STUDY GUIDE FOR WILLIAM GIBSON: Neuromancer (1984)
by Paul Brians
When Neuromancer by William Gibson was first
published it created a sensation. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say
that it was used to create a sensation, for Bruce
Sterling and other Gibson associates declared that a new kind of science
fiction had appeared which rendered merely ordinary SF obsolete. Informed by the
amoral urban rage of the punk subculture and depicting the developing
human-machine interface created by the widespread use of computers and computer
networks, set in the near future in decayed city landscapes like those portrayed
in the film Blade
Runner it claimed to be the voice of a new generation.
(Interestingly, Gibson himself has said he had finished much of what was to be
his body of early cyberpunk fiction before ever seeing Blade
Runner.) Eventually it was seized on by hip "postmodern" academics
looking to ride the wave of the latest trend. Dubbed "cyberpunk," the stuff was
being talked about everywhere in SF. Of course by the time symposia were being
held on the subject, writers declared cyberpunk dead, yet the stuff kept being
published and it continues to be published today by writers like K.
W. Jeter and Rudy
Rucker. Perhaps the best and most representative anthology of cyberpunk
writers is Mirrorshades., edited by Sterling, the genre's most
But cyberpunk's status as the revolutionary vanguard was almost immediately
challenged. Its narrative techniques, many critics pointed out, were positively
reactionary compared to the experimentalism of mid-60s "new wave" SF. One of the
main sources of its vision was William
S. Burroughs' quasi-SF novels like Nova Express,
(1964), and the voice of Gibson's narrator sounded oddly like a slightly
updated version of old Raymond Chandler novels
like The Big Sleep, (1939). Others pointed out that almost all of
cyberpunk's characteristics could be found in the works of older writers such as
G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Harlan
Ellison, or Samuel R. Delany.
Most damning of all, it didn't seem to have been claimed by the generation it
claimed to represent. Real punks did little reading, and the vast majority of
young SF readers preferred to stick with traditional storytellers such as Larry Niven, Anne
McCaffrey and even Robert
Heinlein. Gibson's prose was too dense and tangled for casual readers, so it
is not surprising that he gained more of a following among academics than among
the sort of people it depicted. Heavy Metal comics and Max Headroom brought more of
the cyberpunk vision to a young audience than did the fiction.
(Art by Heavy Metal
[ Top ]
Yet Neuromancer is historically significant. Most critics agree
that it was not only the first cyberpunk novel, it was and remains the best.
Gibson's rich stew of allusion to contemporary technology set a new standard for
SF prose. If his plots and characters are shallow and trite, that mattered
little, for it is not the tale but the manner of its telling that stands out.
His terminology continues to pop up here and there. Whereas an earlier
generation borrowed names from its favorite author, J. R. R. Tolkien, like "Shadowfax" (a new-age music
group), "Gandalf" (a brand of computer data switch), and "Moria"; (an early fantasy
computer game), there has been a proliferation of references to
Neuromancer: there was a computer virus called " Screaming
Fist," the Internet is commonly referred to as "Cyberspace"
or--occasionally--"the Matrix," and there are several World Wide Web sites are
(The rock group named "The Meat Puppets" existed before Gibson borrowed the
term.) Gibson produced his vision in a time when many people were becoming
haunted by the idea of urban decay, crime rampant, corruption everywhere. Just
as readers of the 50s looked obsessively for signs that Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty-Four
was coming true, some readers keep an eye out for the emergence of
cyberpunk's nightmare world in contemporary reality. The fiction may not be
widely read, but through movies and comics it has created one of the defining
mythologies of our time.
The vision of Neuromancer was too confining for a writer of
Gibson's originality, and after a couple of sequels--( Count Zero
and Mona Lisa Overdrive )--he turned to other experiments,
such as his "steampunk" collaboration with Bruce Sterling: The Difference
Engine, depicting an alternative Victorian Age in which huge,
steam-driven computers were developed. In 1994 he returned to Cyberpunk with
Virtual Light and in 1995 published another novel set in Japan,
Note that Gibson's related story Johnny
Mnemonic was made into a 1995 film.
