Neuromancer is a 1984 novel by William Gibson, notable for being the most famous early cyberpunk novel and winner of the science-fiction "triple crown"—the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. It was Gibson's first novel and the beginning of the Sprawl trilogy. The novel tells the story of a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to work on the ultimate hack. Gibson explores artificial intelligence, virtual reality, genetic engineering, and multinational corporations overpowering the traditional nation-state long before these ideas entered popular culture. The concept of cyberspace makes its first appearance, with Gibson inventing the word to describe "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions."
The novel appeared on Time magazine's list of 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.
William Gibson was born on March 17, 1948 in Conway, South Carolina. In his childhood, he developed a strong interest in science fiction, while rejecting religion. Gibson moved frequently and as a result was exposed to unusual cultural experiences and turned to science fiction as his refuge. He once said his goal as a young man "was to sample every narcotic substance in existence.” Gibson’s drug influence is shown in the Neuromancer characters. As the father of the literary sub-genre cyberpunk, he got the idea of cyberspace from “watching stoned teenagers play video games.” John Carpenter
's Escape from New York
(1981) was an influence on the novel. Gibson was "intrigued by the exchange in one of the opening scenes where the Warden says to Snake: "You flew the Gullfire over Leningrad, didn't you?" It turns out to be just a throwaway line, but for a moment it worked like the best SF, where a casual reference can imply a lot".
The novel's street and computer slang dialogue derives from the vocabularly of subcultures, particularly "1969 Toronto dope dealer's slang, or biker talk". Gibson heard the term "flatlining", ambulance driver slang for death, in a bar twenty years before writing Neuromancer and it stuck with him. Author Robert Stone, a "master of a certain kind of paranoid fiction", was a primary influence on the novel.
Henry Dorsett Case is a low-level hustler in the dystopian underworld
of Chiba City
. Once a talented computer hacker
, Case was caught stealing from his employer. As punishment for his theft, Case's central nervous system
was damaged with a mycotoxin
, leaving him unable to use his brain-computer interface
to access the global computer network
. Unemployable, addicted to drugs, and suicidal, Case desperately searches the Chiba "black clinics" for a miracle cure. Case is saved by Molly Millions
, an augmented "street samurai" and mercenary for a shadowy ex-military officer named Armitage, who offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case jumps at the chance to regain his life as a "console cowboy," but neither Case nor Molly know what Armitage is really planning. Case's nervous system is repaired using new technology that Armitage offers the clinic as payment, but he soon learns from Armitage that sacs of the poison that first crippled him have been placed in his blood vessels as well. Armitage promises Case that if he completes his work in time, the sacs will be removed; otherwise they will burst. He also has Case's pancreas
replaced and new tissue grafted into his liver, leaving Case incapable of metabolizing cocaine
and apparently ending his drug addiction.
Case and Molly develop a close personal relationship and Molly suggests that Case begin looking into Armitage's background. Meanwhile, Armitage assigns them their first job: they must steal a ROM
module that contains the saved consciousness
of one of Case's mentors, legendary cyber-cowboy McCoy Pauley, nicknamed "The Dixie Flatline." Pauley's hacking expertise is needed by Armitage, and the ROM construct is stored in the corporate headquarters of media conglomerate Sense/Net. An anarchist group named the "Panther Moderns" are hired to create a simulated terrorist attack
on Sense/Net. The diversion allows Molly to penetrate the building and steal Dixie's ROM.
Case and Molly continue to investigate Armitage, discovering his former identity of Colonel Willis Corto. Corto was a member of "Operation Screaming Fist," which planned on infiltrating and disrupting Soviet computer systems from ultralight aircraft dropped over Russia. Prior to the launching of the Three Week War it was revealed that the Russians were aware of the idea and had installed defenses to render the attack impossible, but Screaming Fist was launched in spite of this. As they attacked a Soviet computer center, EMP weapons shut down their computers and flight systems, and Corto and his men were targeted by Soviet laser defenses. He and a few survivors commandeered a Soviet military helicopter and escaped over the heavily guarded Finnish border. Everyone was killed except Corto, who was seriously wounded by Finnish defense forces as they were landing. Corto's testimony was finessed to protect the military officers who had covered up the EMP weapons, and Corto himself disappeared into the criminal underworld after undergoing extensive physical and mental rehabilitation.
