ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

There are some novels that influence a generation; that change the way we think, and the way we look at the world. Some stories, as it turns out, can shape the world they emerge into, and redefine it for their readers. Lord of the Rings, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird - they all did this for past generations, and still do to this day.

In that context, the fact that a lone science fiction book, thirty years old this month, could have been so incredibly influential on every one of us doesn't sound so strange - until you realize just how much it has altered the world around us.

William Gibson's Neuromancer, ladies and gentlemen: the book that changed the way you're reading this sentence.

Of course, as these things tend to go, it didn't start there. First up...

It Changed Movies Forever

Without Neuromancer, there's no The Matrix. There's no Ghost in the Shell. Hell, most of the science fiction that came out post-1984 has been directly or indirectly influenced by it, and its Cyberpunk successors.

I mean, the book's the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a junkie/hacker who has been cut off from 'cyberspace', a virtual reality known as the 'Matrix'.

Yup. Fifteen years before The Wachowski's The Matrix came out.

So, without Neuromancer, we wouldn't have this:

Or every movie that was suspiciously like it.

  I'm looking at you, Equilibrium...
I'm looking at you, Equilibrium...

Its other lead character? Molly Millions - a 'razorgirl', covered in cybernetic modifications, including retractable blades under her fingernails.

  Entirely unlike Wolverine's 'daughter' X-23...
Entirely unlike Wolverine's 'daughter' X-23...

Molly, and particularly Molly's relationship with Case? Straight up Girl With the Dragon Tattoo:

Pretty much the only sci-fi from the 80s and 90s that wasn't influenced by it was Blade Runner, and that's only because Gibson happened to write the book at the exact same time as it was being made.

The bigger impact of the novel came outside of movies, though, seeing as...

It Pretty Much Defined the Internet

That reference above to cyberspace? We don't think too much about throwing the word around nowadays - it's just part of the language, part of the day to day of our lives.

Back in 1984, though?

  The time of time after time...
The time of time after time...

Yeah, that wasn't a thing.

Gibson invented the term back in 1982 in his novelette Burning Chrome, but it wasn't until the release of Neuromancer that the term found its way into the vocabulary of everybody else in the world.

What's more, there's a decent chance that you've used security software that Gibson basically named.

With Neuromancer, Gibson popularized the term ICE (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics) which, essentially, refers to a security program that protects data from hackers.

So a firewall.

Now, in fairness, most real-world firewalls and security programs aren't actually called ICE.

Except for the ones that totally are, like IBM's BlackICE.

  Not pictured.
Not pictured.

The novel hasn't stopped at the borders of the online world, though...

It Made Virtual Reality Cool

Y'know Oculus Rift?

  Not to be confused with WALL-E...
Not to be confused with WALL-E...

Yup, THAT Oculus Rift. The first real chance we've had to get our hands on something (a little) like the Holo-Decks we were promised as kids.

Well, combine that with Reality TV, and you've pretty much got Gibson's 'simstim', where you can share an entire sensory experience with a celebrity.

  Though you probably want to splurge for Clooney...
Though you probably want to splurge for Clooney...

Add in the book's increasingly intelligent AI, a popular obsession with extreme plastic surgery and isolated resorts for the uber-wealthy and some very Google Glass-like optical enhancements, and you have a whole bunch of stuff that's surprisingly recognizable today.

Very little of it was unique to Gibson, true, but by pulling it all together, he didn't just create a surprisingly prescient vision of a modern dystopia - he might just have made it cool enough for others to bother inventing it.

Taken together, it adds up to one thing:

It Became the World We Live In

Tell you what - put all of that stuff together for a second:

The style of The Matrix. The hyper-cool, pointedly strong femininity of Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. The cyberspace. The firewalls. Google Glass. Oculus Rift. The plastic surgery. The distancing of the elite.

That's a pretty big part of the world we live in.

Hell, add in a new Wonder Woman costume and that's basically Comic-Con.

  Pictured: not Cyberpunk.
Pictured: not Cyberpunk.

As Cory Doctorow, a novelist and blogger, has argued:

"A generation later, we're living in a future that is both nothing like the Gibson future and instantly recognisable as its less stylish, less romantic cousin."

As he puts it:

"Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses...The Ed Snowden moment is very Gibsonian...Snowden could be Case's back-office support, an ex-spook trapped behind Putin's iron curtain, offering intermittent but vital support to people trapped in the system's relentless gear grinding."

It's a very particular vision of our reality - and one many wouldn't agree is a fair picture of it - but there's certainly some truth to the comparison.

  Unless Snowden just hacked in and added it...
Unless Snowden just hacked in and added it...

All the news lately about Edward Snowden? About WikiLeaks? Our world is increasingly defined by cyber-crime and hacking, much as it is by the rise of the mega-corporation and the increasing ubiquity of technology.

Good or bad, that's all straight up Neuromancer.

The only question then is this: was Gibson just a smart reader of the way things were already going, or - as Jack Womack suggested in the afterword to the novel's 2000 re-issue - has "the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?

In which case the very internet you're reading this on could be partly defined by a book from 30 years ago.

Or, it could not.

Either way - it's a pretty darned great book.

[Neuromancer](movie:337068) is also probably heading to a cinema near you...eventually.


What do you guys think? Has Neuromancer had that much of an influence on our world?

via The Guardian


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