Well, it's Week 7 of the Summer of Sci-Fi Challenge, and for better or worse, our book this week is Neuromancer by William Gibson. I'd like to start by saying that when the book was published in 1984, it swept all three major science fiction awards for that year. It's considered a classic of the sci-fi genre and a pioneer in the cyberpunk sub-genre. Gibson is credited with coining the term "cyberspace," which he used copiously in the novel. If you've seen the Matrix movies, the concept of physically "jacking into the matrix" with electrodes originated with Neuromancer, and the filmmakers definitely borrowed freely from Gibson's ideas.
...And this was not the book for me. I confess I did something I almost never do. I skimmed the last forty pages. I just could. Not. Go. On.
I fully recognize the value that this book holds for others. I would never be so presumptuous as to label a book “bad” simply because I didn't personally enjoy it. It's all a matter of perspective, preferences, and brain chemistry. After I'd plowed through the first fifty pages and everything remained as muddled and confusing as it had been in the first ten, I texted Adam and said, “I don't know how my brain does work, but this ain't it.”
Gibson doesn't explain ANYTHING. He doesn't describe the countless, rapidly changing settings in any tangible, concrete way. His characters are so flat they could be applied to a Wheaties box. There's plenty of action—space travel, violence, sex, twisted mind games—but I wasn't invested in any of it because I wasn't invested in the characters. It's hard to care what happens to someone who seems more like an avatar than a person.
So I find myself in a bit of a pickle. I have a positive-only policy on this website—I'm committed to writing only about books I like and would recommend. However, this book was pre-selected for the Challenge, and I am equally committed to reading and writing about it in the spirit of giving science fiction the ol' college try. I don't want this site to become a spiraling vortex of negativity, but it's important to me that I follow through on the goals I set for myself.
Fortunately, Adam agreed to write about Neuromancer for me, since he has read the book and actually enjoyed it. So you can take his thoughts as proof that just because a certain narrative style or unusual premise or character development doesn't work for one reader, it doesn't mean it won't be someone else's favorite book.
Here's what Adam had to say about Neuromancer:
Taryn and I don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to relating with…well, let’s just cut to the chase and call them weirdos. Having spent my professional life either working as an engineer or as a part of a corporate IT department, I’ve spent my fair share of time in the company of such people. And for the most part, they’re wildly interesting.
Oh, and also really freaking weird.
Tired of conversing with someone who carefully wordsmiths every sentence and is more concerned with style than substance? Tired of talking to someone who wants to tell you all about a generic “awesome” story where “you had to be there” that inevitably involves at least one drunk idiot? Bored with discussions that require knowledge about the current pop music scene and the ability to name at least two Kardashians? Then go talk to an engineer.
Most engineers barely have the social skills necessary to hold up their end of a conversation. This means that they don’t have any extra bandwidth to try anything slick or crafty. You are going to get their pure thoughts plain and simple. Sometimes this is refreshing. But other times it leaves you with a decided lack of context, feeling like you’ve just been dumped midway through a semi-formed thought they were having.
So what does any of this have to do with Neuromancer? Everything. Whenever I read any of Gibson’s work, I think to myself “this is the kind of novel an engineer would write.” And that’s not to say that GIbson is a classically trained engineer. But I would certainly speculate that his mind is wired similarly.
When you read Gibson, you’re not going to get long flowery descriptions chock full of imagery and masterfully worded one liners. But you will get some very interesting ideas and takes on technology, where it might be going, and how we as humans might respond. And to me, that is the biggest draw for Science Fiction.
So I'm still counting the Summer of Sci-Fi as a success. The whole point is to stretch ourselves and try reading books outside of our typical selections. I find if I don't branch out once in awhile, I'll end up exclusively reading books about female librarians, booksellers, and writers. And while I'll always love those kinds of books and think of them as my literary sweet spot, I don't want to get stuck there and miss something good.
As always, I welcome your comments here or on Facebook or Goodreads. People who liked Neuromancer—please explain yourselves! What did you like about it, and what advice can you give someone like me who struggles without the fancy trappings of literary fiction?
Summer of Sci-Fi continues next Sunday with Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space. It's our first example of a space opera, and Adam assures me that he really liked it. (We'll see for ourselves next week.)
To see the complete list of books for the Summer of Sci-Fi Challenge, click here.