First edition paperback cover
(Ace Science Fiction 1984)
Neuromancer is a 1984 novel by William Gibson, a seminal work in the cyberpunk genre and the first winner of the science-fiction "triple crown" — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. It was Gibson's debut novel and the beginning of the Sprawl trilogy. The novel tells the story of a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack.
Prior to the composition of Neuromancer, Gibson had written several short stories for prominent science fiction periodicals – mostly noir countercultural narratives concerning low-life protagonists in near-future encounters with cyberspace. The themes which he developed in this early short fiction, the Sprawl setting of "Burning Chrome" (1982) and the character of Molly Millions from "Johnny Mnemonic" (1981) laid the foundations for the novel. John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981) was an influence on the novel; Gibson was "intrigued by the exchange in one of the opening scenes where the Warden says to Snake 'You flew the Gulfire over Leningrad, didn't you?' [sic] It turns out to be just a throwaway line, but for a moment it worked like the best SF, where a casual reference can imply a lot." The novel's street and computer slang dialogue derives from the vocabulary of subcultures, particularly "1969 Toronto dope dealer's slang, or biker talk". Gibson heard the term "flatlining" in a bar around twenty years before writing Neuromancer and it stuck with him. Author Robert Stone, a "master of a certain kind of paranoid fiction", was a primary influence on the novel. The term "Screaming Fist" was taken from the song of the same name by legendary Toronto punk rock band The Viletones.
Neuromancer was commissioned by Terry Carr for the third series of Ace Science Fiction Specials, which was intended to exclusively feature debut novels. Given a year to complete the work, Gibson undertook the actual writing out of "blind animal terror" at the obligation to write an entire novel – a feat which he felt he was "four or five years away from". After viewing the first 20 minutes of landmark cyberpunk film Blade Runner (1982) which was released when Gibson had written a third of the novel, he "figured [Neuromancer] was sunk, done for. Everyone would assume I’d copped my visual texture from this astonishingly fine-looking film." He re-wrote the first two-thirds of the book twelve times, feared losing the reader's attention and was convinced that he would be "permanently shamed" following its publication; yet what resulted was seen as a major imaginative leap forward for a first-time novelist. He added the final sentence of the novel, "He never saw Molly again", at the last minute in a deliberate attempt to prevent himself from ever writing a sequel, but ended up doing precisely that with Count Zero (1986), a character-focused work set in the Sprawl alluded to in its predecessor.
|“||The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.||”|
—Opening line of Neuromancer.
Henry Dorsett Case is a low-level hustler in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan. Once a talented computer hacker, Case was caught stealing from his employer. As punishment for his theft, Case's central nervous system was damaged with a mycotoxin, leaving him unable to use his brain-computer interface to access the global computer network in cyberspace, a virtual reality dataspace called the "Matrix". Unemployable, addicted to drugs, and suicidal, Case desperately searches the Chiba "black clinics" for a miracle cure. Case is saved by Molly Millions, an augmented "street samurai" and mercenary for a shadowy ex-military officer named Armitage, who offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case jumps at the chance to regain his life as a "console cowboy," but neither Case nor Molly know what Armitage is really planning. Case's nervous system is repaired using new technology that Armitage offers the clinic as payment, but he soon learns from Armitage that sacs of the poison that first crippled him have been placed in his blood vessels as well. Armitage promises Case that if he completes his work in time, the sacs will be removed; otherwise they will burst, disabling him again. He also has Case's pancreas replaced and new tissue grafted into his liver, leaving Case incapable of metabolizing cocaine or amphetamines and apparently ending his drug addiction.
Case and Molly develop a close personal relationship and Molly suggests that Case begin looking into Armitage's background. Meanwhile, Armitage assigns them their first job: they must steal a ROM module that contains the saved consciousness of one of Case's mentors, legendary cyber-cowboy McCoy Pauley, nicknamed "The Dixie Flatline." Pauley's hacking expertise is needed by Armitage, and the ROM construct is stored in the corporate headquarters of media conglomerate Sense/Net. A street gang named the "Panther Moderns" are hired to create a simulated terrorist attack on Sense/Net. The diversion allows Molly to penetrate the building and steal Dixie's ROM.
