Having read and enjoyed several of William Gibson’s more recent novels and loved them, I thought it might be a good idea to jump back in time and read “Neuromancer”, the novel that both started his career and the cyberpunk genre.
It was an interesting trip. For someone who had started at the beginning and read Gibson through to the present I’m certain they have either enjoyed the wild and unpredictable trip or parted company by now. For a later-comer to Gibson, this trip all the way back was jarring. Yes, it’s Gibson, but it’s a “Sit down and shut up while I batter you about the head” Gibson instead of the “Hey, wanna take a quirky-but-hypnotic trip through a world that lurks just outside your field of vision?” Gibson I’ve come to know and love.
Neuromancer is every bit a trip into the “mirrorworld” as ever, but it’s a nasty, brutish, and depraved trip. There’s a lot more language than I recall in his later books, lots of sex, though not too graphic, and lots of violence and disturbing images–both frequently graphic. This is not the mysterious, shadowy, ethereally beautiful world of “Pattern Recognition”. There’s a reason it’s referred to as cyberpunk.
I enjoyed it, though I found myself not caring nearly so much about the characters as I’ve come to do in other books. His protagonist, Case, is very much a Gibson protagonist; a quiet, mostly-passive investigator making sense of a world they thought they understood before they were plunged into this odd new adventure they find themselves in. Case and Molly echo strongly in the characters of Milgrim and Fiona in “Zero History”.
It’s an interesting quandary I find myself in with this book. It seems to be missing the Gibson “Big Idea” that permeates his later books. And while it’s arguable that his latter books do so as well, it seems to thrash about quite a bit, but to no apparent point. And yet it also seems evident that without this book there would have been no “latter Gibson”. And had I read this book first, I’m not certain I would have picked up another Gibson novel.
So I can’t decide whether it’s a good thing or bad thing that I discovered Gibson through “Pattern Recognition”, one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read. “Zero History” was interesting, and I enjoyed it better than “Neuromancer”, but it’s no “Pattern Recognition”. I know I’ll have to pick up “Spook Country” sooner or later, but now I may also have to start working my way backward to see if I can locate the point when Gibson became the Gibson I enjoy most.
I’m sure there are plenty out there who will disagree with me–probably those who fell in love with “Early Gibson” and just scratched their heads over “Pattern Recognition”. The stories that move us are a very personal thing, and I’m used to having my own distinct tastes in books that very rarely matches up with anyone else’s for long.
Knowing that many of the people who read my blog find excessive sex, brutality, and language in a book to be a turn-off, I can’t really recommend this book. As a writer, it was worth the read. It doesn’t turn me off of Gibson, by any means. I’ve just discovered another side of him that doesn’t quite mesh with what I enjoy about him. It’s a good book, and worth reading if you’re okay with that sort of stuff. I enjoyed it, but I found it pushed my limits.