Author: William Gibson
Genre: Science Fiction (Cyberpunk/Philosophical Focus)
Case has been living in the criminal underground of Japan. He used to be a talented hacker, but after stealing from an employer, his nervous system was damaged, disabling him from navigating through cyberspace. Molly, a mercenary, tracks down Case and brings him to her employer, Armitage. Armitage offers to repair Case's nervous system in exchange for his hacking services. Sick of small time crime and longing to become a cyberspace "cowboy" again, Case takes the offer and must work for Armitage. Case and Molly secretly look into Armitage's background and find that he is being controlled by an artificial intelligence entity called Wintermute. AIs are illegal and guarded against in cyberspace, so Wintermute needs Case to find a code that will free it from the law and the cyberspace security software. SPOILER: Wintermute is half of the original AI and reunites with its other half, Neuromancer, at the end. Neuromancer can copy personalities and create worlds with the personalities of the living or dead. It is unclear exactly how the control of this new, powerful AI has changed cyberspace; while traveling through it, Case sees the figures of his dead girlfriend and himself and can hear the voice of the ROM construct of his dead friend.
Geographical Setting: Chiba, Japan; "The Sprawl," or U.S. East Coast; Istanbul; Freeside space station
Time Period: Near Future
Series: Sprawl Series, Book 1
The frame of the future world that Gibson creates is busy, constantly growing and developing. The term "Sprawl" fittingly describes the large-scale trend of spreading urban areas and increasing consumerism and crime. This adds to the dark and edgy tone of the story. Characters maneuver through this criminal world using street smarts along with specialized talents like hacking or ninja-like skills. The hectic world requires them to act quickly to survive, and experience has made them accustomed to their gritty reality. Characters are easy to recognize: Case, the flawed antihero, initially looking out for himself but then tries to save others and right wrongs; and Molly, the seemingly perfect mercenary and femme fatale who cannot break free from her dangerous lifestyle. The story is action oriented, and although written in third person and only following Case, it can shift its focus to different plotlines through Cases's use of technology. He can plug into cyberspace, flip a switch to plug into Molly's head and see what she is doing, then unplug from everything and be back in his immediate real world. His frequent flipping through different forms of consciousness and the time constraints of the missions quicken the pace. Gibson also slows down the story by illustrating the roles and effects technology has in this society, adding a philosophical tone. His writing style is mostly natural and somewhat conversational, and he drops the reader into this futuristic world without too many details or background information, allowing the reader to add his or her imagination to the story. The style is also poetic at times as Gibson talks about this dystopia and the uncertain future controlled by technology.
Read-alikes: The next book in the Sprawl Series by William Gibson is Count Zero, which deals with some of the effects of the unification of Wintermute and Neuromancer. A mercenary must track down a biochip, a hacker investigates strange images in cyberspace, and an art dealer must find the person who made a special box. All of their stories connect with the help of the AI. Like Neuromancer, this story is set in the criminal world of a dystopian future. The philosophical tone is apparent as more questions about the nature of AIs and humanity arises. Multiple plotlines are also found in this book, but characters are not as aware of how they are connected as they are in the first book. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson is another cyberpunk story set in the near future dominated by crime and technology. When a drug infects hackers in virtual reality, Hiro Protagonist must find out who is responsible for the drug that is about to destroy their cyberspace world. The story alternates between quick action scenes and detailed explanations of the culture. A story with a similar tone to Neuromancer is Signal to Noise by Eric S. Nylund. Jack Potter is a hired hacker who finds an encoded noise in space coming from aliens. He is forced to either steal information about alien technologies or the earth will be destroyed. Underground crime and deceptions create an edgy tone, and the time constraints of his missions quicken the pace. Shadow Moon in American Gods by Neil Gaiman is another antihero. He helps Wednesday, a Norse god, covertly prepare to fight the gods of technology. Although in the fantasy genre, American Gods also has a philosophical tone regarding humans' use of technology, the question of who has ultimate control over whom, and the nature of reality. Readers interested in biotechnology and AI might enjoy Ghost in the Shell, a manga by Masamune Shirow. Motoko Kusanagi is the cyborg leader of a squad that fights crimes involving cyberspace and technology, such as copying human souls for use in illegal cyborgs. Motoko is another dangerous femme fatale character, and the philosophical focus on nature and technology is seen again here.
Red Flags: Some graphic descriptions of sex and violence; frequent drug use; profanity
Pattern Recognition (2003)
Author: William Gibson
Genre: Science Fiction (Cyberpunk)
Pattern Recognition is the story of Cayce Pollard and her attempts to make sense of mysterious short film clips being uploaded to the internet by someone unknown. Through her work as a design consultant and with various major companies, Cayce tries to uncover the secret behind these clips. In the course of this novel, she finds herself going from London to Tokyo to Russia in order to track down the mystery behind these clips. Eventually, through the help of her friends, both online and off, she learns of two young women who, with the help of their wealthy Russian uncle, are developing the movies as a means of emotional release and to make something of themselves.
Geographical Setting: All over the world
Time Period: modern day
The main character, Cayce, definitely drives the book, but itís hardly fast-paced. The intended audience would be those who are definitely hip on the internet and itsí lingo as well as those interested in modern technology.
Similar Authors: Neal Stephenson
Red Flags: There are a few occasions of profanity