Official site of the forthcoming
Part One: Chiba City Blues
In the eighties, the American image of Japan underwent a profound
transformation. For generations it had been on the margins of our imagination:
as the exotic land of cherry blossoms and geishas, later as the war machine
sending out kamikaze bomber pilots in World War II, and later still as the
source of every sort of cheap, shoddy, imitative gadget. All of these were
shallow images, of course. Japan industrialized not long after northern Europe,
and Western influences had been B for centuries. But the success of brands
like Sony and Toyota
changed everything. Japan suddenly became perceived as the cutting edge of
modernity. Whereas the rest of the world had looked toward the U.S. for
innovation in the past, young Americans began to think of Japan as the future,
and it became a frequent setting for science fiction. Not that the new image was
any more profound or less stereotyped, but it was certainly different. Chiba City in this novel has developed into
a small section of the megapolis. "The Zone" is the decayed inner core of Chiba
City. Today Japan has half the population of the U.S. crowded in the area of
California. Urban sprawl is a reality.
The opening image of the book, comparing nature to technology, sets the tone
of the narrative. "Case," the name of the protagonist, could suggest detective
fiction, or it could suggest technology. His body--which he treats as almost an
alien entity with which he is not friendly terms--is a kind of case for his mind
and for the cyberspace with which it fuses, no more significant in itself than
the case of a computer CPU. The persistent cyberpunk obsession with the mixture
of flesh (called "meat" in the novel) and machinery is introduced through Ratz's
stainless steel teeth--unnatural looking but commonplace in Communist Eastern
Europe. Why is it significant that Ratz is ugly? Ratz' reaction to the
unexpected moment of silence is an old cliché, but startlingly incongruous in
this setting. Case's addiction to cyberspace is certainly prophetic; someone
half-jokingly set up a Usenet support group for victims of cyberspace addiction:
(alt.usenet.recovery). A "coffin hotel"
is a building which rents out cheap sleeping space not much larger than a
coffin. How is a cyberspace cowboy similar to a traditional cowboy? Different?
Case is a classic illegal hacker; but his present dilemma is caused by a classic
crime-novel situation, a crook attempting to skim the proceeds from organized
crime. Presumably the Russians developed the mycotoxin (fungal poison) as a
chemical warfare weapon. It has blocked his ability to experience cyberspace.
Why has he come to Japan? What evidence of pollution is contained in the
paragraph beginning "Now he slept"? "Arcologies" are huge, self-contained cities
enclosed in a single building, imagined by Paolo Soleri. "Dex" is dexedrine, a popular
form of amphetimine. What characteristics make Case an anti-hero? What does he
do for a living? The possibility of an underground market for body parts has
been around since organ transplants became commonplace and has often been
treated in SF.
Where had he first met Linda Lee? Repeated references to war in Europe
suggest it has been devastated in the recent past, probably by nuclear weapons.
"Pachinko" is a very popular kind of Japanese gambling machine vaguely like
vertically-oriented pinball. "French orbital fatigues" would be the uniform worn
by French astronauts in orbit." "Yakitori" is Japanese barbecued chicken, a
common street snack. "Sarariman" is the Japanese word for a businessman employed
by a large corporation, formed on the English words "salary" and "man." Compare
with English slang: "suit." What does it tell us that the Japanese industrial
seems to have absorbed the U.S. genetic engineering firm Genentech? Although the
computer images in the novel have had more impact, the biological ones are
almost as important. Why is the "sarariman" in danger in Night City? "Gaijin" is
an insulting Japanese term for Westerners. The Yakuza is the biggest
Japanese organized crime syndicate, their Mafia. A VTR is presumably a
"videotape recorder," a "simstim" deck is a kind of virtual reality machine to
simulate stimuli, Manriki chains and shuriken (sharp-pointed steel stars) are
both familiar weapons from ninja movies. Hong Kong is famous for its tailors who
can cut and deliver a custom-made suit in hours. Can you guess why the wearing
of glasses would be an affectation rather than something normal in this society?
The pioneering Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky specialized in
shapeless blobs, lines, and smears in bright colors. More Kandinsky. Salvador Dali frequently depicted "melted"
watches and clocks (for example, "The Persistence of
Memory, " 1931). Julius Deane uses expressions ("boyo," "old son") which
indicate a British background. In the paragraph beginning"The cultivation of a
certain tame paranoia" he sees in a display window an elaborate alternative to a
pocket watch. What is it? "Shin" is Japanese for "death." A taser stuns its
victims with an electrical shock, but is not meant to be lethal. Even now it is
common for Japanese to wear surgical masks in public in an attempt to filter out
the pollution, and gasps of pure oxygen can be had from streetside vending
machines. What is Case trying to sell now? Why can Ratz crush a shatterproof
plastic ashtray to shards in his hand? "Wig"="crazy;" after old hipster jazz,
"flipped his wig," "wigged out." Flechettes" are darts (flèche is
French for "arrow"). Molly is an extrapolation of the "tough dame" of
Chandler-style mean-streets crime fiction. Such femme fatale
assassins are a mainstay of modern futuristic fiction. Do they represent
women's liberation? What is her characteristic implant?
