Thursday, 11 November 2010

William Gibson created the word "cyberspace"; I would like to add "future-sciencey" to the lexicon

William Gibson, like all the best Sci-Fi writers, was (is? I don't know; I've read only this one book, his first) a visionary. Neuromancer, written in 1983 and published in 1984, imagines a world that was crazy and future-sciencey then and is pretty damned familiar in lots of ways now, but still also compellingly future-sciencey.

Our strung out hero is Case, a cowboy of the new frontier in what Gibson coined "cyberspace". Yes, Gibson is the author that created that word that's nestled so comfortably into modern English parlance. Cyberspace is a vast, abstract plain in which information can be manipulated and contained, infected with a virus or used like one, and perhaps gain its own sense of itself. Gibson may be the first author to fully imagine this brave new world of the internet, its vulnerabilities and potential for attack, and artificial intelligence, and it continues to be born around and through us now.

Or, a little practical perspective on how creatively and prophetically forward-thinking Gibson was when he wrote Neuromancer. Gibson wrote Neuromancer in 1983, when I was 8 years old; I didn't get my first email account until I was 18 - 10 years later. And I certainly didn't try to resist the unstoppable introduction of the interwebs into my life; I got an email account pretty much the second I heard about such things - which was, for me, first-year university. It was all text-based at my undergraduate institution - until 1999, when I completed my MA.

I draw this time line only to point out how quickly the technology is changing and improving. And to remind my husband that while the internet as it currently stands does kind of suck (as he recently proclaimed), it's because as a culture we're now comfortable imagining how awesome it can and should be, and we're impatient that it's not there yet. We're living that frontier life every day, where the computer nerds are hackers and the limits are only our brilliant and sick imaginations.

You'll indulge my enthusiasm here (something which I am often simply too cool for); but Neuromancer embodies everything I think Sci-Fi should be - gutsy, out there, and committed to a future that's infinitely more interesting than the present, if not nearly as safe. You may have noticed that I don't actually read very much Sci-Fi at all, however. The fact is, I'm afraid to - because of Neal Stephenson (awesome), and this crazy book I read as a kid and can't recall the name of (it involved someone tearing their information pack out of the skin on their back) but which still haunts me, and plenty of terrible Sci-Fi films.

All these things make me afraid of bad Sci-Fi and because I've read so little Sci-Fi at all, I have no idea what's good. Well, Gibson's really good. The story is kick ass but the guy can actually really write too, and that makes Neuromancer solid gold. I've also been told by one of my favourite nerds in the know to read Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, and my husband is currently being bedazzled by China Mieville's The Scar. So, there are some books to look forward to, including the two sequels to Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Slight Tangent
But to continue the Gibson-Mitchell struggle for my deepest devotion, I've begun The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. There couldn't be two more different books...but that's the way I like it, this flipping between radically different worlds. Indeed, this is something I've always known about myself but it somehow just occurred to me today that it's an important part of why I think Cloud Atlas is one of the best novels ever written, and why it's my clear favourite (I never had a clear favourite before I read Cloud Atlas, just a fairly malleable top 5). Because it is simultaneously unified and shockingly diversified - unlike any other novel, it leaves me completely satisfied.

Goddamn, I love to read.

9 comments:

interpolations said...

Which two Neal Stephenson novels should I short list?

Colleen said...

interpolations, my friend: Start just with The Diamond Age and see what you think. Then we'll talk again. :)

interpolations said...

Done and doner.
Cheers, K

heidenkind said...

I have a friend who's always going on about Gibson (and Stephenson) and how great they both are and that I should read them.

Stefanie said...

I've been meaning to get to Neuromancer for years but have yet to do it. Your enthusiasm is contagious. I think my husband has the book squirreled away at home somewhere. If he doesn't, a trip to the bookstore will be imminent!

andrew said...

Of the "Sprawl Trilogy" books, Mona Lisa Overdrive is actually my favourite--and I have big love for Neuromancer--but Gibson's prose just kept getting better as he went along. MLO is less Gibson doing Chandler and more Gibson doing Gibson. You have so much to look forward to Colleen!

Colleen said...

heidenkind: I thought I'd responded to you here! Sorry! Apparently, if you understand math at all, Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is even more stellar than it is for math dummies like me. And you made a math joke on a previous post so maybe...?

Stefanie: Woot!

Andrew: I know! When I finished Neuromancer I thought exactly that: I have so much to look forward to. I'm keeping an eye out for Count Zero now.

chasingbawa said...

I read this maybe 10 years ago and was struck by how 'normal' I found Gibson's world. Considering Neuromancer was published in 1984, that is incredible. I wished I'd read it much earlier just so I could be dazzled by all the cyber-stuff he came up with. On a another note, have you tried Iain M. Banks' culture novels?

Colleen said...

chasingbawa: I haven't yet read any of the Culture novels, but have the first one here. I've read a number of Banks's non-Sci-Fi books and am a big fan of those, especially The Crow Road.