This book was the most disappointing read I’ve had in a few years, which in itself was quite disappointing because I fucking love adventurous kinda-soft science fiction, and cyberpunk, and stylishly gritty dystopias, and all that bullshit.
Neuromancer is seen as one of the great cyberpunk novels. Possibly the great cyberpunk novel. I think it coined the term ‘matrix’ referring to a digital simulation of reality? I’m not sure on that. I haven’t written reviews for this blog in a while and all the veneers of professionalism I had when writing the last few have vanished, stripped away by the sands of laziness and the desire to write something more emotionally fun and less polished.
Like with my last disclaimer about a piece of entertainment I did not enjoy, I gotta add a couple of disclaimers.
Firstly, I bought a copy of this book on my Kindle, and for some godforsaken reason, the text is formatted in such a way that the line breaks one would normally find in a chapter when the author wishes to denote changes of scene are not there at all. And so, for a while, I thought William Gibson was the world’s most fucking disjointed author in terms of skipping all over the place with no indication, because on one paragraph we’d have our protagonist doing something and in the next immediate paragraph – no line break or asterisk or whatever to denote change of scene – he’d be in another district of the city doing something completely different. And then I realised that this was a formatting issue with my copy of the book, not a writing issue.
Secondly, I only read about 23% of the book, according to my Kindle’s stats. I’m generally of the belief that one ought to consume a piece of media in its entirety before judging it properly, but fuck it, I do not want to read this book anymore. Life is too short to push on through books one dislikes, unless one must do so for education purposes or in order to get paid. As I am currently neither an English student nor a professional reviewer of books, I have decided to abandon this tome.
Unlike the aforementioned last piece of entertainment that I did not enjoy, I don’t think that Neuromancer is objectively bad. I just didn’t like it.
Part of my experience was soured by the line break fuckery. I had been having a lukewarm experience up until I realised the issue, so I wasn’t hating it, so I read on. But … even with my awareness of that problem, I ended up not enjoying myself enough to continue. Part of it was probably because I had to figure out where those breaks were supposed to be, which isn’t exactly difficult, but isn’t exactly good for enjoyment or immersion in a story. It’s not a huge deal, but it detracts from the experience … especially when the experience Isn’t Great to begin with.
Here begins the part where I actually justify my dislike of the book:
To me, this story reads like the author was so in love with their worldbuilding that they are fucking revelling in it, at the expense of audience comprehension. I say ‘to me’ because I suspect this is a subjective thing.
You know how some books have a lot of fairly clear exposition in order to explain the world and the characters to the reader? And other books kind of weave the worldbuilding into the storytelling in a more subtle way, so you start off just thrown into the world and you pick it up as you go along?
I’d say this book was the latter, except I did not pick it up as I went along. It was less akin to ‘picking it up’ than it was to ‘attempting to pick it up and finding out that it was a giant pile of boulders that I could barely lift at all, and they were tumbling down a hillside towards me as I was trying to climb up it’. In this analogy, the hillside represents my journey through the book. In books I have enjoyed in the past, the ground on the hillside is covered in solid, climbable rock with some nice scenery and a killer view and some helpful strangers, maybe. In Neuromancer, the ground was unstable boulders that would roll down toward me, trying to knock me over, while I scrambled for purchase and got my hands stung by the hillside’s native population of wasps.
I didn’t start that paragraph expecting to launch into that elaborate of an analogy, but there we go. No, it’s not a fantastically elegant analogy. Yes, I’m sticking with it anyway.
In other words, I think the author built an awesome world, but in my highly subjective opinion, I think he sucked at conveying it to us. It sounds like it’s written for someone who’s already intimately familiar with the world. There is shitloads of jargon and references, and the style of writing is that sparse, sort of minimalist style that’s typical of a lot of dystopian science fiction stories that I love, except here it somehow became too sparse, like a hipster so proud of their stylishly sparse apartment that it took the arrival of a very confused housewarming party to make them realise they’d actually forgotten to install any furniture or electricity. And yet the apartment has painstakingly grungy detail in the painting of the walls, in the slightly rusty yet futuristic-looking light fittings, and in the bathtub styled like an operation tank in which high-tech surgeries create superhuman agents of the state. BUT NO FUCKING FURNITURE, OR ELECTRICITY.
I started that paragraph trying to express myself clearly and without an obnoxious analogy, but I failed. But you know what, I think that’s beautiful. And I stand by this particular analogy.
The plot of this story actually seems really interesting and is a premise that I kind of love, which makes it all the more frustrating that I could not stomach the book due to the writing style.
The protagonist is a young man named Case who used to be a hotshot hacker who operated in the matrix in order to steal things. Then he tried to steal from his employers, who then crippled him in such a way that he’s fine, except he can no longer interface with the matrix. Which makes him very depressed and turns him into a drug-riddled deadbeat. Case then gets recruited by the mysterious Armitage to pull off a heist.
IT SOUNDS REALLY FUN, RIGHT? BUT GOD. I couldn’t take the writing, I couldn’t take the fact that it was somehow bulky with jargon and stylish descriptions, yet devoid of the quality that actually makes this world easy to understand.
And I know you can’t expect to understand the world immediately, I know that part of the fun is figuring it out as you go along, but it shouldn’t take almost a fucking quarter of the book. I shouldn’t be getting this far into the book and still finding it hard to read because the way the world comes through is both dense but not enjoyable.
Plus the writing is a little too disjointed, too sparse, like a film with filled with short cuts and moody beautiful cinematography, but is so hard to follow that it crosses the line from being intriguing to unenjoyable.
In addition to this, there simply was not enough in the opening chapters to make me care about Case. His story should have been a compelling one, but the style of writing did not convey enough humanity to make me interested. And I don’t need much humanity, mind. I read Matthew Reilly.
In conclusion to this unexpectedly long review: Neuromancer held a lot of promise in its premise. The plot was interesting and the worldbuilding was pretty excellent, but in my opinion at least, these fantastic elements were conveyed in the vehicle of a writing style too stylistically sparse and fragmented to adequately communicate them in an engaging or satisfying way. And so I gave up, after 23% of the book.