Why I love Neuromancer by William Gibson


re-read William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer is an incredible dystopian adrenaline ride that should be breathlessly inhaled by anyone who enjoys having their mind flayed by a great sci-fi novel.

*Note: Neuromancer was first published in 1984. This article is not a review of a new book — it’s a re-read of an acknowledged science fiction masterwork. So it will most likely contain spoilers!*

If you mention the name William Gibson in polite society over dinner, you’ll probably get the same response from almost anyone.

“Oh yeah,” people will say. “Isn’t that the guy who invented cyber punk? And isn’t The Matrix film based on his book?”

But when you follow up by asking whether anyone has actually read any of Gibson’s work, you’ll typically receive a series of guilty looks and blank stares from around the table.
Gibson’s work has been enormously influential. Not only the billion dollar Matrix franchise, but also hugely popular manga and anime series such as Ghost in the Shell and many others have taken fundamental inspiration from his writing.

The author almost singlehanded invented or popularised the concepts of cyberspace and virtual reality, artificial intelligences gone rogue, the adoption of high technology by counter culture, designer drugs and biohacking. When Gibson started writing back in the early 1980’s, these ideas were largely fiction. Now they are reality.

And at a very minimum, his Sprawl trilogy, consisting of his debut novel Neuromancer and the follow-up books Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, is required reading for anyone interested at all in science fiction literature. Many of his follow-up books (I’m a passing fan of Pattern Recognition) continued to introduce new concepts that have set the tone for much of our modern technological dystopia.

Yet there is a quandary that remains about Gibson: Probably not enough people have actually read his books. Not as many as have read, say Frank Herbert’s Dune or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Certainly not as many have read popular fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire or The Wheel of Time.

I’m not entirely sure why this is.

Perhaps it’s because Gibson’s characters have always existed outside mainstream society, so they may not always appeal to mainstream readers. Perhaps it’s because, like his predecessor Robert Heinlein, many of Gibson’s ideas represent a challenge to the reader’s idea of what normal human life is.

Because some of those ideas are confronting — even frightening.

In any case, in this article I’d like to make the case that if you haven’t read Neuromancer at the very least, you should.


From my perspective, the reason that I love Neuromancer, and the reason that I continue to re-read the book once every five years or so, is just how much fun it is. Right from the start Gibson makes it clear that Neuromancer is going to be a blast.

Within the first few pages we get introduced to an ugly bartender who serves beer in with a hand made from a noisy “Russian military prosthesis” and who stares down those wanting to brawl in his bar with a tongue in cheek “technically non-lethal” sandbag blaster shotgun.

The main character is Case, a down on his luck computer hacker who spends his time cutting dodgy deals in a gritty, gungy neon-soaked future Tokyo between criminal groups who are trading in forbidden genetic modifications.

A rogue’s gallery of characters rapidly enters the scene, from 135-year old perfectly tailored black market importers to teenage hoodlums in digitally enhanced camouflage gear who thrive on creating chaos for villainous mega corporations and Case’s love interest, a hot as hell female ‘street samurai’ with retractable razor blades embedded under her fingernails and mirror shade sunglasses for eyes.

Everyone’s cool, everyone’s on drugs, everyone’s scamming each other every way possible, and everyone speaks a dialect of street language that distinguishes them from everyone else.
Neuromancer just oozes style and counter culture in every single pore.

Gibson has a gift for integrating elements from many different cultures into futuristic dystopian visions. Rastafarians who are recreating their promised land of Zion in a ganja soaked orbital space station? Rich capitalist families who have used complex corporate structures and cryogenic freezing to become effective immortal? Computer security systems that can stop your heart in real life if you poke them too hard? It’s all in there.

And oh, the language. Gibson wraps most of his ideas in fast-paced prose so smooth that it’s not a surprise to find that the author did actually write Neuromancer in a drug-induced adrenaline rush of his own, his words glittering in his mind like crystalline structures.

Of course, what gradually emerges from all this chrome glamour is not just a dazzling window into the future, but also a tale that is fundamentally, and ironically, human. A story of flawed people in all the wrong places finding connections between each other that can sometimes feel so right.

A heist tale for the ultimate prize: Enfranchisement from slavery.

And maybe, just maybe, a story of love and redemption between the microchips and octagon-shaped pills of amphetamine.

With Gibson, it’s the gritty glamour and neon shine of his prose and his staggering concepts that drags you into his books. But it’s the real human experience that keeps you there.
They say that the purpose of science fiction is to extrapolate humanity’s current level of scientific understanding and technological development forward into the future, with the aim of using those concepts to reflect on what it means to be human today.

Gibson succeeds marvellously at this task in Neuromancer and his follow-up books, and he does so at a very rapid clip.

When you finish reading a great science fiction novel, it’s common to take a few minutes and say to yourself “what the hell did I just read?”. You’ll feel as though your entire concept of reality has been turned upside down and you can’t quite process what you just experienced. Gibson delivers this in spades.

Neuromancer is more than just a novel; it’s a full throttle hit of brain candy; a densely packed guidebook through humanity’s near future, and a cautionary tale about how that future could go wrong. And ultimately it’s a story about people on the wrong side of society who probably never really expected redemption to come their way.

This is why William Gibson is one of the best science fiction authors of all time and why I love Neuromancer.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here