Neuromancer reviewed

A review of William Gibson's Neuromancer

To which I can say--precisely.  Some excellent inroads but overall a seeming muddled mess.  I'll side with Shelf-Life here and recommend with her (except perhaps for the rather thudding ending) Snow Crash  with its redundant centerpiece Hiro Protagonist, expert pizza deliverator.  Or the much more intelligible steam-punk romance The Difference Engine (Sterling and Gibson).  And, in general, I would say that Sterling is the better prose artist and stylist.


  1. Thanks! I really wanted to love Neuromancer. It had such a promising start, but did it have to be so confusing?

    And I do agree with you about the ending to Snow Crash. The set-up was such fun, though, that it's what stuck with me.

  2. In his review, Shelf Life suggests that he may be part of the problem. This is one point where I agree with him. We disagree though about _Neuromancer_: it is one of the best of its kind.

    SL and I obviously have different philosophies regarding SF. I look for works that stretch my imagination, not ones that comfort me by implying that I know a lot about the subject. I like works that push me. Greg Benford's "Galactic Center" series definitely does that.

    Sterling is also an excellent writer, but few ever mention one of his best works: Schismatrix.
    I agree that Sterling is a better prose writer than Gibson, which is not to say that Gibson doesn't do a decent job. I've always found him readable.

    Snow Crash was ok, but I wouldn't put it anywhere near these two--too talky and silly in parts.

    As for the Difference Engine_,I gave up half way through. It just plodded along and generated no excitement for me. If I hadn't read Gibson and Sterling before I read DE, I would have avoided both authors after that.

  3. Dear Fred,

    I doubt seriously that the reviewer at Shelf Life is too much to blame. I found _Neuromancer_ a muddled mess of a book--hard to distinguish characters, what they were doing, what it all meant in the grand scheme of things. It was much like spending too much time listening to the Velvet Underground--of which it reminded me a great deal. _Neuromancer_ has the patina of being one of the first (perhaps the first) of its kind and introducing new and interesting innovations into the land of SF. And I really wanted to love it. But I've tried twice and found both times that Gibson simply didn't maintain effective control of his material. Not really a surprise for a first novel--but it does make for less-than-Sterling prose.

    Disagree also on Snow Crash, and most vigorously on Difference Engine, where Gibson's prose was either subdued by Sterling's, or finally came of age--I can't quite make out which.

    But--chacun a son gout. I think Neuromancer deserves to be read for its place in the pantheon, as it were, but it is no _Dispossessed_ or _Lord of Light_ nor even _Stand on Zanzibar_.

    However, on the strength of your appreciation for it, I'm going to take another stab at it and see if it works any better for me.

    (Oh, and I love Schismatrix, among others. I'm surprised to hear you say that few mention it, but now that I think of it, you're right--how curious.)



  4. Dear Teresa,

    Neal Stephenson suffers from the inability to end a book, at least in those early novels. I loved Snow Crash, but he did manage to bring _Diamond Life_ to a satisfactory conclusion. I haven't read anything since--not because Stephenson ceased to be good, but he did become very, very looooooooong and I had moved through my period of avid reading of science fiction. Now it is a time-to-time thing for some of the very best. (A shame and a pleasure that there are so many other books to read.)

    As you can tell from my reply to Fred, I do agree with you on _Neuromancer_. And obviously have great fondness for Stephenson--Snow Crash, (did I also like Zodiac? I don't recall, but I know that I read at least two before Diamond Life, which I loved--some weakness at the ending, but still, a wonderful exposition of the premises.)



  5. Steven,

    As you say, tastes differ.

    One point though:

    I consider _Neuromancer_ to be Gibson's best book. I've read most of his others, and while I did enjoy them, I didn't think they were as good as _N_.

    They lacked something that _N_ had.

  6. Dear Fred,

    The reason is is so popular and so well liked (I think) is that what it did have that everything thereafter lacked was the shock of the new. Because Neuromancer was, unquestionably quite new. Nothing after it would be the same because Gibson built a brand new way of thinking about the world. For that he deserves credit--nothing after it could be the same because the newness was gone and we're back in the old mode of jacking in and brain chips, etc.

    At least that is one explanation. Because Gibson's prose only improved from that point on.

    It may be his best book from the sheer brilliance of the innovation he proposed--he radically changed the landscape of SF. So, in that sense, it was certainly the most influential of all of his works (although The Difference Engine, might also stand in that stead with the invention of Steam Punk).



  7. Steven,

    "The shock of the new"

    That could be it. The corporate world, the strong presence of the Japanese, the human/computer merging-
    all that was new with _Neuromancer_. After that, the newness was gone.


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