Cyberpunk as a genre is really a product of the 80s. The decade was a boom of technological advancements. Computers made their way into the home, synthesizers became commonplace in music. And it seemed the marriage between man and machine was reaching a new level.
It was in this zeitgeist that Neuromancer was born. Neuromancer was something in fiction that hadn’t been really explored before. The setting was grungy but futuristic. Technology was all over the place, almost to the point humanity had become engaged in an even closer relationship with it than ever before.
Neuromancer was cyberpunk manifested. It was the book that cemented what the cyberpunk aesthetic is all about. It effortlessly mixes sci-fi and noir in a way that makes it all feel believable and possible. And the further we see technology today developing, the more real it seems.
Neuromancer wasn’t Gibson’s first foray into the genre, however. He had already explored similar themes with the short stories “Burning Chrome” and “Johnny Mnemonic”. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say these short stories laid the foundations for Neuromancer. Heck, it even feels like they roughly take place in the same setting.
Sky The Colour Of Television
The novel follows Henry Dorsett Case. A former hacker who was rendered unable to interact with the Matrix. He now lives a pretty meaningless existence. Addicted to drugs and contemplating suicide, he has hit rock bottom in many ways.
The Matrix is essentially a version of the internet. Since the novel was written in 1983, the Internet didn’t really exist yet. In the novel, the Matrix is essentially described as cyberspace. A plane of existence that exists solely in the computer realm, where its building blocks are made of code and electric signals.
He is saved by Molly Millions, a street samurai who works for the ex-military officer Armitage. Armitage offers Case a way to get his old life back by restoring his ability to interact with the Matrix. He also renders Case free of his drug addiction in the process.
What follows is a story that’s rife with all the tropes that are now so idiosyncratic of cyberpunk. You have AIs, a ROM chip containing a person’s consciousness, and body modification galore.
As much as the book deals with the sometimes cold subject of technology, it is also surprisingly poetic about it. Gibson’s book is as much of an homage to the idea of cyberpunk as it is also a warning about the future he describes. But as is typical with cyberpunk, it is difficult not to fall in love with the idea.
The Game Adaption
The book was later adapted into a game. This was not the only adaption of the book, but it remains the most notable. Because of the book’s themes, it feels fitting. The game allows you to explore the setting yourself in a different way than the book allows.
Neuromancer was released in 1988 for Amiga, Apple II, Apple II GS, Commodore 64, and MS-DOS. I’ve only played the C64 version since I love the C64 sound chip. As far as I know, the MS-DOS version only uses the PC speaker. Considering the game’s music is based on “Some Things Never Change” by Devo, I’d rather have it rendered by the superior sound chip.
That being said the version offering the best visuals and sound is probably the Amiga version. In 1988 the Amiga had the best graphics fidelity of all the systems. And possibly the best sound as well. So that’s probably the version you should seek out if you wish to get the best experience.
An Intriguing Adaption
The game takes place in two distinct settings. The real world is depicted as a traditional point-and-click adventure game, similar to Sierra’s adventure games of the time. This is where a lot of the game takes place.
Though another aspect of the game is cyberspace. When you gain access to it, this is where a large chunk of the game’s combat takes place. It is also where you’ll gain important information to advance the game’s plot.
This mix of genres made Neuromancer stand out at the time. It reviewed favorably at the time, though has yet to see a digital re-release. It is still unknown whether anyone will re-release the game, though we can only hope. If you’re a fan of the book, I would recommend checking it out, despite being only loosely based on it.
Cultural Influence And Legacy
Neuromancer had a profound influence on pop culture in the 80s. While it wasn’t a direct influence on Blade Runner, which was instead based on a work by the equally influential writer Philip K. Dick, it’s not entirely far-fetched to imagine Neuromancer and Blade Runner took place in the same universe. Although Blade Runner obviously focuses more on exploring human souls in machines than themes of transhumanism.
It obviously influenced the Cyberpunk 2020 TTRPG and had a huge influence on Shadowrun. Both RPGs have cited Gibson as an influence, and it’s very obvious these RPG settings draw a lot from Neuromancer. So when we dive into Cyberpunk 2077, there is little doubt that Neuromancer’s DNA still runs through its code.
Neuromancer’s impact lasted into the 90s. Terms such as cyberspace ended up becoming synonymous with the emerging internet phenomenon. And movies as Johnny Mnemonic perfectly pictured the setting Gibson had established, even if it was not directly based on Neuromancer.
The most notable influence can be seen in The Matrix. The title itself was derived from Gibson’s term in the book. And it also featured similar themes of transhumanism and cyberspace, albeit in a more bleak setting.
The book itself has yet to receive a movie adaption, however. Despite its cultural significance, any attempted film projects haven’t been successful. Hopefully, that will change and we will someday see the story being told on the silver screen.
Neuromancer and Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077 would probably not exist without Neuromancer and the Sprawl trilogy of books. So if you want to get into the mood for the game coming out on December 10th, you should definitely read these books. The themes of body modification, cyberspace, AIs, and so on are definitely carried on into Cyberpunk 2077.
Neuromancer also wasn’t the only book Gibson wrote in this setting. As mentioned, it was part of a trilogy, dubbed the Sprawl trilogy. He continued in 1986 with the novel Count Zero. It was later followed by Mona Lisa Overdrive in 1988. Both of these novels are essential reading if you enjoy Neuromancer.
As we prepare for the release of Cyberpunk 2077, one of the biggest games in the genre to be released, what better way to get in the mood than to go back to where it all started. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Use the full quote, makes actual sense.