It seems this blog and my exploration of SF have gone off the rails a bit. Trying harder in 2017. Back to the SF project…..
Neuromancer (William Gibson, 1984) begins with arguably the most famous opening sentence in SF:
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
It is a sensational read but what does it tell us about post-literacy? Surprisingly less than I expected (and remembered) but only perhaps because so much of it is now commonplace.
This post is part of an ongoing series about science fiction and post-literacy. What can speculative fiction tell us about post-literacy? Spoiler Alert in effect.
While I’ve berated SF for poor writing, Neuromancer is not among them. This is a wonderfully realized novel with penetrating insights, subtle control of language, and startling images. By combining different genres (Raymond Chandler, Louis L’Amour, and William Burroughs echo throughout the novel) Gibson uses the old and familiar to highlight the new and strange. We appear to be in the known world of hard boiled PIs, outlaw cowboys, and 60s drug culture; but then again, we’re not.
The matrix, which now seems so commonplace, is described in ways that continue to capture the magic and complexity of cyberspace (a term Gibson made popular but did not originate). Gibson calls the matrix a “consensual hallucination” (p. 5) and the “infinite neuroelectronic void” (p. 115).
The battling AIs, Wintermute and Neuromancer, are the main attraction; it’s the type of battle that Elon Musk and the folks at OpenAI are currently worried about.
A few “post-literate” notes of interest:
People who used neuro implanted sockets for “microsofts” (knowledge chips) are described as “gone silicon” (p. 73).
The idea of the “simstim” is interesting but disappointingly one way. It allows Case to track and experience the sense data of Molly but she can’t respond. A bit voyeuristic.
McCoy Pauly (“The Flatline” or Dixie) is interesting because he is dead and exists now as a ROM “construct”: a static intelligence that can interact and accomplish knowledge based tasks but can’t learn anything new. It (he) does seem to have self-awareness, however, and longs to be erased (i.e. really, really dead).
As captured, codified knowledge and experience, a construct is a “live” or “living” resource (but not an AI). Presumably we could all leave/create constructs of ourselves to advise, influence, and even assist those in the present (as does the Flatline when he works with Case on the virus they unleash).
It’s a wonderful novel and it’s depiction of cyberspace is nothing short of poetry. And with Wintermute, Neuromacer, microsofts, simstims, and constructs we have some interesting insights into post-literacy.
William Gibson. Neuromacer (New York: Ace Book, 1984).