[ Top ]
A "fletcher" shoots "flechettes" (see above). In the operation called
"Screaming Fist" (a typical karate film title) a team had been hired to destroy
a Russian computer network ("nexus") in Kirensk with a virus, but Armitage
failed and was caught. What does "ICE" stand for? What is an "icebreaker?" Note
how computers have altered the economy. Molly tells Case that his surgery is
being paid for in software. Samurai originated as the
faithful defenders of feudal lords during the Kamakura period, but as Japan fell
into disorder, many of them roamed the country as "hired swords" and as such are
one of the most popular subjects for Japanese fiction, drama, and film. " Ninjas " are a related group who tend
to have a worse reputation, though they could be just as honorable as samurai.
"Working girl," is slang for prostitute, though when Molly uses the term it is
at first ambiguous, suggesting that she may be willing to work as a street
samurai for anyone. Later we learn the horrifying truth. Note the mechanical
crab in the courtyard. Endorphins are natural chemicals which provide
pleasurable feelings and suppress pain. If Case has been injected with
"endorphin inhibitors," clearly his tormentors have been trying to make him feel
as much pain as possible. Note that his surgery was carried out mostly without
incisions. To what is the sex Case experiences with Molly compared? Note how
Molly is presented as dominant, highly competent, and--most important--better
informed than Case. Such women are very common in contemporary action fiction.
Why do you think they are so popular with male readers? What is her job?
What is Case trying to find out from Deane? Note how "Watergated" has become
a verb, evidently meaning that the "Screaming Fist" conspiracy proliferated in
many directions. "Emp" stands for "EMP"="Electromagnetic Pulse" weapons. Nuclear
bombs detonated at certain altitudes with certain characteristics can destroy
electrical circuits, effectively destroying the enemy's defenses. Arpanet, the
ancestor of the Internet was first constructed in an attempt to work around this
problem. Here "emps" would seem to be a lower-level weapon aimed at penetrations
like "Screaming Fist." In a turkey shoot the birds are released to be shot at,
therefore a turkey shoot is a very easy form of killing. Screaming Fist was a
turkey shoot because the Soviet military had been informed in advance that it
was coming. "Ivan" is the Russian government. Zaibatsus are the giant Japanese
corporations which traditionally employ their male workers for life. What is the
entertainment like at Sammi's arena? Why was Linda Lee killed? Note the
recurring question: "Who is behind all this?" This question characterizes this
sort of paranoid conspiratorial fiction.
Part Two: The Shopping Expedition
The New-York to Washington D. C. corridor is often discussed as an evolving
megapolis. Here the process has gone much further, to develop into "the Sprawl."
Note that the map described on the first page of this chapter depicts not
population density, but the frequency of the exchange of data: the new
definition of civilization. When a star "goes nova" it explodes. Narita is the
Tokyo airport, Schipol [or more
correctly Schiphol] is
in Amsterdam, Orly is in Paris. The silent train they rode on is a maglev
(magnetic levitation) vehicle of the kind which has been tested in various
places. A powerful electrical charge turns the rails into electromagnets which
actually lift the train above them a fraction of an inch, reducing friction
essentially to zero and allowing for great speed at a low expenditure of energy.
"The heat" is old gangster slang for "the cops:" here, any form of law
enforcement officer. How has Armitage tried to guarantee that Case will not
betray his employers? Krill is the tiny shrimp on which baleen whales live. The
Japanese process it into various fish and meat imitations. It has been proposed
as a source of protein for an over-populated world. New York is enclosed by a
dome, but typically Gibson introduces this fact by observing its malfunctioning:
a freak wind blowing a piece of newspaper along the street.