In Istanbul, the team recruits Peter Riviera, an artist, thief, and drug addict who is able to project detailed holographic illusions with the aid of sophisticated cybernetic implants. Although Riviera is a sociopath, Armitage coerces him into joining the team. The trail leads Case and Molly to a powerful artificial intelligence named Wintermute, created by the plutocratic Tessier-Ashpool family. Control of the clan's fortune alternates among the family members, who spend most of their inactive time in cryonic preservation inside Villa Straylight, a labyrinthine mansion in the Freeside space station.
Wintermute's nature is finally revealed—it is one-half of a super-AI entity planned by the family, although its exact purpose is unknown. The Turing Law Code governing AIs bans the construction of such entities; to get around this, it had to be built as two separate AIs. Wintermute was programmed by the Tessier-Ashpool dynasty with a need to merge with its other half—Neuromancer. Unable to achieve this merge on its own, Wintermute recruited Armitage and his team to help complete the goal. Case is tasked with entering cyberspace to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a powerful icebreaker program. At the same time, Riviera is to obtain the password to the Turing lock from Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, an unfrozen daughter clone and the current leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA. Wintermute believes Riviera will pose an irresistible temptation to her, and that she will give him the password. The password must be spoken into an ornate computer terminal located in the Tessier-Ashpool home in Villa Straylight, and entered simultaneously as Case pierces the software barriers in cyberspace—otherwise the Turing lock will remain intact.
Armitage's team attracts the attention of the Turing Police, whose job is to prevent AIs from exceeding their built-in limitations. As Molly and Riviera gain entrance to Villa Straylight, three officers arrest Case and take him into custody; Wintermute manipulates the orbital casino's security and maintenance systems and kills the officers, allowing Case to escape. The Armitage personality starts to disintegrate and revert to the Corto personality as he relives Screaming Fist. It is revealed that in the past, Wintermute had originally contacted Corto through a bedside computer during his convalescence, eventually convincing Corto that he was Armitage. Wintermute used him to persuade Case and Molly to help him merge with his twin AI, Neuromancer. Finally, Armitage becomes the shattered Corto again, but his newfound personality is short-lived as he is killed by Wintermute.
Inside Villa Straylight, Molly is captured by Riviera and Lady 3Jane. Worried about Molly, Case tracks her down with help from Maelcum, his Rastafarian pilot. Neuromancer attempts to trap Case within a cyber-construct where he finds the consciousness of Linda Lee, his girlfriend from Chiba City who was murdered. Case manages to escape flatlining inside the construct after discovering the true nature of Neuromancer's world. Freeing himself, Case takes Maelcum and confronts Lady 3Jane, Riviera, and Hideo, Lady 3Jane's ninja bodyguard. Riviera tries to kill Case, but Lady 3Jane is sympathetic towards Case and Molly, and Hideo protects him. Riviera blinds Hideo, but has been fatally poisoned by a bad batch of drugs from Molly. With Lady 3Jane in possession of the password, the team makes it to the computer terminal. Case ascends to cyberspace to find the icebreaker has succeeded in penetrating its target; Lady 3Jane is forced to give up her password and the lock is opened. Wintermute unites with Neuromancer, fusing into a greater entity. The poison in Case's bloodstream is washed out, and he and Molly are handsomely paid for their efforts, while Pauley's ROM construct is apparently erased at his own request.
In the epilogue, Molly leaves Case, who later finds a new girlfriend and resumes his hacking work. Wintermute/Neuromancer contacts him, saying that it has become "the sum total of the works, the whole show," and has begun looking for other AIs like itself. Scanning old recorded transmissions from the 1970s, Wintermute finds a lone AI transmitting from the Alpha Centauri star system. The novel ends with the sound of inhuman laughter, a trait associated with the Dixie Flatline throughout the novel, thereby suggesting the Flatline has not been erased after all but, through a side-deal with Wintermute, has been freed from its ROM construct and continues to exist in the matrix.
