Neuromancer: William Gibson as Author
Posted by erikthereddest
Hello everyone, and welcome to the final installment of my series on Neuromancer, William Gibson’s premier novel and the beginning of not only the cyberpunk genre, but of a new era of mainstream science fiction capturing the minds of millions, and not just the ones nerdy enough to know what a quasar is. I started this series giving a general introduction to Neruomancer’s influence on science fiction, then moved on to Gibson’s vision of cyberspace, cyborgs, and A.I.. These are the strongest areas that stood out to me, but I think it’s easy to look at Gibson and his novel with such lofty acclaim and historical significance (to people who pay attention to this sort of thing) and think “I could never do something like that.”
Well, dear writers, be comforted. Gibson thought that too.
Blind Animal Panic
I have trouble writing. I’ve managed this blog for some time, written numerous papers and essays, and a few short stories (some of which have made it into our humble ezine), but the idea of completing a full-length novel terrifies me. I’m sure lots of people feel the same way, or at least cannot get their brain around the enormous task. In an interview with Larry McCaffery in the Mississippi Review, Gibson shows the primary catalyst for his most notable work: fear of failure.
Larry McCaffery: What specifically got you going with the book?
William Gibson: Panic. Blind animal panic. And I think this desperate quality comes through in the book pretty clearly. Neuromancer is fueled by a terrible fear I had of losing the reader’s attention… During the writing of the book I had the conviction that I was going to be permanently shamed when it appeared. Even when I finished it I had no perspective on what I’d done. (I still don’t, for that matter).
It’s easy to think that people like Gibson write as if the Muses themselves are guiding his pen, the glorious words flowing like water from a sieve. More often than not, especially with new writers that burst onto the scene, they’ve got just as many fears and anxieties about their work as everyone else. The primary difference? They did it anyway. Gibson may have roped himself into the contract, but pushed through and made something great.
Don’t Expect to Have to Know Everything
I’ve mentioned this before, but another amazing thing about Gibson’s book is that he wrote it with very little technical knowledge about how computers or the internet work. Further in the same interview with McCaffery, Gibson talks about his use of technology in Neuromancer:
LM: So your use of computers and science results more from their metaphoric value or from the way they sound than from any familiarity with how they actually operate.
WG: I’m looking for images that supply a certain atmosphere… But I’m more interested in the language of, say, computers than I am in the technicalities of how they operate. On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory… When I wrote Neuromancer, I didn’t know that computers had disc drives… here I had been expecting some exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I’d gotten was something with this tiny piece of a Victorian engine in it, like an old record player.
Now, this isn’t to say that knowing a bit about computers and technology doesn’t help. There’s a certain point where you could come off as an idiot for not knowing basic things about the tech you’re writing about. But as in Gibson’s case, the language of the technology is far more important. You don’t want a dry technical document about the theoretical advances in sub-light ionic drive systems, you want a compelling space odyssey full of imagery and gripping drama that inspires your reader to dream about the stars, just as Gibson’s book let his readers dream about the future where a whole new world awaited them in the glittering city of light.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I’ve really enjoyed digging into this, and hope my analysis has helped to shed some light on why this book and author are so acclaimed. This is my last post for this month, so I’ll be back with something new in October! Until then, what do you think about Gibson’s experience in writing Neuromancer? Do you identify with his fear, or are you pretty chill in your process? Let me know in the comments below!