Thirty years after its publication, William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer is still keeping people up too late reading about a washed-up hacker cowboy hired for one last score. Somehow I’ve had a karmic connection to the book this summer: first my friend Shana referred me to an “industrial-folk” singer called EMA whose new CD, Future is Void, is based on her reading of Neuromancer. Sold! And then the very next day, while strolling through the yarn-bombed Newton Free Library on a Maker Faire day, I saw a flyer for a 17-and-up “STEaMy” reading group on Neuromancer (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, so don’t get all excited you Molly Millions fetishists). The memory of my first reading of Neuromancer on the rainy streets of Cambridge UK (alma mater of the doomed researcher in the book’s sequel, Count Zero) ruptured my work-to-home entropy and got my old-assed self out to these two fun events.
These notes are just on the phenomena of What We Talk About When We Talk About Neuromancer, not the thing itself (which you should all read right away). I saw EMA at a tiny bar in Allston last month. Even after highbrow types like myself (my brow goes over my head and into my collar on the other side these days) were alerted to EMA by the New Yorker, or better yet by clued-in friends, there were maybe 50 people who came out to see the show, with another ten resolutely watching playoff hockey. EMA’s Neuromancer-riffing concept album was based on her experience of being in the public eye and feeling like her public self was a separate entity…almost like an AI! I don’t ask that 6-foot industrio-folk singers be super deep…it is enough to be loud and howly and wear Oculus Rift headsets in Neuromancer-themed videos. The mixture of grungy apartment and virtual space put me right in Bobby Newmark’s mom’s apartment in the Sprawl. It was great to be in such an intimate setting with her and the band at this show.
Then this week I met up for the much-ballyhooed Neuromancer reading group at the library. Turned out to be a distinguished fellow like myself–long time denizen of the Gentleman Loser–and a 28-ish woman who works at the library and had just picked up Neuromancer as part of getting into sci-fi this year. In a somewhat too Margaret Mead-like way, I asked whether people her age (shakes cane) were looking to have book groups and read Gibson. She said that some dudes she knows who never read anything at all had told her, dude, read Neuromancer (seemingly a common marker for a certain type of guy these days), and that the book might not be the most book-clubbable but that she anyway was motivated to read further into the Sprawl trilogy.
We commented on Gibson’s still-prophetic view of a corporate-dominated “web” of the future, which, as one commentator pointed out a couple of years ago, is coming true on the social and political dystopia front more quickly than on the technological “jacking-in” to the web frontier. Our host asked about Gibson vs. Neil Stephenson, and I just beamed with pleasure: for her at being all Cortez with a wild surmise over the new ocean of fun reading with Stephenson, and for me at thinking about these two superheroes. In fact, as I noted in this very space two years ago, Stephenson’s work is a lot closer to Adrienne Rich than to Gibson. Stephenson is the sprawling Whitmanian figure of fun and emotion; Gibson, more the noir-prophetic Raymond Chandler, the hardassed founder and embodier in style of Mirrorshades. But thank goodness, these kids today have it all laid out in front of them in our new dystopian reader’s paradise. It’s a great time to enjoy the fear of the future, especially Gibson’s paleo-future that still rings true.