It’s been nearly 40 years since Gibson’s seminal Neuromancer was published, Eileen Gunn writes at length about the meaning of that earthshaking book then and now.
In Neuromancer, the United States is a relatively unimportant country, and Japan and China are on the cutting edge of technology and medical research. The book’s depiction of international commerce, in which megacorporations, zaibatsu, and criminal enterprises rule the global economy, was not consensus public opinion in the English-speaking world in the 1980s, although the transition to the reality we have now was well underway. The idea that street criminals would dip with impunity into the data strongholds of governments and corporations and render them helpless—or hold them hostage—seemed impossible, because governments and businesses stored their most important data on little pieces of paper, so tedious to search and cumbersome to copy. All these things, part of our consensus reality, are not science-fictional now: they form the reality-based background of the story. The possibility that life in a space station could be commodified into a low-orbit Ibiza, with just a frisson of gravitational confusion, really doesn’t seem quite so strange today.
Gibson himself has said that, in creating a future that didn’t end in a global nuclear disaster, he thought he was creating an optimistic future. In the 1980s, reading Neuromancer’s grim future somehow alleviated, for me at least, the fear that the unknown future would be unsurvivable. It made today a familiar place. Our fears are different now, but Gibson’s books continue to serve that purpose.
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