Each week on Friday Faves I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction. This week’s book is shared by Robin Pen of Planet Books.
William Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer came out in 1984 as a mass market paperback and with no mainstream fanfare, but in little over a year it was regarded as a game changer of post-modern fiction.
It certainly was for me.
On the surface it’s a slick verbal display of near future noir. That vision was fresh in ‘84 but since then its cities of neo-corporate control and market dictated culture have been so much copied in all media that this aspect of the work has meant less over the decades (parallels can be made with Blade Runner, also ‘84). Indeed, it’s most famous opening line, to the author’s own amusement, has become a bit of an anachronism. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” was originally to invoke a strange grey haze but more likely now to make one think of a bright blue sky.
But the Chandler-esque plotting and the detailed universe of brands and logos was a vehicle for Gibson to have a style that had come less from the pulps and other forms of popular culture and more from the New Wave of J G Ballard and the Beats of William Burroughs, one where the language was inseparable from the subject; where the prose seeks a poetry within the technologies that have come to define the post-human condition.
With each novel since Neuromancer, Gibson’s prose and zeitgeist insights have only got smarter and slicker, shedding the SF trappings some books ago without any change to his styling. The contemporary world had so come to resemble his own slick techno-cultural visions (with considerable influence from his own work) that he didn’t need to set his characters anywhere else but the here and now.
I will happily admit I prefer Gibson’s contemporary set work of recent years (highly recommend Pattern Recognition) but Neuromancer is my fav pick for it was that game changer for me. It began me on my exciting path of post-modern literature, sign posted by each new Gibson novel and in between populated by other favourite authors like Don Delillo, Thomas Pynchon, Scarlet Thomas, Haruki Murakami, Matt Ruff and David Mitchell.
Neuromancer remains the novel, as a critical reader, of which I am most fond.
What about you? Are you a William Gibson fan?
You might also like: Robyn Mundy on Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now