Daily Archives: August 1, 2012

Neuromancer: Gibson and Cyberpunk

Hello everyone! I’m back, and as promised, I’m starting a series on William Gibson’s Neuromancer in an attempt to break down why it is considered to be one of the most influential books in the science fiction genre. But first, a message to you, the consumer.

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Ok then, back to Neuromancer!

William Gibson and Cyberpunk: A Chicken or the Egg Scenario

**The same warning applies; lots of objectionable content in the book, so don’t read it if you’re not up to it. Please enjoy the analysis, regardless!**

Gibson is widely characterized as the father of the cyberpunk genre, and if you read the book, you can certainly understand the connection. The dark, gritty world, the heroic hackers, the fixation with technology and the philosophical questions that come with a highly advanced society marred by greed and corruption- all hallmarks of cyberpunk, and all in his book. But how much did Gibson’s Neuromancer come up with? Well, in a way, none of it. Now now, put down the pitchforks, sci-fi fans! Let me explain! First, let’s start with a basic definition, courtesy of Merrium-Webster.com:

Cyberpunk

  1. science fiction dealing with future urban societies dominated by computer technology
  2. an opportunistic computer hacker

Cyberpunk is, like Sciecne Fiction in general, difficult to pin down with a definition, but the above definition points out two things: cyberpunk refers to a specific flavor of (usually) dystopian science fiction, and it refers to a person (which in itself feeds back into the flavor). How about another definition, this time from Gibson himself:

Cyberpunk is “[Science fiction] that mixes surrealism and pop-cultural imagery with esoteric historical and scientific information. (McCaffery 226)”

Let’s break that down a bit. Gibson here is describing, in an interview with Larry McCaffery, what he considers to be the actual precursor of the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. The writing of Thomas Pynchon, a SF writer of the 1960’s, is known for his complex novels that stray into numerous realms of science and art, borrowing from his expertise and exposure to many disciplines. The most prominent element? A lack of conviction to create a pure form of literature, but instead a willingness to draw from every possible influence to create something unique.

Cyberpunk writers like Gibson took things they sometimes hardly understood (Gibson didn’t even own a computer, and didn’t know even basic things about them, like the fact that they used disc drives for memory), and wove them into a blend with philosophy, pop-culture, unknown sub-culltures, and technology, creating a strange new hybrid that was edgy and dark, something the youth culture of the 80’s and early 90’s rabidly consumed.

Do you see what I mean now? What Gibson’s book really did is manifest a particular blend of science, philosophy, and pop-culture that was already evolving out of the SF genre. Gibson was on the edge of the knife, and the leap he made in his mad dash of fear-driven inspiration created an explosion that pushed science fiction into the mainstream and out of the niche.

Don’t believe me? Think about movies since the nineties:

  • Blade Runner
  • Total Recall (remake coming out on Friday )
  • Aliens (Gibson actually helped write a very early version of the screenplay for Aliens III, by the way)
  • The Matrix (probably the easiest example- they even borrowed the word “matrix” from Gibson for describing cyberspace)
  • Minority Report
  • Inception (a little further off the mark, but the connection is obvious when you compare it to the list)

The list goes on, and I’m missing a lot here. All of those movies contain heavy doses of cyberpunk influences, and all of them are science fiction.

While there truly is “nothing new under the sun” (that’s from Ecclesiastes 1:9 in case you didn’t know), William Gibson was right on the tipping point, and his work was a fundamental evolution in science fiction. Pretty good for a first novel, eh?

So that’s it for the first post! Next week I’ll get into some specifics, namely Gibson’s Cyberspace, and take a look at it’s influences and how it affected science fiction and the world. Until then, agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below!