Books, Close Encounters Book Club

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Yay, its book club meeting time.

July’s book was William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, I book that I’d heard was a big part of the initial cyberpunk movement, a genre that I’ve not read any fiction from but am a huge fan of films such as Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Alot of distopian literature released since its original publication can be linked back to it too I suppose.

So Neuromancer, for those that haven’t read it, is all about a hacker named Chase, who has turned to a life of hustling in Chiba City, Japan, in order to make enough money to eat and spend the night in a “coffin hotel” which, to me, sound alot like the capsule/pod hotel’s that you can find in Japan, but with a few more bells and whistles like magnetic locks and some sort of computer terminal. Chase isn’t able to access the Global Computer Network due to a microtoxyn that he was implanted with after a job went bad, so is now unable to hack. However, he is approached to do a job, with the reward being that he’ll have the microtoxyn removed (thus allowing him to do the job in the first place). A woman called Molly is also employed to do certain aspects of the job, those being more physical oriented in contrast to Chase’s work in Cyberspace, and their employer is a man called Armitage. However, Chase and Molly don’t really know what Armitage is up to, but they begin to suspect something, and as such the book becomes not just a tale of this heist like job they’ve been employed to do, but also their investigation into who Armitage is and what he really wants.

Now, all that there, sounds excellent, but if I’m honest, I really struggled with Neuromancer. I found its language difficult to penetrate and there was so many different terms, characters and locations and everything moves at such a break neck pace that I found myself scrabbling to remember what had happened, to whom and where, and its not really until the final chapters that I felt the whole picture began to click. It was also difficult to escape the influences its had elsewhere, there’s the obvious names such when they discuss Cyberspace or The Matrix, which are both terms that have been adopted elsewhere in our culture, but also with how events pan out it felt like I was watching a few different films all at once, with drug references, computer terminology and military speak all being thrown around, it came as a surprise, but also a relief that when Chase and Molly team up with a Rastafarian pilot, that I began to understand things a little better, and I think as whole the story would have been easier to follow if the central character wasn’t so deeply entangled within the world of being a “Console Cowboy” and being a part of that underworld as the language being used was so far away from what most people used it, as I’ve said, often got confusing.

Thats not to say I didn’t enjoy Neuromancer, I absolutely loved it, and I can actually see me reading through it again at some point in the future (which I rarely manage to do with books) with a better understanding of what the cast are talking about. I think if I did do that I may pick up on some of its more deeper themes.

What did stand out strongly though is the American view of Japan. Now, I’m writing this after reading the first of four volumes of Shigeru Mizuki’s “Showa” which details Japan’s history from the early 20th Century and eventually finishes in the late 1980s, though the volume I’ve finishes reading finishes just before the Second World War. Anyway, theres this view that Japan went from being the nation who was responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbour, who it was felt were still in a feudal period, to suddenly, in the 1980s being this tech supergiant, suddenly everything worth having was coming from an Japanese electronics company and that seems to have skewed the American view of Japan somewhat, so when you read through Neuromancer, its difficult not to read the names and places being used, but see a more grimey, American style setting too, much like that we see in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

There’s a very modern, multi-cultural feel to Neuromancer too, which isn’t just brought about by the racial differences in the characters but by the products they use. Items aren’t really referred to by their object name, instead Gibson prefers to use their brand name, much like we do now, so rather than describing a car, we’re told the characters are in a Citroen or a Mercedes, which are obviously devices that will generate specific types of cars in the readers mind, likewise cigarettes are named by their brand, I think one of the brands mentioned is Gauloises, I may be wrong, but it shows the capitalist world the characters inhabit and ties in to the belief from the 20th Century that you could tell a man by what he drank or smoked.

This sort of thing carries on throughout, and its difficult at times to know what was a real world brand and what wasn’t, especially roughly 35 years on from its original publication.

So, to close, I adored my time with Neuromancer, it felt like work at times, but that not necessarily a bad thing, some times a book requires some effort on the readers part for it to really get under the readers skin, and it gave me a hankering to watch Akira, Ghost in the Shell, both Blade Runner movies and The Matrix again

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