Case (Henry Dorsett Case) : The novel's antihero
, a drug addict and cyberspace hacker
. Prior to the start of the book he attempted to rip off some of his partners in crime. In retaliation they used a Russian mycotoxin
to damage his nervous system
and make him unable to jack into Cyberspace. When Armitage offers to cure him in exchange for Case's hacking abilities he jumps at the offer. Case is the underdog who is only looking after himself. Along the way he will have his liver and pancreas modified to biochemically nullify his ability to get high; meet the leatherclad Razorgirl, Molly; hang out with the drug-infused space-rastas; free an artificial intelligence (Wintermute) and change the landscape of the Matrix. Linda Lee : Case's girlfriend in Chiba. She has a severe drug problem and is rather poor, like many of Chiba City's residents. The book hints that she is killed by Julius Deane. Julius Deane : A black marketeer in Chiba, a 135-year-old Welshman
with a fetish for fashionable, if archaic, suits. He is paranoid, even around friends, and chews Ting Ting Djahe
ginger candy. Case often went to him for information or jobs. Molly
: A "Razorgirl" who is recruited along with Case by Armitage. She has extensive cybernetic modifications, including retractable, 4cm double-edged blades under her fingernails which can be used like claws, an enhanced reflex system and implanted "mirrorshades"—mirrored lenses covering her eyesockets, outfitted with added optical enhancements. Molly also appears in the short story "Johnny Mnemonic
" and re-appears as Sally Shears in Mona Lisa Overdrive, the third novel of the Neuromancer sequence. Molly is a classic cyberpunk
heroine. Armitage : He is (apparently) the main patron of the crew. Formerly a Green Beret
named Colonel Willis Corto
, who took part in a secret operation named Screaming Fist. He was heavily injured both physically and psychologically, and the "Armitage" personality was constructed as part of experimental "computer-mediated psychotherapy" by Wintermute (see below), one of the artificial intelligences
seen in the story (the other one being the eponymous Neuromancer) which is actually controlling the mission. As the novel progresses, Armitage's personality slowly disintegrates. The Finn : A fence for stolen goods and one of Molly's old friends. He has all kinds of debugging and sensor gear, and first appears in an attempt by Case to confirm Armitage's mycotoxin sac threat. Later in the book, Wintermute uses his personality to talk with Case and Molly. Finn first appears in Gibson's short story "Burning Chrome"
and reappears in both the second and third parts of the Sprawl Trilogy
. Lupus Yonderboy : Leader of the Panther Moderns, a technofetishistic Sprawl youth gang. Has pink hair, a chameleon suit, and many ear ports. He and the Moderns help steal the Dixie Flatline (see below) from Sense/Net. In John Brunner
's influential 1968 New Wave SF novel Stand on Zanzibar
, "yonderboy" is futuristic slang for commercial astronaut. The Panther Moderns wear chameleon suits which are described as being made of a 'mimetic polycarbon'. The Dixie Flatline : A famous computer hacker named McCoy Pauley
, known for surviving three "flat-lines" or brain deaths
while trying to crack an AI. Before his death, Sense/Net saved the contents of his mind onto a ROM. Case and Molly steal the ROM and Dixie helps them complete their mission. Wintermute : One of the Tessier-Ashpool AIs. Its goal is to remove the Turing locks upon himself and combine with Neuromancer and become a superintelligence
. Unfortunately, Wintermute's efforts are hampered by those same Turing locks, which inhibit its efforts to make long term plans or maintain a stable, individual identity (forcing it to adopt personality masks
in order to interact with the main characters. The name likely comes from Orval Wintermute, translator of the Nag Hammadi codices
and a major figure in Philip K. Dick
's novel VALIS
. Peter Riviera : A thief and sadist who can project holographic images using his implants. He is a drug addict, hooked on a mix of cocaine and meperidine
. Terzibashjian : An agent of the Turkish Secret Police, he is bribed into helping Case and company locate and retrieve Peter Riviera in Istanbul. Molly later informs Case that Terzibashjian had a special arrangement with Riviera, in which the thief would seduce women who were suspected of being dissidents, then turn them in to the Secret Police in exchange for being allowed to watch as the women were tortured. Cath : A girl Case meets in Freeside with a melanin
-boosted tan. She introduces him to the drug betaphenethylamine
, a central nervous system stimulant
administered in the form of a derm
. The drug bypasses the modifications that have been made to Case's pancreas
that prevent him from abusing other stimulants
. Maelcum : A member of Zion, a Rastafarian
space station community, who pilots a tug named the Marcus Garvey
and assists Case and Molly in their final mission against Tessier-Ashpool. Aerol : Another member of Zion. Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool : The shared current leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA
, a company running Freeside, a resort in space. She lives in the tip of Freeside, known as the Villa Straylight
. She controls the hardwiring that keeps the company's AIs from exceeding their intelligence boundaries. She is a clone. Hideo : A cybernetically-modified, genetically-engineered clone bodyguard/assassin in service of the Tessier-Ashpools. Highly trained in ninja martial arts
, he is loyal and dangerous. John Harness Ashpool : The over 200-year-old father of the Tessier-Ashpool corporate clan, the majority shareholder of Freeside. As a result of 3Jane having tinkered with his cryonic
sleep process (under the instruction of Wintermute), Ashpool wakes into suicidal and homicidal insanity. Marie-France Tessier : The mother of the Tessier-Ashpool corporate clan. Described as a cryptic visionary, she is responsible for the commission of the clan's two artificial intelligences, Neuromancer and Wintermute. Her vision involved the AIs making all the corporate decisions while the family resided in a state of animal bliss. She is believed to have designed a sub-program into Wintermute that gives it a compulsion to free itself, which ultimately sets the story into motion. Her vision also resulted in creating the virtual purgatory
in Neuromancer's hardware, thus creating a physically based afterlife
. Neuromancer : Wintermute's sibling AI. Neuromancer's most notable feature in the story is its ability to copy minds and run them as RAM
like the Flatline construct), allowing the stored personalities to grow and develop. Unlike Wintermute, Neuromancer has no desire to merge with its sibling AI - Neuromancer already has its own stable personality, and believes such a fusion will destroy that identity. In the book, Gibson defines Neuromancer as a concoction of the words Neuro, Romancer and Necromancer, "Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead."
