By William Gibson
Grade Levels: 9-12 & Adults
William Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of those books which, even if it were painfully and obviously outdated, would still be worth a read. Published in 1984, Neuromancer was the first big literary hit of the cyberpunk subgenre and would come to define much of that movement as well as much of Gibson’s later work for the next few decades. But the fact of the matter is that Neuromancer is perhaps more relevant today than it ever was in the 1980s. Set in a world of corporate dominance, high technology, and low life, Neuromancer grapples with the decay of trust and rise in inequality that Gibson (rightly) foresaw would come with the inevitable advancement of computing power.
Neuromancer was such a seminal work not because of its plot, although it is a fun and twisting ride, but because of its themes and aesthetic. Although not the first work we could describe as “cyberpunk,” it did a lot to rocket that oeuvre into (semi-) mainstream success. The book depicts a world where information is both readily available but also tightly controlled, and where the heights of technological excess exist alongside the depths of poverty. If this sounds familiar, you’re beginning to see why this novel and the movement it spawned have been so persistent into the 21st century. The plot focuses on Case, a cyberspace hacker punished for stealing from a previous client by having his nervous system fried and connection to cyberspace severed. A mysterious new employer recruits him for what is doubtless a suicide mission against incredibly powerful AI. During his journey, Case will uncover long-kept secrets and encounter a truly alien intelligence. The book explores what it means to be conscious and living, as we are left to wonder which of the flesh-and-blood humans, human minds saved as computer programs, and fabricated AI should be termed “alive.” The ending needs to be read (and perhaps-reread) to be appreciated. The biggest issue with the book is that it may be a little too complicated to be fully understood the first time through. But the ending is a complex tapestry which explores both individual freedom as well as its ultimate futility in the face of an incomprehensibly large and interconnected world.
For anyone interested in science fiction, the cyberpunk subgenre, neo noir, or simply looking for an unforgettable ride through cyberspace, Neuromancer will not disappoint.