Case and Molly continue to investigate Armitage, discovering his former identity of Colonel Willis Corto. Corto was a member of "Operation Screaming Fist," which planned on infiltrating and disrupting Soviet computer systems from ultralight aircraft dropped over Russia. The Russian military had learned of the idea and installed defenses to render the attack impossible, but the military went ahead with Screaming Fist, with a new secret purpose of testing these Russian defenses. As the Operation team attacked a Soviet computer center, EMP weapons shut down their computers and flight systems, and Corto and his men were targeted by Soviet laser defenses. He and a few survivors commandeered a Soviet military helicopter and escaped over the heavily guarded Finnish border. Everyone was killed except Corto, who was seriously wounded by Finnish defense forces as they were landing the helicopter. Corto's testimony was finessed to protect the military officers who had covered up knowledge of the EMP weapons, and Corto himself disappeared into the criminal underworld after undergoing extensive physical and mental rehabilitation.
In Istanbul, the team recruits Peter Riviera, an artist, thief, and drug addict who is able to project detailed holographic illusions with the aid of sophisticated cybernetic implants. Although Riviera is a sociopath, Armitage coerces him into joining the team. The trail leads Case and Molly to a powerful artificial intelligence named Wintermute, created by the plutocratic Tessier-Ashpool family. Control of the clan's fortune alternates among the family members, who spend most of their inactive time in cryonic preservation inside Villa Straylight, a labyrinthine mansion located at one end of the Freeside L5 O'Neill cylinder space habitat, which functions primarily as a Las Vegas-like space resort for the wealthy.
Wintermute's nature is finally revealed — it is one-half of a super-AI entity planned by the family, although its exact purpose is unknown. The Turing Law Code governing AIs bans the construction of such entities; to get around this, it had to be built as two separate AIs. Wintermute was programmed by the Tessier-Ashpool dynasty with a need to merge with its other half — Neuromancer. Unable to achieve this merger on its own, Wintermute recruited Armitage and his team to help complete the goal. Case is tasked with entering cyberspace to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a powerful icebreaker program. At the same time, Riviera is to obtain the password to the Turing lock from Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, an unfrozen daughter clone and the current leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA. Wintermute believes Riviera will pose an irresistible temptation to her, and that she will give him the password. The password must be spoken into an ornate computer terminal located in the Tessier-Ashpool home in Villa Straylight, and entered simultaneously as Case pierces the software barriers in cyberspace — otherwise the Turing lock will remain intact.
Armitage's team attracts the attention of the Turing Police, whose job is to prevent AIs from exceeding their built-in limitations. As Molly and Riviera gain entrance to Villa Straylight, three officers arrest Case and take him into custody; Wintermute manipulates the orbital casino's security and maintenance systems and kills the officers, allowing Case to escape. The Armitage personality starts to disintegrate and revert to the Corto personality as he relives Screaming Fist. It is revealed that in the past, Wintermute had originally contacted Corto through a bedside computer during his convalescence, eventually convincing Corto that he was Armitage. Wintermute used him to persuade Case and Molly to help it merge with its twin AI, Neuromancer. Finally, Armitage becomes the shattered Corto again, but his newfound personality is short-lived as he is killed by Wintermute.
Inside Villa Straylight, Molly is captured by Riviera and Lady 3Jane. Worried about Molly, Case tracks her down with help from Maelcum, his Rastafarian pilot. Neuromancer attempts to trap Case within a cyber-construct where he finds the consciousness of Linda Lee, his girlfriend from Chiba City, who was murdered by one of Case's underworld contacts. Case manages to escape flatlining inside the construct after Maelcum gives him an overdose of a drug that can bypass his augmented liver and pancreas. Freeing himself, Case takes Maelcum and confronts Lady 3Jane, Riviera, and Hideo, Lady 3Jane's ninja bodyguard. Riviera tries to kill Case, but Lady 3Jane is sympathetic towards Case and Molly, and Hideo protects him. Riviera blinds Hideo, but flees when he learns that the ninja is just as adept without his sight due to extensive practice while blindfolded. Molly then explains to Case that Riviera is doomed anyway, as he has been fatally poisoned by a bad batch of drugs. With Lady 3Jane in possession of the password, the team makes it to the computer terminal. Case ascends to cyberspace to find the icebreaker has succeeded in penetrating its target; Lady 3Jane is induced to give up her password and the lock is opened. Wintermute unites with Neuromancer, fusing into a greater entity. The poison in Case's bloodstream is washed out, and he and Molly are handsomely paid for their efforts, while Pauley's ROM construct is apparently erased at his own request.