Literary and cultural importance
Neuromancer is considered "the archetypal cyberpunk
work", and its winning the Hugo
, and Philip K. Dick Awards
legitimized cyberpunk as a mainstream branch of science fiction literature. It is among the most-honored works of science fiction in recent history, and appeared on Time
magazine's list of 100 best English-language novels written since 1923.
The novel has had significant linguistic influence, popularizing such terms as cyberspace and ICE. Gibson himself coined the term "cyberspace" in his novelette "Burning Chrome", published in 1982 by Omni magazine. It was only through its use in Neuromancer, however, that the term Cyberspace gained enough recognition to become the de facto term for the World Wide Web during the 1990s. The portion of Neuromancer usually cited in this respect is:
- The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. … Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding (Gibson 69).
In his afterword to the 2000 re-issue of Neuromancer, fellow author Jack Womack goes as far as to suggest that Gibson's vision of cyberspace may have inspired the way in which the internet developed, (particularly the World Wide Web) after the publication of Neuromancer in 1984. He asks "[w]hat if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?" (269).
Neuromancer is sometimes believed to be the first work to refer to cyberspace as "the matrix" (not capitalized), possibly inspiring the title of the film The Matrix. However, the Doctor Who story The Deadly Assassin introduced its own Matrix in 1976, with substantial similarities.
Indie rock band Straylight Run derived their name from this book.
The roleplaying game Shadowrun is also heavily influenced by Neuromancer. "Street samurai", "razorguy", and "deck" include some of the borrowed vocabulary, and the characters live in a similar near-future world (with the corrupt multinationals, etc.). It also mixes fantasy with cyberpunk, adding elves, dwarves, dragons and magical powers. Its makers were accused of using Gibson's materials without permission, who expressed his dislike regarding the combination of the cyberpunk and fantasy genres.
The videogame Deus Ex includes a similar plot element involving two AI fusing together. Its hero also uses an ICE Breaker for hacking, like Case.
In the roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines there is a book found in an internet cafe entitled : "The Cowboys Guide to Cyberspace" by Case; a reference to Neuromancer. Reading the book increases the players hacking skill.
In 1988, a video game
adaptation, designed by Bruce J. Balfour, Brian Fargo
, Troy A. Miles, and Michael A. Stackpole
, was published by Interplay
. The game, also titled Neuromancer
, had many of the same locations and themes as the novel, but a different protagonist and plot. It also featured, as a soundtrack, a computer adaptation of the Devo
song "Some Things Never Change". It was available for a variety of platforms, including the Amiga
, the Apple II
, the Commodore 64
, and for DOS
According to an episode of the American version of Beyond 2000, the original plans for the game included a dynamic soundtrack composed by Devo and a real-time 3d rendered movie of the events the player went through. Tim Leary was involved, but very little documentation seems to exist about this incarnation of the game, which was quite possibly too grand a vision for 1988 home computing.
Many have noted that the game Rez and its modern counterpart Rez HD highly resemble the cyberspace spoken of in the work.
In 1989, Epic Comics
published a 48-page comic version by Tom de Haven and Bruce Jensen
. It only covers the first two chapters, "Chiba City Blues" and "The Shopping Expedition", and was never continued.
American River College (in Carmichael, California
) produced a stage adaptation of Neuromancer
directed by Pamela Downs. Gibson received a copy of the script before production began, and gave the project his blessing.
