half of the book.  

For a first novel, this is pretty amazing.  Does it 100% hold up?  No.  Is it a perfect book?  No.  But you can see how it would have shaken things up.  Though these themes had been building in Science Fiction and in pop culture through the 1970s, seeing them splashed across the page in neon light must have been something.

I was already itching to run a Cyberpunk 2020 game.  Reading this kicked that up to 11.  Considering that 20ish years ago when I read Neuromancer and Count Zero, I much preferred the latter book, I’m excited to give it a re-read.  And I think somehow I never read Mona Lisa Overdrive, so that’s gonna have to change. 

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