The cerebral cortex is the most complex and vital part of the brain. A
"cortex bomb" would obviously be very ominous. The team is being slowly
assembled. "Dixie Flatline's construct" is an electronic recording of the mind
of a dead "cowboy" (free-lance hacker specializing in penetrating computer
security systems) whose actual name was McCoy Pauley. His nickname suggests
death (alluding to a flat line on an intensive-care room monitor) because he
experienced brain death three times. We will learn more about the monstrous
Peter Riviera later.
One of SF's narrative difficulties is explaining future technology to the
reader in a setting in which such explanations should not be necessary. How does
Gibson justify providing his "info-dump" explaining the origin of the matrix?
"Dermatrodes" would be electrodes which attach to the epidermis, or skin. A mandala is a complex
Buddhist symbol, often in circular form. "Spiral arms" alludes the arms of
unreachable by any current technology. Here they are a metaphor for unreachable
distant centers of power on Earth. The idea of a computer or network in which
one can experience virtual reality has been around in fiction for a long time,
but was first popularized in the movie Tron (1982).
The stolen module the Finn has brought will enable Case to experience the
world from inside Molly's body without leaving cyberspace--telepathy made
[ Top ]
What distinguishes simstim addicts from cyberspace explorers like Case? Tally
Isham is a simstim star. What does Case experience about Molly's effect on other
people? Note the ironic use of the name "Memory Lane." The sockets implanted in
people's heads were to become a standard feature of cyberpunk. "Softs"=software;
the word is an abbreviation for "microsoft," an obvious allusion to the giant
software corporation. The Hosaka computer can function somewhat like the
computer on the Starship
Enterprise: query it vocally and it will tell you what it knows. The answer
is given in multimedia form. Many Japanese women undergo surgery to remove the
epicanthic fold in the eyelid, giving them "Western" eyes. What does it mean
that people are now having epicanthic folds surgically created? Dr. Rambali
alludes to the fact that terrorists depend on the news media to publicize their
causes, but the media concentrate so exclusively on their acts of terror that
the message they are trying to convey is usually suppressed. How have the
Panther Moderns short-circuited this process? "Panther" is short for the Black
Panther movement of the sixties and early seventies which advocated violent
resistance to racism. "Big Science" is a term for large, expensive research
projects such as the Human Genome Project or the recently-cancelled
Superconducting Supercollider; but the name here probably alludes to the title
of a Laurie
Anderson CD. Anderson's fusion of live theater and technology is very
suggestive of the kind of environment in which Neuromancer is set.
Molly is trying to penetrate the Sense/Net headquarters in Atlanta to steal
the Dixie Flatline construct, assisted remotely by Case interfering with
Sense/Net's security software, the two of them linked by the broadcast network
created and run by the Panther Moderns. Case's mind is using Molly's body. Why
do you think Gibson chose Atlanta as
media headquarters? A "blackbox" is any kind of illicit electronic device which
can bypass normal circuits: the original permitted its users to make
long-distance phone calls without paying for them. Strobe lights are known to
induce seizures in certain people when pulsed at precisely the right frequency.
How do the Panther Moderns terrorize the people in the Sense/Net building? Computer viruses are written mostly to do
simple kinds of mischief today; but in the novel viruses are tools which can
penetrate secure computers, retrieve information, and cover their traces. Case's
code name is "Cutter." Molly is "Cat Mother." "Brood" is the Panthers. How did
Molly break her leg? How does Case fool the security system into letting Molly
take the construct?
"Lupus" means "wolf" in Latin, although it's also the name of a disfiguring
skin disease. Describe Lupus Yonderboy's appearance. "Mr. Who" is an allusion to
the long-running British SF TV series, Dr. Who, featuring
an unnamed hero usually alluded to only as "Doctor." Note that although this
transaction is taking place in BAMA, the currency is new yen. The "Doppler"
effect makes sounds seem to rise in pitch as the sound source approaches the
hearer, fall as the recede. Note how Linda Lee continues to haunt him. Here we
are first given the name "Wintermute."
Why is Molly able to dissect her crab "with alarming ease?" What is "jive"
and what is its function in this environment? Artificial Intelligence
("AI") is a much-discussed concept which would involve the creation of a
complex computer system which would replicate the functions of a human brain.
Debates rage about whether such a construct would possess consciousness, but
research goes on toward developing AI. Molly and Case are both bent on learning
who Armitage is working for. The tip that Wintermute is involved leads them to
its parent corporation: Tessier-Ashpool S. A. "The gravity well" is a concept
describing the difficulty of getting objects and people off the earth's surface
into orbit, where space
colonies have been built. Cyberpunk seldom depicts travel to other worlds,
but takes high-orbit space colonies for granted. An archipelago is usually a
group of islands. What is the meaning of the term here? "Spook" is slang for "
spy." Freeside is an orbiting space colony shaped like a spindle (or cigar).