In the epilogue, Molly leaves Case, who later finds a new girlfriend and resumes his hacking work. Wintermute/Neuromancer contacts him, saying that it has become "the sum total of the works, the whole show," and has begun looking for other AIs like itself. Scanning old recorded transmissions from the 1970s, the super-AI finds a lone AI transmitting from the Alpha Centauri star system. The novel ends with the sound of inhuman laughter, a trait associated with Pauley during Case's work with his ROM construct. It is thus suggested that Pauley was not erased after all, but instead worked out a side deal with Wintermute/Neuromancer to be freed from the construct so he could exist in the matrix.
- See individual character pages for more info.
- Case (Henry Dorsett Case)
- The novel's antihero, a drug addict and cyberspace hacker.
- A "Razorgirl" who is recruited along with Case by Armitage.
- He is (apparently) the main patron of the crew, a former green beret and veteran.
- Peter Riviera
- A thief and sadist who can project holographic images using his implants.
- Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool
- The shared current leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA, a company running Freeside, a resort in space.
- The Finn
- A fence for stolen goods and one of Molly's old friends.
- Case's Zionist pilot. He aids Case in penetrating Straylight at the end of the novel.
- The Dixie Flatline
- A famous computer hacker named McCoy Pauley, who earned his nickname by surviving three "flat-lines" while trying to crack an AI.
- One of the Tessier-Ashpool AIs.
- Wintermute's sibling AI.
Literary and cultural significance
Neuromancer's release was not greeted with fanfare, but it hit a cultural nerve, quickly becoming an underground word-of-mouth hit. It became the first novel to win the "triple crown" of science fiction awards – the Nebula, the Hugo, and Philip K. Dick Award for paperback original, an unprecedented achievement described by the Mail & Guardian as "the sci-fi writer's version of winning the Goncourt, Booker and Pulitzer prizes in the same year". The novel thereby legitimized cyberpunk as a mainstream branch of science fiction literature. It is among the most-honored works of science fiction in recent history, and appeared on Time magazine's list of 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. The novel was also nominated for a British Science Fiction Award in 1984.
Neuromancer is considered "the archetypal cyberpunk work". and outside science fiction, it gained unprecedented critical and popular attention, as an "evocation of life in the late 1980s", although The Observer noted that "it took the New York Times 10 years" to mention the novel. By 2007 it had sold more than 6.5 million copies worldwide.
The novel has had significant linguistic influence, popularizing such terms as cyberspace and ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics). Gibson himself coined the term "cyberspace" in his novelette "Burning Chrome", published in 1982 by Omni magazine. It was only through its use in Neuromancer, however, that the term Cyberspace gained enough recognition to become the de facto term for the World Wide Web during the 1990s. The portion of Neuromancer usually cited in this respect is:
|“||The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding. (Gibson 69.)||”|
In his afterword to the 2000 re-issue of Neuromancer, fellow author Jack Womack goes as far as to suggest that Gibson's vision of cyberspace may have inspired the way in which the Internet developed, (particularly the World Wide Web) after the publication of Neuromancer in 1984. He asks "[w]hat if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?" (269).
Norman Spinrad, in his 1986 essay "The Neuromantics" which appears in his non-fiction collection Science Fiction in the Real World, saw the book's title as a triple pun: "neuro" referring to the nervous system; "necromancer"; and "new romancer." The cyberpunk genre, the authors of which he suggested be called "neuromantics," was "a fusion of the romantic impulse with science and technology," according to Spinrad.
Writing in F&SF in 2005, Charles de Lint noted that while Gibson's technological extrapolations had proved imperfect (in particular, his failure to anticipate the cellular telephone), "Imagining story, the inner workings of his characters' minds, and the world in which it all takes place are all more important.
Lawrence Person in his "Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto" (1998) identified Neuromancer as "the archetypal cyberpunk work", and in 2005, Time included it in their list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, opining that "[t]here is no way to overstate how radical [Neuromancer] was when it first appeared." Literary critic Larry McCaffery described the concept of the matrix in Neuromancer as a place where "data dance with human consciousness... human memory is literalized and mechanized... multi-national information systems mutate and breed into startling new structures whose beauty and complexity are unimaginable, mystical, and above all nonhuman." Gibson later commented on himself as an author circa Neuromancer that "I'd buy him a drink, but I don't know if I'd loan him any money," and referred to the novel as "an adolescent's book". The success of Neuromancer was to effect the 35-year-old Gibson's emergence from obscurity.