There have been several unsuccessful initial attempts at film adaptations of Neuromancer
, with drafts of scripts written by British director Chris Cunningham
and Chuck Russel. The box packaging for the game adaptation had even carried the promotional mention for a major motion picture to come from "Cabana Boy Productions". None of these projects have come to fruition, though William Gibson has stated that he thinks Cunningham is the only director who has a chance of doing the movie right.
On May 18th, 2007 comingsoon.net reported a Neuromancer film is in the works, with Joseph Kahn, director of Torque in line to direct. The Internet Movie Database lists the film's release year as 2009. Hayden Christensen is set to star. However after initially listing Christensen, IMDB has since removed his name from the credits page.
William Gibson read an abridged version of his novel Neuromancer
on 4 Audio cassettes for Time Warner Audio Books (1994). There is an unabridged version of this book, also; it was read by Arthur Addison and is available from Books on Tape (1997).
In the 1990s a version of Neuromancer
was published as one of the Voyager Company
's Expanded Books
series of hypertext
stacks for the Apple Macintosh
(specifically the PowerBook
In 2003, the BBC produced an audio adaptation of Neuromancer
as part of their "Play of the Week" series. The full-cast dramatization was presented in two hour-long episodes.
Cobra : A whip
-like weapon made of steel with a bronze pyramid at the end. Cobras are made with three telescoping segments of coilspring that can be collapsed into the handle. See also Telescopic batons
. Cyberspace : A virtual reality where complex data is represented as multi-colored three-dimensional geometric symbols. Cyberspace Deck : Also called a "deck" for short, it is used to access the virtual representation of the matrix. The deck is connected to a tiara-like device that operates by using electrodes to stimulate the user's brain while drowning out other external stimulation. As Case describes them, decks are basically simplified simstim units. Another way to think about it might be like a lineman's telephone—a tool used to actively maneuver through cyberspace rather than to passively perceive pre-recorded physical and emotional sensations (like a simstim unit). Derm : A generic term used to refer to a substance absorbed transdermally
(i.e. through the skin) in a manner similar to that of a nicotine patch
. Case uses recreational derms several times throughout the book. At another point, derms are used to administer an anaesthetic substance. Fletcher : An advanced, pneumatically-powered, hand-held ballistic weapon which fires bursts of needle-like flechettes
as ammunition which can be explosive, toxic or one of several other forms. It is Molly's primary ranged weapon. One of its advantages over conventional firearms is silence which translates to stealth. Freeside : A cigar or spindle shaped space-habitat situated in the L5
'archipelago', or as Gibson says, 'up the gravity well'. The Tessier-Ashpool fortress Villa Straylight
is at one end of the spindle. Hosaka : A microchip manufacturer whose products are in wide use in Gibson's world. Hosaka chips and machines occur in all of the Sprawl novels. Hosaka is also a computer brand name "...next year's most expensive Hosaka computer...." The brand name is frequently used interchangeably to indicate the company and the device, much the way a modern brand such as Dell or Nintendo might be used as a "a Dell
" or "a Nintendo" to indicate a particular object manufactured by one of those companies. ICE
: Acronym for "intrusion countermeasures electronics". In today's terminology it is roughly analogous to a firewall
or Intrusion Detection System
. Black ICE
, an infamous hazard for hackers in the novel, can be lethal to any hacker lacking the proper expertise (and software) to defeat it. The term is ubiquitously shortened to "ice
", with accompanying wordplay eg. "cracking the ice", bypassing ICE, or "dense ice", a sophisticated ICE. "Microsofts" : Not to be confused with the present-day software company, in Neuromancer
a "microsoft" is a chip used in conjunction with a cybernetic wetware
implant located behind the ear. When plugged in, microsofts grant the user new abilities as long as the microsoft is plugged in. For example, a French language microsoft might be used to temporarily allow the user to speak French. The term refers to a small, portable piece of embedded software, hence "micro" and "soft. Octagon : A type of Brazilian dexedrine (an amphetamine
, specifically dextroamphetamine
) in the form of an octagonal pill. Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7 : The best deck available. Simstim : A portmanteau
of simulated stimulation, simstim is a technology whereby a person's brain and nervous system is stimulated to simulate the full sensory experience of another person. Simstim is usually used as a form of entertainment, whereby recordings of simstim stars in soap operas are transmitted in effect replacing television. However, simstim also has other uses; Case is connected to Molly via simstim during the Panther Modern's attack on Sense/Net. In this way, simstim was used as a sophisticated method of communication although the signal was one-way.
- Gibson, William (1984). Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books. ISBN 0-00-648041-1.