Sunday, December 12, 2010

‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson

William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’, a science fiction classic first published in the 80s, is most famous for coining the word ‘cyberspace’. In some sections it reads for all the world like a detective novel, and the reader has to spend much of the time figuring out not whodunit, but what is real and, more importantly, what is reality. Very little of what I’ve read since high school can be considered science fiction (‘The Time Machine’, ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’ being notable exceptions), but ‘Neuromancer’ came highly recommended from a friend who has similar tastes to mine, and very high standards in what he reads. My friend and I are now locking horns about my take on this award-winning book.

I feel Gibson was clearly, at least in part, inspired by Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. ‘Neuromancer’, like the Divine Comedy, opens in medias res, with its main character, Case, an exile wandering lost in a futuristic and awful Tokyo (with a sky described famously as “the color of television, tuned to a dead channel”). Dreary, menacing and violent, Tokyo (the Inferno) is the books most real area. Case is guided not by the poet Virgil but by (and through) Molly.

Their mysterious hacking mission becomes simultaneously more deadly and less threatening as they pass into (it seems to me) Purgatory. Life becomes more random as Case is channel-surfed from reality to reality. Characters appear then fade. Finally, he is in Paradise, completely abstracted. Distant music, ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines of symbols…”There was a gray place, an impression of fine screens shifting… degrees of half tone…voices…a plain of black mirror, that tilted, and he was quicksilver, a bead of mercury, skittering down, striking the angles of an invisible maze, fragmenting, flowing together, sliding again….”

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, similarly, the main character is guided through a sinister hell full of monsters and demons and into a purgatory of characters, all with stories to tell. Paradise, their final destination, is an abstraction of symbols and light.

My friend does not agree. I wonder what Gibson would say.

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