In 1989, Epic Comics published a 48-page graphic novel version by Tom de Haven and Bruce Jensen. It only covers the first two chapters, "Chiba City Blues" and "The Shopping Expedition," and was never continued. In the 1990s a version of Neuromancer was published as one of the Voyager Company's Expanded Books series of hypertext-annotated HyperCard stacks for the Apple Macintosh (specifically the PowerBook). Gibson read an abridged version of his novel Neuromancer on four audio cassettes for Time Warner Audio Books (1994). An unabridged version of this book was read by Arthur Addison and made available from Books on Tape (1997). In 2003, the BBC produced an audio adaptation of Neuromancer as part of their "Play of the Week" series. The full-cast dramatization was presented in two hour-long episodes.
A video game adaptation of the novel — also titled Neuromancer — was published in 1988 by Interplay. Designed by Bruce J. Balfour, Brian Fargo, Troy A. Miles, and Michael A. Stackpole, the game had many of the same locations and themes as the novel, but a different protagonist and plot. It was available for a variety of platforms, including the Amiga, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and for DOS-based computers. It featured, as a soundtrack, a computer adaptation of the Devo song "Some Things Never Change."
According to an episode of the American version of Beyond 2000, the original plans for the game included a dynamic soundtrack composed by Devo and a real-time 3d rendered movie of the events the player went through. Psychologist and futurist Dr. Timothy Leary was involved, but very little documentation seems to exist about this proposed second game, which was perhaps too grand a vision for 1988 home computing.
There have been several unsuccessful initial attempts at film adaptations of Neuromancer, with drafts of scripts written by British director Chris Cunningham and Chuck Russel. The box packaging for the video game adaptation had even carried the promotional mention for a major motion picture to come from "Cabana Boy Productions." None of these projects have come to fruition, though William Gibson has stated his belief that Cunningham is the only director with a chance of doing the film right.
In May 2007 reports emerged that a film was in the works, with Joseph Kahn (director of Torque) in line to direct and Milla Jovovich in the lead role. In May 2010 this story was supplanted with news that Vincenzo Natali, director of Cube and Splice, had taken over directing duties and would rewrite the screenplay. In March 2011, with the news that Seven Arts and GFM Films would be merging their distribution operations, it was announced that the joint venture would be purchasing the rights to Neuromancer under Vincenzo Natali's direction at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. Natali's film went into pre-production in May 2011, and filming is expected to begin in 2012 with a budget of $60 million.
- Ghost in the Shell
- Snow Crash
- McCaffery, Larry (1991). Storming the Reality Studio: a casebook of cyberpunk and postmodern science fiction. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. . .
- Neuromancer publication history at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Neuromancer at the William Gibson Aleph, featuring cover art and adaptations
- Neuromancer at Worlds Without End
- Neuromancer at the Internet Movie Database
- Study Guide for William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984) by Paul Brians of Washington State University
- Gibson on the influence of Blade Runner
- Neuromancer, reviewed by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)
- McCaffery, Larry. "An Interview with William Gibson". http://project.cyberpunk.ru/idb/gibson_interview.html. Retrieved 2007-11-05. , reprinted in Template:Harvnb
- Walker, Doug (2006-09-14). "Doug Walker Interviews William Gibson" (PDF). Douglas Walker website. http://www.douglaswalker.ca/press/gibson.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- "The Viletones". http://www.viletone.com.
- Gibson, William (2003-09-04). "Neuromancer: The Timeline". http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/2003_09_01_archive.asp#1062520986072822474. Retrieved 2007-11-26.
- Gibson, William (2003-01-17). "Oh Well, While I'm Here: Bladerunner". http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/2003_01_01_archive.asp#90199532. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
- Gibson, William (2003-01-01). "(untitled weblog post)". http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/2003_01_01_archive.asp#90158337. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
- Grimwood, Jon Courtenay (February 9, 2002). "Big in SF". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/feb/09/sciencefictionfantasyandhorror. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
- Hollinger, Veronica (July 1999). "Contemporary Trends in Science Fiction Criticism, 1980–1999". Science Fiction Studies 26 (78). http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/78/hollinger78art.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-06.
