Neuromancer – William Gibson (1984)
‘Case was burnt-out, useless, suicidal – his nervous system grievously maimed by a wartime Russian mycotoxin. The top Japanese experts in nerve-splicing and microbionics had taken his money and left him crippled. His days as a software cowboy seemed over.
Then Case met a man who could cure him. In return, Case had to do a job. Had to. Because bonded to his artery walls were tiny sacs of the mycotoxin. Tiny sacs, slowly melting…’
Blurb from the 1986 Grafton Books paperback edition
Like a bullet to the head, Neuromancer (and Gibson) arrived in 1984 to almost universal acclaim and allegedly kick-started the Cyberpunk movement which has influenced certain branches of SF ever since. Whether or not they choose to call their work cyberpunk or not is immaterial. The work of Simon Ings, Grimwood, Chris Moriarty, Michael Swanwick and dozens of others would arguably not have been the same had this novel not been as successful as it was.
The prose is fast, clever, snappy, set against a background of half-working neon in streets where disposable computer equipment is strewn like empty fast food cartons.
Our hero, Case, is a cyber-freelancer, able to jack himself into computer-systems and experience cyberspace as a three dimensional reality. Case, however, tried to steal from one of his more dubious clients who subsequently infected him with a Russian mycotoxin, effectively rendering him incapable of cyberspace work and therefore unemployable. We therefore meet him, down on his luck, and mixing with some rather eccentric characters in a downtown bar in Japan.
For me, it reads like ‘The Maltese Falcon in Space’. There is a pervasive noir element, since Case – like many a Nineteen-Forties gumshoe – is forced to take on a job, the full details of which he is not fully aware. There’s a beautiful and dangerous woman (by the name of Molly) and a mysterious benefactor as well as a supporting cast of neon-lit lowlife.
Like any classic noir novel, the action and the protagonists move between street level and the crazy billionaire family who are literally ‘above the clouds’, since they live within their own Las Vegas style space station.
It’s exciting, challenging, dense with atmosphere, and very much deserves its cult status as a modern classic.