Explain why it is "hard to keep track of what generation, or combination of
generations" is running Tesssier-Ashpool at any time? What does the slogan
"Travel was a meat thing" mean? What does a "joeboy" seem to be?
[ Top ]
In this chapter we learn that "Armitage" is really Willis Corto, one of the
agents who tried to carry out "Screaming Fist." What does "Watergating" seem to mean in this
context? How was he used by the military? How is Armitage another variation on
the machine/human interface theme? How does the pattern of Armitage's record
suggest that he, like Case, is just a hireling and not an integral part of
whatever force is behind this mission?
Why does the Mercedes talk to its passengers as it takes them into Istanbul? What is the significance of
the existence of letter-writers? How many different kinds of mutual distrust can
you find in this chapter among the various characters? Riviera has had an
implant which allows him to project onto the retinas of his victims whatever he
chooses--far-fetched, but not so unscientific as mental telepathy. What is
significant about the horse that they see? How does Riviera deceive Case while
Terzibashjian captures him? A seraglio is a harem. According to Case and Molly,
who is probably responsible for rebuilding "Armitage" and sending him on this
mission? Alan Turing,
a pioneer theoretician of machine intelligence, suggested that a computer might
be made indistinguishable from a human being. The "Turing heat" would therefore
be police assigned the task of preventing computers from reaching improper
levels of intelligence and power. "Shopping politicals"=betraying dissidents.
How do we learn that Germany was hit with at least one nuclear weapon during the
war? What does the last line of this chapter signify?
Part Three: Midnight in the Rue Jules Verne
The scene now shifts from Istanbul to Paris. Freeside is called "an orbital
Geneva" in relation to that city's emphasis on offering secret bank accounts
which are very attractive to those involved in illegal transactions. What
subliminal image does Riviera project to Case to symbolize his opinion of Molly?
Since they are taking a Japan Air Lines shuttle from Paris to the orbital
station called "Freeside" it is natural that koto music is playing the
background. Rastafarianism is a movement that originated in the 1930s in
Jamaica, which involves the hairstyle called "dreadlocks," the hope for blacks
to return to Ethiopia (identified with the Biblical Zion), reggae music, and the smoking of ganja
(marijuana). It was inspired in part by the movement founded during the early
1920s by Marcus Garvey, who
advocated a return of blacks to Africa. He created a fleet of ships called "The
Black Star Line," though it was never used for emigration purposes. Rastas refer
to White civilization, and the U. S. in particular as "Babylon," the demonic
city of Christian apocalyptic writing. God is called "Jah," short for "Jahweh,"
which scholars think was the original pronunciation of the Hebrew name for God
(though in the scholarship the "J" is pronounced as in German, as a "Y" sound).
The rasta dialect is used by the characters in this chapter. Without rotation,
an orbiting space station is in free-fall, and this creates an apparently
weightless environment familiar from televised orbital missions. However, if
such a station is spun around a central axis, centrifugal force pushes
everything toward the rim. The closer to the rim one is, the Ber the
apparent gravity is; whereas at the center of rotation, freefall weightlessness
prevails. Note the various visual games Riviera continues to play. What reveals
that Dixie Flatline is in fact bothered by knowing that he is dead? "Rue
Verne " is of course a tribute to the French grandfather of science fiction.
"Stepping Razor" is a 1977 song by Reggae great Peter Tosh (from his album
Equal Rights). The lyrics of the opening verse and refrain indicate why
Molly's razor implants would remind the rastas of the song:
If you wanna liveComplete
Treat me good
If you wanna live, live
beg you treat me good
I'm like a stepping razor
Don't you watch my sides
said I'm dangerous
I'm like a stepping razor
Don't you watch my
I'm dangerous, dangerous
(Thanks to Thom Cosgrove for this note.)
Names spelled "Aerol" and "Maelcum" are approximations of the rasta
pronunciations of "Errol" and "Malcolm." Dub is a form of Jamaican rap music,
popular throughout the Caribbean. Who has persuaded the rastas to cooperate with
the team, and how?
