SPECIAL 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION --THE MOST IMPORTANT AND INFLUENTIAL SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL OF THE PAST TWO DECADES
Twenty years ago, it was as if someone turned on a light. The future blazed into existence with each deliberate word that William Gibson laid down. The winner of Hugo, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick Awards, Neuromancer didn't just explode onto the science fiction scene--it permeated into the collective consciousness, culture, science, and technology.
Today, there is only one science fiction masterpiece to thank for the term "cyberpunk," for easing the way into the information age and Internet society. Neuromancer's virtual reality has become real. And yet, William Gibson's gritty, sophisticated vision still manages to inspire the minds that lead mankind ever further into the future.
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It took at least a decade for me to realize that many of my readers, even in 1984, could never have experienced Neuromancer''s opening line as I''d intended them to. I''d actually composed that first image with the black-and-white video-static of my childhood in mind, sodium-silvery and almost painful--a whopping anachronism, right at the very start of my career in the imaginary future.
But an invisible one, interestingly; one that reveals a peculiar grace enjoyed by all imaginary futures as they make their way up the timeline and into the real future, where we all must go. The reader never stopped to think that I might have been thinking, however unconsciously, of the texture and color of a signal-free channel on a wooden-cabinet Motorola with fabric-covered speakers. Readers compensated for me, shouldering an additional share of the imaginative burden, and allowed whatever they assumed was the color of static to take on the melancholy of the phrase "dead channel".
In my teens, in the Sixties, I read a great deal of science fiction dating from the Forties, a very fertile period for the genre, and recall being aware of making just this sort of effort on behalf of fictions that had grown a bit long in the technological tooth, or whose imagined futures had been blindsided by subsequent history. I cut such fictions just the sort of extra slack, in exchange for whatever other value the narrative might offer, that some readers must be cutting Neuromancer today--not for invisible anachronisms like my color of television, but for unavoidable sins of omission on the order of a complete absence of tiny and ubiquitous portable telephones. (Indeed, one of my own favorite moments in the book hinges around the sequenced ringing of a row of pay-phones.
Imagine a novel from the Sixties whose author had somehow fully envisioned cellular telephony circa 2004, and had worked it, exactly as we know it today, into the fabric of her imaginary future. Such a book would have seemed highly peculiar in the Sixties, even though innumerable novels had already been written in which small personal wireless communications devices were taken for granted. A genuinely prescient cell-phone novel would have moved in a most unsettling way, its characters acting, out of an unprecedented degree of connectivity, in ways that would quickly overwhelm the narrative.
In hindsight, I suspect that Neuromancer owes much of its shelf-life to my almost perfect ignorance of the technology I was extrapolating from. I was as far from the Sixties author who knew everything about cell-phones as it was possible to be. Where I made things up from whole cloth, the colors remain bright. Where I was unlucky enough to actually have some small bit of real knowledge, the reader finds things like the rattling keys of a mechanical printer, or Case''s puzzlingly urgent demand, when the going gets tough, for a modem. Unlike the absence of cell-phones, those are sins of commission. Another vast omission is my failure to have quietly collapsed the Soviet Union and swept the rubble offstage when nobody was looking.
Though there was a strategic reason for my not having done that. I had already done it to the United States, which cannot be proven to exist in the world of Neuromancer. It''s deliberately never mentioned as such, and one vaguely gathers that it''s somehow gone sideways in a puff of what we today would call globalization, to be replaced by some less dangerous combine of large corporations and city-states. Having disappeared the USA, I though I''d better have the USSR in there for the sake of continuity. (Had I disappeared the USSR instead, I might eventually have been burned as a witch, so just as well.)
Today''s reader might keep in mind that I wrote Neuromancer with absolutely no expectation that it would be in print twenty years later. I knew that it was to be published, if I could finish it and if the editor accepted the manuscript, both of which seemed constantly unlikely, as a paperback original--that most ephemeral of literary units, a pocket-sized slab of prose meant to fit a standard wire rack, printed on high-acid paper and visibly yearning to return to the crude pulp from which it had been pressed. My best hope for the book was that it might find, in whatever modest numbers it would have its debut, some kindred soul or five. Probably in England, as I imagined them, or perhaps in France. I didn''t anticipate much in the way of an American audience, because I felt that I was writing too deliberately counter to what I had come to assume the American audience had been taught to want from science fiction.
I was doing this because I couldn''t for the life of me seem to do it any other way. Having been talked into signing a contract (by the late Terry Carr, without whom there would certainly be no Neuromancer) I found myself possessed by a dissident attitude that I certainly wasn''t about to share with my editor, or really with much of anyone. The only people who got that were a few of the other tyro writers with whom I would eventually be labeled "cyberpunk", and they were far away, mostly in Austin TX.
Like Case at the book''s climax, I was coming in steep, fuelled by…;I couldn''t have to told you, though one element was a smoldering resentment at what the genre I''d loved as a teenager seemed to me in the meantime to have become. Though I know I had neither the intention nor the least hope that what I was doing, tapping out my Ace Special paperback original on an aged manual portable of precision Swiss manufacture, would in any way change the course of science fiction. (Nor did it, apparently, except to the extent of helping to keep open doors I certainly never built, doors I''d found as a teenager, with names like "Bester" and "Leiber" gouged into their lintels.)
I was recently told that Neuromancer has sold more than a million copies. That would be over the past two decades, and I assume in either North American editions or English-language editions. Abroad, it''s managed to get itself translated into most of the languages books are translated into, though not yet, as far as I know, Chinese or Arabic.
This is something like having an adult child one never hears from, but who evidently does quite well, travels widely, and seems to meet interesting people.
My real sympathy, though, is with the bright thirteen-year-old curled on a sofa somewhere, twenty pages into the book and desperate to get to the root of the mystery of why cell-phones aren''t allowed in Chiba City.
Hang in there, friend.
It can only get stranger.
--Vancouver BC 5 17 04
CHIBA CITY BLUES
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
"It''s not like I''m using," Case heard someone say, as he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. "It''s like my body''s developed this massive drug deficiency." It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.
Ratz was tending bar, his prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he filled a tray of glasses with draft Kirin. He saw Case and smiled, his teeth a webwork of East European steel and brown decay. Case found a place at the bar, between the unlikely tan on one of Lonny Zone''s whores and the crisp naval uniform of a tall African whose cheekbones were ridged with precise rows of tribal scars. "Wage was in here early, with two joeboys," Ratz said, shoving a draft across the bar with his good hand. "Maybe some business with you, Case?"
Case shrugged. The girl to his right giggled and nudged him.
The bartender''s smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it. The antique arm whined as he reached for another mug. It was a Russian military prosthesis, a seven-function force-feedback manipulator, cased in grubby pink plastic. "You are too much the artiste, Herr Case." Ratz grunted; the sound served him as laughter. He scratched his overhang of white-shirted belly with the pink claw. "You are the artiste of the slightly funny deal."
"Sure," Case said, and sipped his beer. "Somebody''s gotta be funny around here. Sure the fuck isn''t you."
The whore''s giggle went up an octave.
"Isn''t you either, sister. So you vanish, okay? Zone, he''s a close personal friend of mine."
She looked Case in the eye and made the softest possible spitting sound, her lips barely moving. But she left.
"Jesus," Case said, "what kind
Sprawl trilogy bk. 1
Book 1 of Sprawl trilogy, William Gibson
|Contributors||William Gibson, Jack Womack|
|Publisher||Ace Books, 2004|
Fiction / Science Fiction / General
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