- Cheng, Alastair. "77. Neuromancer (1984)". The LRC 100: Canada's Most Important Books. Literary Review of Canada. http://lrc.reviewcanada.ca/index.php?page=71---80. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- Walker, Martin (1996-09-03). "Blade Runner on electro-steroids". Mail & Guardian Online. M&G Media. http://www.mg.co.za/articledirect.aspx?articleid=293681&area=%2farts_movies%2f. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
- Grossman, Lev; Richard Lacayo (October 16, 2005). "Neuromancer (1984)". TIME Magazine All-Time 100 Novels (Time). http://www.time.com/time/2005/100books/0,24459,neuromancer,00.html. Retrieved 2007-11-06.
- "1984 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1984. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Person, Lawrence (Winter/Spring 1998). "Notes Toward a Postcyberpunk Manifesto". Nova Express 4 (4). http://features.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=99/10/08/2123255. Retrieved 2007-11-06.
- Fitting, Peter (July 1991). "The Lessons of Cyberpunk". In Penley, C. & Ross, A. (eds.). Technoculture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 295–315. . . "[Gibson's work] has attracted an audience from outside, people who read it as a poetic evocation of life in the late eighties rather than as science fiction."
- Adams, Tim; Emily Stokes, James Flint (2007-08-12). "Space to think". Books by genre (London: The Observer). http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/sciencefiction/story/0,,2146989,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
- Elhefnawy, Nader (2007-08-12). "‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson". Tangent Short Fiction Review. http://www.tangentonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1125&Itemid=165. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- ""Neuromancer" page". Williamgibsonbooks.com. http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/books/neuromancer.asp. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- Irvine, Martin (1997-01-12). "Postmodern Science Fiction and Cyberpunk". Archived from the original on October 19, 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20061019064013/http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/technoculture/pomosf.html. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
- "Books to Look For", F&SF, April 2005, p.28
- Mark Neale (director), William Gibson (subject). (2000). No Maps for These Territories. [Documentary]. Docurama.
- van Bakel, Rogier (June 1995). "Remembering Johnny". Wired (3.06). http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/gibson.html. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
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- "Neuromancer graphic novel". Antonraubenweiss.com. http://www.antonraubenweiss.com/gibson/gallery/neuromancer-graphicnovel/gn00.html. Retrieved 2009-03-16.
- Buwalda, Minne (2002-05-27). "Voyager". Mediamatic.net. http://www.mediamatic.net/article-5817-en.html. Retrieved 2008-06-11.
- "Chris Cunningham - Features". directorfile.com. Archived from the original on 2007-06-18. http://web.archive.org/web/20070618212259/http://www.director-file.com/cunningham/feature.html. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
- "Neuromancer Coming To The Big Screen". comingsoon.net. http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=20507. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
- Gingold, Michael. "Natali takes "NEUROMANCER" for the big screen". Fangoria.com. http://fangoria.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=785:natali-takes-neuromancer-for-the-big-screen&catid=1:latest-news&Itemid=167. Retrieved 2010-05-07.
- "Seven Arts Announces New Distribution Venture With GFM Films". Bloomberg. Marketwire (Hollywood). 31 March 2011. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=conewsstory&tkr=SAPXF:US&sid=aTfBCpRLV_7I. Retrieved 10 April 2011.
- Winning, Josh (20 May 2011). "Vincenzo Natali’s Neuromancer to film in early 2012". Total Film. http://www.totalfilm.com/news/vincenzo-natali-s-neuromancer-to-film-in-early-2012. Retrieved 21 May 2011. "With the film rights also bought, filming is expected to commence early 2012, with locations including Canada, Istanbul, Tokyo, and London. Pre-visual effects work has already begun."
- "Seven Arts Pictures PLC Signs Production Agreement With Prodigy Pictures, Inc. to Finance $60 Million Budget for Neuromancer". MarketWatch. Comtex (Los Angeles). 25 July 2011. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/seven-arts-pictures-plc-signs-production-agreement-with-prodigy-pictures-inc-to-finance-60-million-budget-for-neuromancer-2011-07-25?reflink=MW_news_stmp. Retrieved 2 August 2011. "Prodigy hopes to arrange substantial financing for the film, which is expected to have a production budget of approximately $60 million."