[ Top ]
A "g-web" would be a retaining net able to absorb the impact of acceleration
and deceleration as the tug maneuvers. Such impact is measured in "g's" or Earth
gravity equivalents. To experience 2 gs, for instance, is to be feel a force
equal to two times Earth's gravity. Rastas avoid saying "we," using "I and I"
instead. A "frog" company would be French. Gibson has no hesitation about using
rather dated slang in his narrative mixed with futuristic locutions. When Case's
attempt to penetrate Wintermute is repelled, where and when does his mind seem
to take him? Where is he really? What does Wintermute reveal to Case about its
The description of the plants tumbling over the balconies of Freeside
Bly suggests traditional images of the Hanging Garden of Babylon. The blue
sky overhead is artificial, a recording made in the French sea resort of Cannes. Why does the pseudo-death of Deane
haunt Case so much? How does Case react to trees and grass? What bizarre style
does he encounter worn by three Japanese wives? Why is Case so puzzled about
being sent the Kuang Grade Mark Eleven icebreaker virus? What is Dixie
"Vigntième Siecle" is French for "Twentieth Century," now a "period." Here we
first encounter Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool. Why does Peter
Riviera's show upset Case so much? Of the expensive shops, Gucci is Italian,
Tsuyako is Japanese, Hermès is French, and Liberty is English. What does Case
learn about Linda from Wintermute in this chapter? Wintermute seems to be
behaving like an old-fashioned melodrama villain: manipulating the protagonist
by endangering the woman he cares about. The girl in Case's cubicle is a "meat
puppet," a prostitute who has had her conscious mind artificially disconnected
from her body by a "neural cutout" so that she can carry out her duties on
"automatic pilot." Why was Molly so furious at Riviera's sadistic fantasy
performance? "Snuff" refers to film or performances involving the killing of
women for the sexual pleasure of sadists. Snuff films have a long-standing
status as an urban legend--nobody has ever found an authentic commercial
example--but they are commonly cited as the quintessence of pornography. So
Molly's boss was planning to have her killed. Why did she kill the Senator? This
story makes clear what Molly has to gain by remaining an outlaw. What is Molly's
theory about how Wintermute is manipulating her?
Why has Gibson invented the term "nighted"? "Le Monde" is French for "The
World." "Old money" means wealth combined with social status in old families
such as the Rockefellers. "Old credit" would be mean the same in a culture where
physical money no longer has a function. Remember that Case is using the name
"Lupus" now. Origami
(traditional Japanese paper-folding) cranes have come to be symbols of peace
because of their association with the anti-nuclear bomb campaigns in Japan. What
do you think is the significance of Cathy's crane? Examine the metaphors in the
paragraph describe the Case's sensations when the drug hits; can you see any
pattern in them? What do they have in common? Why is the zodiac on Freeside
referred to as a "loser's" zodiac? Cath had hoped to seduce Case with this drug.
What goes wrong with her plan? What is Case's attitude toward his anger the next
morning? "Turing"="Turing police," defined above.
Part Four: The Straylight Run
Case learns for the first time what his real mission is, from the police.
What is it? "Good cop/bad cop" is a familiar routine in which one interrogator
is angry and threatening while the other feigns sympathy. The suspect is meant
to shrink from the first into the "protective" arms of the other and reveal his
or her guilt. The "Recording Angel" is a mythical being who records all deeds
good and bad to decide who makes it into heaven. Case's surgical implant
procedure, evidently designed by Wintermute, was so innovative it enabled the
illegal clinic in Chiba City to capitalize on the knowledge involved to get
rich. How has this fact led to Case's arrest? Why does Michèle say that Case has
no "care" for his species? Why will it be difficult for Sense/Net to protest the
destruction of the Dixie Flatline construct? Since both the pilot of the biplane
and the gardening robot have struck, to whom is Case speaking in the last lines
of this chapter?
[ Top ]
When Case loads the Chinese icebreaker software, Dixie Flatline observes from
outside it that it appears invisible--reassuring for the team. Dixie's
description of the way the virus works is a well-written example of SF
pseudo-science talk: a set of metaphors that make a kind of sense without any
real technical explanation. When Case finds himself facing what appears to be
the Finn back in Metro Holografix, who is he really talking to? For the
reference to the burning bush, see Exodus 3:2-6. An old philosophical puzzle
asks, "If a tree falls in the forest where there's no one to hear it, does it
make a sound?" How is Wintermute able to recreate people and places Case knows?
