A few years back I read Pattern Recognition by William Gibson and loved it. It’s one of those few books that I tend to buy people copies of as gifts. It was largely set in Tokyo at a time when I was visiting the city for work and I loved how well Gibson (who obviously loves Tokyo) described it. Setting the scene for a novel so well, especially when the subject matter of the novel is so fascinating, quickly made it one of my favourite books. I was glad that P had recommended Gibson to me, but surprised that he warded me off Gibson’s other trilogy of novels, The Sprawl Trilogy which starts with Neuromancer.
Until a couple of weeks ago when I was struggling to decide what to read, I’d accepted P’s description of Neuromancer as being much more strongly sci-fi and less appealing to a mainstream reader. He wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy it but said “why not try it anyway? It’s a gamble, but it’s pretty short.” After all, I do quite like sci-fi and Pattern Recognition is so good.
I’m pleased to report to Neuromancer, while admittedly very different to Pattern Recognition is also so good. As different as it is, it’s still clearly Gibson and it’s interesting to see the contrast between his writing back then, in 1984 and more recently in 2003. The love of bit cities like Tokyo was already clear in Neuromancer, his characters still seem to eat breakfast more than they eat any other meal and by 2003 he hasn’t lost his love of the cyberpunk themes that he started the trend for writing about with this novel.
Differences are also clear. Neuromancer drops you directly into a story somewhere in the future with little in the way of introduction. There is technology that is discussed but not defined or introduced, there’s a shady criminal underworld and a backstory for the characters that you only start to find out half way through the novel. The writing does not take you by the hand and gently lead you through the story, pointing out the plot along the way – it leaves you to figure it out by yourself. Fortunately, it’s so compelling that you do.
Gibson talks about the corporate structures controlling and existing and cyberspace five years before the Internet as we know it really got going. Of course, it’s not much like the internet that we now know and use every day, but his power of imagination on the subject is impressive. The extensive body modding, both in the sense of tech implants and in the sense of DNA editing might not yet have arrived, but it’s interesting to see how close some of it is getting.
I don’t remember the last time I read a book at the start of a trilogy and felt tempted to pick up the second novel. Even so, I only finished reading Neuromancer two days ago and I’m already considering putting Count Zero on my Christmas wish list.