Neuromancer, Day 1: How I Got Here

I first read Neuromancer in the Winter of 1992, at a time when I was reading nearly continuously. That year I discovered Agatha Christie, Piers Anthony, Charles Sheffield & Terry Brooks. I consumed everything I could get my hands on. Fantasy was framed by my experiences with Tolkien and Anne Macaffery. Science Fiction was framed by television, Star Trek and Star Wars, Space: 1999 and Doctor Who. The detective was defined by Remington Steele. I was on the verge of discovering Douglas Adams & Terry Pratchett, each of whom has been described as a poor version of the other to me multiple times. Amidst all that, Neuromancer sank like a stone along with my dabbling with Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, which I suppose puts me somewhat outside of polite SF-loving society.

Charitably, I’m going to argue that Neuromancer was just something so radically new that I had no conceptual framework for it, and whatever explanation it offers of itself wasn’t sufficient for my extreme youth. I began to get a handle on what Cyberpunk a year or so later when I wrangled myself an invitation to play Shadowrun, a game about which I remember almost nothing, if it ever really happened. What I do remember clearly was a group viewing of the complete Max Headroom as preparation. It was exposition in handy bite-sized chunks, and I could be wrong after 20 years, but I recall it hitting all of the major Cyberpunk tropes one way or another.

Like all genre labels, Cyberpunk is a somewhat vague and nebulous term. My experiences with “Detectives” leads me to think that the more I learn about the term, the less certain I’ll be about what it circumscribes. Or, at least, the greater inter-penetration I’ll see with other supposedly-distinct genres. Neuromancer retains unmatched genre capital, as a foundational text in any given definition of the genre. Trying to discuss Cyberpunk without Neuromancer present in the text or subtext is like trying to dodge Sherlock Holmes when discussing detectives. It can be done, but it hardly ever is. Like Holmes, Neuromancer becomes all things to all arguments.

I’ve been intending to re-read Neuromancer for years, and did manage to re-read Burning Chrome last year after a particularly interesting discussion with my brother-in-law about Neuromancer as a Marxist text. Well, I’ve finally managed to find both a copy of the novel (I’ve owned one for 22 years) and the time (I’ve had a long stretch of unemployment), and this week is Neuromancer week, where I think about the book again, with somewhat fresher energy.

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