In what sense is the imaginary vacuum tube part of Wintermute's DNA? What threat
does Wintermute claim to want to protect humanity from? A "folly" is the sort of
fantastic architectural construction built in late 18th-century England to
suggest medieval or classical ruins. The explanation given by the jeweled head
of the Villa Starlight is another example of an "info-dump." What is the source
of this one? "Semiotics" here refers to the meaning of the patterns of the
Villa. Why does Wintermute need the team to penetrate past the head?
Wintermute's last speech is highly ambiguous. Can you puzzle a meaning out of
it? In Exodus Chapter 3, God speaks to Moses from within a burning bush.
The meeting with Wintermute this time "killed" Case temporarily. When he
reestablishes simstim contact with Molly, Wintermute informs her of the
connection on her implanted ocular display which normally acts as a digital
clock. This trick is what she reacts to when she says "Cute." The words in ALL
CAPS in the rest of this chapter are similar displays. Molly uses her tongue to
flip a control in her mouth that switches her vision from perceiving normal
light to some kind of substitute which works in the dark. What is a "stash " as
Molly defines it? Molly's story about Johnny reveals that she and Case have
something important in common. What is it? Why do you think the ordinarily very
private Molly is telling him this story? "Fancy dress" is British for costumes
of the sort one would wear to a costume party. Note how compact discs, invented
shortly before this novel was written, are treated here as antique technology.
The combination of hypodermic and spoon indicates heroin use. The heroin is
melted over heat in the spoon, then injected via the hypodermic needle. What is
the symbolism involved in the rerouting of Molly's tearducts? The Egyptian
Pharaohs had their servants killed and buried with them. Ashpool has been in a
sort of suspended animation for the last thirty years, forever on the brink of
death but never dying, an idea that was earlier explored in Philip K. Dick's
brilliant novel Ubik. What does Case see in the face of the dead
3Jane? (It turns out later that this is not the real 3Jane, by the way.) What is
suggested by the fact that a fiberoptic cable is connected to her neck? The
theme of a rich, self-indulgent family, fallen into decadent madness, is a
cliché of popular fiction, and can be found in Gibson's model, Raymond Chandler.
What does Molly like about her relationship with Case? His computer completes
the search Case had directed it to make for the name "General Girling" and the
result is displayed by Dixie Flatline on Molly's optic implant since Case is
jacked into her brain at present. Since the display is not very wide, only a few
letters can be shown at a time. The crazed Armitage is trying to order the
Rastas around, but they refuse because this is a "Babylon war"--a struggle
involving outsiders, not really their concern. "Rude boy" is rasta slang for a
tough gang member. Maelcom boasts that he is tough enough to defy the Zionite
leaders and stay with Case. "Rocksteady"
is one variety of Jamaican pop music, a predecessor to reggae. We learn why
Riviera was important, to seduce 3Jane into giving up some of the secrets of how
to penetrate Straylight to Armitage/Corto. When the latter next shows up, he has
flipped back into the past, into the ill-fated "Screaming Fist" run. Why is Case
so upset about Armitage falling apart? The maddened Armitage/Corto has not only
killed a man in order to destroy one of the computers being used on the run, but
he has set the escape pod that he is in to separate from the ship without
closing its seals; he imagines he is escaping Russia for Finland, but in fact he
is hurled into the vacuum of space.
[ Top ]
What makes the Tessier-Ashpool corporation more vulnerable than the
zaibatsus? Who is ultimately behind the deaths of Armitage and
Ashpool? What motivates Dixie Flatline to work for Wintermute? The way the books
in the Straylight library are described suggests that books are antique
rarities. The Dada artist Marcel Duchamp created a large sculpture out of glass
and paint depicting some chocolate-grinding machinery and molds and gave it the
characteristically surrealistic title "La mariée mis à nu par ses
célibataires, même" -- The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,
Even. The object was badly cracked when it was being moved early in its
history, and the lines of the shards have become a familiar part of the work of
art. Knowing how Molly hates Riviera, her message to him to be delivered by Case
is ominous. Why would spacial disorientation hold a peculiar horror for cowboys?
