Neuromancer: A Book I Like

May 15, 2009 | 5 books mentioned 8 3 min read

coverSometimes when you’re in a new place and you’re unemployed, it feels like all you do every day is sit at the computer and copy, paste, upload, send, one thousand times, and each time you pray that the job you are applying for is not in fact a fake job, and you’re disappointed 90 percent of the time, because the Internet has officially become like the damn Yukon where everyone who missed the actual gold started a business selling crude maps to unstaked claims that don’t exist, or bought a brothel and called himself Miss Kitty. Sometimes it’s all you can do not to listen to sad songs and black out at 10 am. Sometimes you need a familiar book to be your friend and comforter. Neuromancer is such a friend, good to enliven another gray day without gainful employment.

I don’t read a lot of Science Fiction. People who are serious about genre will point out that Neuromancer is actually something called Cyberpunk, but I’m going to unjustly lump all the books about computers and the future and aliens and whatnot together, into a category I don’t know a lot about. I try to hit some of the obvious ones, the authors who for whatever reason broke free of their genre-tethers and whose names drift around in the collective literary consciousness (e.g. Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Card). I know there are thousands of non-famous and under-appreciated gems out there, but there are a lot of books out there, and I am not a truffle hunter. I prefer the broad survey approach, and often must rely sleazily on the opinions of others.

Neuromancer is pretty famous because it is widely accepted that William Gibson coined the word “cyberspace,” and introduced it in this novel. I read it at the recommendation of a human friend, and then in a class called Literature and Technology (which was probably the most unbridled fun I ever had in an academic setting). I pick it up whenever I feel grumpy and lazy and I want to read something action-packed. There is a lot of mind-melting stuff about computers and paradoxes and autonomous machines, which I enjoy even though I always pull a tiny muscle in my brain trying to work out what it all means, but basically this is a classic hardboiled detective story, but with cooler gadgets.

coverThe novel opens like this: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” The first sentence in The Big Sleep: “It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.” Parallels abound between Gibson’s novel and any of the hardboiled greats. Neuromancer has the broken, street-smart anti-hero (his name is “Case,” for god’s sake), the sexy dangerous lady who is literally built to kill, or to do you, or both, and it’s all very dark and full of heavy themes and there’s not a lot of resolution and it’s violent and maybe a touch campy. Most importantly, like all of this sort of fiction, it can be summed up neatly by an old Turkish expression: “If it is your destiny to be fucked, what’s the use in being sad about it?” I don’t know when the Turks came up with this, but I think it’s a nice slogan for the genre.

If you are not enthusiastic about this noir style and you hate the future you might not enjoy the book. But I think it’s a great read, especially now that summer is upon us and some people may be thinking about beach books. This novel is twenty-five years old, but it seems very hip to me, probably because I have no idea what’s out there now and my idea of modern is the Mitford girls talking about doing “it” after you get engaged. Out of enthusiasm for this title, I read two and a half others by Gibson – All Tomorrow’s Parties, Pattern Recognition, and The Difference Engine, but they did not do it for me like this one does. Science fiction or Cyberpunk or whatever fans, I welcome your suggestions for broadening my horizons.

is a contributing editor at The Millions and the author of The Golden State. You can read more of her writing at


  1. Lydia, your post cracked me up. I must read this! (And, can you believe it, I've never read Chandler either…)

  2. I'm glad! I've only read The Big Sleep but i really liked it. Back to the goldfields…

  3. Lydia, his name is Philip K. Dick.

    Also, Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is a nuanced blend of a coming of age tale set in an alternate future.

  4. Yes! I would love to read more Philip K. Dick. I've only read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I read and liked Never Let Me Go. It melted my mind a little bit. An enjoyable, albeit bleak read. Unlike The Unconsoled, which was kind of an anxiety-inducing, joy-killing read.

  5. Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon is an easy jump from Neuromancer. Try Connie Willis's short story Firewatch and if you like it, read her Doomsday Book. Again, try Kate Wilhelm's short The Funeral and if you enjoy, try Juniper Time. Suzette Elgin's "Native Tongue" is a nice comfortable read – closer to pulp, but fun. And don't forget Ursula K. LeGuin, James Tiptree, Jr., Fritz Leiber's short "Gonna Roll Dem Bones," Robert Silverberg's short "Passengers," Ballard, Brunner, Varley and Zelazny's "Nine Princes." Can't promise you'll judge any as great literature, but I think you'll find them good company and a hedge against 10am blackouts (or at least another, better reason for the blackouts!).

  6. It took me about a decade after reading Neuromancer to realize it was the first book in a trilogy. You might want to look into Count Zero, the sequel.

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