Following the resounding success of my Locus Quest, I faced a dilemma: which reading list to follow it up with? Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to diversify and pursue six different lists simultaneously. This book falls into my HUGO WINNERS list.
This is the reading list that follows the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I loved reading the Locus Sci-Fi Award winners so I'm going to crack on with the Hugo winners next (but only the post-1980 winners, I'll follow up with pre-1980 another time).
The first time I heard the music of Kraftwerk it sounded fresh and timeless – but also remarkably familiar, like I’d heard it a long time ago and forgotten where. They’ve had such a great influence on so many contemporary bands that I’d listened to and loved; there was nothing left to surprise me in their compositions – I’d heard it all before, dissected and reused by a dozen other artists. Despite that, they also sounded purer and more cohesive than any of their followers.
That’s the closest I can come to explaining how I felt reading Neuromancer. Many of the books I love, (Simmons, Morgan, Stephenson, Bacigalupi, Stross, etc) have been influenced and inspired by Gibson’s work. Without having read it myself, I could already feel the ghost of its shape passed down through a dozen other novels. It could have easily gone wrong for me – felt dated, clichéd, done to death or derivative – but it didn’t. Whereas all those other writers bring their own interpretation and additions to cyberpunk, this is the source – the headspring - and it tastes good!
I know a lot of people find Neuromancer hard to get into – the dense technoprose can be offputting and the characters aren’t always immediately likeable – but this kind of novel is my home turf and I was right there, rapt in the front row, from page one. I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to pick up any new series until I’d finished the many series I already have on the go (I’ve even got a reading list devoted to it), but once I finished Neuromancer I knew that I had to read the Sprawl trilogy, and soon! I should have read this years ago... and I feel kinda stupid that I didn’t!
It’s a heist story. It’s a hacker story. It’s an addict’s story. It’s noir. It’s poetry. It’s taking no prisoners. It’s a dream. It’s prophecy. It’s blood on your tongue and grit in your eyes.
“All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners he'd cut in Night City, and still he'd see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void...”
Neuromancer receives a lot of mixed reactions. Why? It’s a cult-beast that gained mass-market notoriety. People who don’t normally read sci-fi have read Neuromancer – and you know what, they didn’t love it. It’s like Noisia appearing on Top of the Pops! (Noisia would be my recommended listening for generating the correct atmosphere for reading Neuromancer, btw – clever Dutch drum’n’bass) This isn’t even nice, accessible sci-fi, like Ender’s Game or Dune. People who enjoy The English Patient (as a polar opposite, off the top of my head), should not expect to fall in love with this book.“His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines.”
But... if, like me a few weeks ago, you’ve never read this book – but you have read Hyperion or The Diamond Age or Altered Carbon or Accelerando or The Windup Girl – and liked them, then you owe it to yourself to follow that stream back into the mountains and taste it ice cold and pure as it bursts from the rock.
NOTE: The title, "Neuromancer", is also one of my all-time favourites titles. I've always thought it was a perfect title, from before I'd ever read the book - just like Radiohead is a perfect band name.
After this I read: Love Mode Vol. 6