Run Run Shaw owned one of the busiest film studios in the world in Hong Kong,
churning out hundreds of martial arts films for distribution throughout Asia. Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood are pioneering
"bad-ass heroes" of action movies East and West, respectively. Riviera encases
Molly's hands in a variation of old paper "Chinese handcuffs": the more you
struggle, the tighter you're trapped. As in classic hardboiled detective fiction
(like The Maltese Falcon) , the lines of alliance are constantly
shifting, and you never know whom you can trust. Cray manufactures the world's most popular
supercomputers. Using their brand name for a little commonplace monitor raises
the ante on the technology. Molly reveals that she had her own agenda when she
killed Hideo and tried to kill Riviera. Why has Riviera decided to ally himself
with 3Jane against the team? Chairman Mao Tse Tung's most famous
saying was "Power comes out of the barrel of a gun." How did Riviera prevent
Molly from really killing the two men at the pool?
With Molly crippled, Case and Maelcum have to penetrate Villa Straylight
themselves to complete the mission, and to rescue her. How do the life-support
systems of the Villa Straylight symbolize the role of the corporation itself?
What does "decanted" usually mean? (Look it up.) What does it mean when 3Jane
says "I was decanted?" Why does she use the present tense when she says "He
strangles her in bed?" 3Jane's mother's idea of blending the family with
artificial intelligences to achieve a sort of immortality is an old SF theme.
3Jane reveals an important fact about the AIs, which holds the key to the novel:
Wintermute is only one of two AIs. When Molly abruptly sees her mutilated face,
it is of course Peter taunting her again.
When Case next jacks in, he is sent by Neuromancer back to Lady Marie-France
Tessier's recorded memory of a summer in Morocco, where she isolated herself in
the bunker that Case moves into with the simulacrum of Linda Lee. Japanese Zen
gardens consist of a few well-placed rocks and sand raked in elaborate patterns.
Case discovers that the AI manipulating him at the moment is not Wintermute; it
is the other one. What is the point of Case's complaint about the food? The tan
Case has acquired on Freeside is an expensive luxury. What is Linda's reaction
to it? When Case feels himself drawn down to the "meat" level by the projection
of Linda Lee, he defines the latter in terms of information: spiral DNA
molecules and pheromones, molecules which convey messages through smell. His
seduction from the world of the Net down into the flesh is highly ironic, of
[ Top ]
"Event horizon" refers to the border of a black hole and is used here to
refer to the limit of the illusion the AI has constructed. It was widely
believed in ancient times that you could only summon up and control a spirit
whose secret name you had learned. There is a famous scene in Goethe's Faust in which the
protagonist tries and fails to identify the demon Mephistopheles. The name
"Neuromancer" is a variation on "necromancer," a magician dealing in evil
spirits and death ("neuro"=nerves, artificial intelligence, "mancer"=magician).
"Romancer" is yet another pun.
The Coriolis force, which causes movement to deviate slightly from a straight
line on rotating bodies (like the Earth) is exaggerated in the rapidly spinning
spindle. Case thinks 3Jane may spare Molly because he has experienced the
latter's attraction to her through the simstim rig. A ROM construct would be
fixed, whereas RAM is indefinitely expandable. Why does Riviera's blinding of
Hideo fail to defeat him? How has Molly gotten her revenge on Riviera? In an
electronic world, old-fashioned mechanical locks are unexpected obstacles.
In what ways is Neuromancer different from Wintermute? How are the dwarfs'
quarters in the palace of the Duke of Mantua like the Villa Straylight for the
Tessier-Ashpools? Case needs to energize himself with hate to succeed in
breaking through the final barriers. Whom does he hate? Again the Jamaican "dub"
music welcomes him back to Freelight.
Coda (Chapter 24)
Why does Molly leave Case? The shuriken, so prominent throughout the novel,
was never used. What does Case think it symbolizes? Why did Wintermute want to
fuse with Neuromancer? What does this metaphor represent: "a series of warm
blinks strung along a chain of winter"? Alpha
Centauri is the nearest star to Earth. So what does it mean that
Wintermute/Neuromancer has found recorded evidence of another AI there? Michael
or Mikal is not a really rare name for a woman; so it's difficult to know if we
are supposed to read anything into the name. Constructs of Case, Riviera and
Linda will exist forever in the AI's mind. Why do you think male authors so
frequently imagine highly desirable but dangerous women like Molly who get
devastatingly involved with their protagonists and then leave?
Notes by Paul Brians, Department of English,
Washington State University, Pullman 99164-5020.
First mounted May 1994.
Version of January 23, 2003.
Thanks to Timothy Larreau for suggesting links.
[ Top ]