Neuromancer  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Neuromancer is a 1984 novel by William Gibson, notable for being the most famous early cyberpunk novel and winner of the so-called science-fiction "triple crown". It was Gibson's first novel and the first of the Sprawl trilogy. The title seems to be a play on words based on its close resemblance to Necromancer, a person who receives divinations from disembodied spirits.

Neuromancer tells the story of Case, an out-of-work computer hacker hired by a mysterious patron to participate in a seemingly impossible crime. The novel examines the concepts of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, genetic engineering, multinational corporations overpowering the traditional nation-state and cyberspace long before these ideas became fashionable in popular culture including the internet itself.

Gibson also explores the dehumanizing effects of a world dominated by ubiquitous and cheap technology, writing of a future where violence and the free market are the only things upon which one may rely, and in which the dystopian elements of society are counterbalanced by an energy and diversity that is perversely attractive.

Plot

Henry Dorsett Case is a low-level hustler in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan. Once a talented computer hacker, Case was caught stealing from his employer. As punishment for his theft, Case's central nervous system was damaged with a mycotoxin, leaving him unable to access the global computer network in cyberspace, a virtual reality dataspace called the "matrix". Case is unemployable, suicidal, and apparently at the top of the hit list of a drug lord named Wage. Case is saved by Molly Millions, an augmented "street samurai" and mercenary for a shadowy US ex-military officer named Armitage, who offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case jumps at the chance to regain his life as a "console cowboy," but neither Case nor Molly knows what Armitage is really planning. Case's nervous system is repaired using new technology that Armitage offers the clinic as payment, but he soon learns from Armitage that sacs of the poison that first crippled him have been placed in his blood vessels as well. Armitage promises Case that if he completes his work in time, the sacs will be removed; otherwise they will dissolve, disabling him again. He also has Case's pancreas replaced and new tissue grafted into his liver, leaving Case incapable of metabolizing cocaine or amphetamines and apparently ending his drug addiction.

[[File:Neuromancer Brazilian cover.jpg|thumb|left|Cover of a Brazilian edition, depicting the character of "razorgirl" Molly Millions]] Case develops a close personal relationship with Molly, who suggests that he begin looking into Armitage's background. Meanwhile, Armitage assigns them their first job: they must steal a ROM module that contains the saved consciousness of one of Case's mentors, legendary cyber-cowboy McCoy Pauley, nicknamed "Dixie Flatline." Armitage needs Pauley's hacking expertise, and the ROM construct is stored in the corporate headquarters of media conglomerate Sense/Net. A street gang named the "Panther Moderns" is hired to create a simulated terrorist attack on Sense/Net. The diversion allows Molly to penetrate the building and steal Dixie's ROM with Case unlocking the computer safeguards on the way in and out from within the matrix.

Case and Molly continue to investigate Armitage, discovering his former identity of Colonel Willis Corto. Corto was a member of "Operation Screaming Fist," which planned on infiltrating and disrupting Soviet computer systems from ultralight aircraft dropped over Russia. The Russian military had learned of the idea and installed defenses to render the attack impossible, but the military went ahead with Screaming Fist, with a new secret purpose of testing these Russian defenses. As his team attacked a Soviet computer center, EMP weapons shut down their computers and flight systems, and Corto and his men were targeted by Soviet laser defenses. He and a few survivors commandeered a Soviet military helicopter and escaped over the heavily guarded Finnish border. The helicopter was shot down by Finnish defense forces mistaking it for a hostile aircraft, and everyone aboard was killed except for Corto, who was seriously wounded and disfigured. After some months in the hospital, Corto was visited by a US government official, who returned him to the United States to receive computer-aided psychotherapy and reconstructive surgery and to be able to provide what he came to realize was false testimony, designed to mislead the public and protect the senior military officers who had covered up knowledge of the EMP weapons. After the trials, Corto snapped, killing the official who had first contacted him and then disappearing into the criminal underworld, becoming Armitage.

In Istanbul, the team recruits Peter Riviera, an artist, thief, and drug addict who is able to project detailed holographic illusions with the aid of sophisticated cybernetic implants. Although Riviera is a sociopath, Armitage coerces him into joining the team. The trail leads Case and Molly to Wintermute, a powerful artificial intelligence created by the Tessier-Ashpool family. The Tessier-Ashpools spend most of their inactive time in cryonic preservation in a labyrinthine mansion known as Villa Straylight, located at one end of Freeside, a cylindrical space habitat at L5, which functions primarily as a Las Vegas-style space resort for the wealthy.

Wintermute finally reveals itself to Case through a simulated personality of one of Case's associates as it lacks the ability to form its own personality. Wintermute explains that it is one-half of a super-AI entity planned by the family, although its exact purpose is unknown. The Turing Law Code governing AIs bans the construction of such entities; to get around this, it had to be built as two separate AIs. Wintermute (housed in a computer mainframe in Berne, Switzerland) was programmed by the Tessier-Ashpools with a need to merge with its other half, Neuromancer (whose physical mainframe is installed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). Unable to achieve this merger on its own, Wintermute recruited Armitage and his team to help complete the goal. Case is tasked with entering cyberspace to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a powerful icebreaker program. At the same time, Riviera is to obtain the password to the Turing lock from Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, an unfrozen daughter clone and the current CEO of the family's corporation, Tessier-Ashpool SA. Wintermute believes Riviera will pose an irresistible temptation to her, and that she will give him the password. The password must be spoken into an ornate computer terminal located in Villa Straylight, and entered simultaneously as Case pierces the software barriers in cyberspace—otherwise the Turing lock will remain intact.

Armitage's team attracts the attention of the Turing Police, whose job is to prevent AIs from exceeding their built-in limitations. As Molly and Riviera gain entrance to Villa Straylight, three Turing officers arrest Case and take him into custody; Wintermute manipulates the orbital casino's security and maintenance systems and kills the officers, allowing Case to escape. Armitage's personality starts to disintegrate and revert to the Corto personality as he relives Screaming Fist. It is revealed that Wintermute had originally contacted Corto through a bedside computer during his original psychotherapy, eventually convincing Corto that he was Armitage. Wintermute used him to persuade Case and Molly to help it merge with its twin AI, Neuromancer. Finally, Corto breaks through the remains of the Armitage personality, but he is uncontrollable, and Wintermute kills him by ejecting him through an airlock into space.

Inside Villa Straylight, Riviera meets Lady 3Jane and tries to stop the mission, helping Lady 3Jane and Hideo, her ninja bodyguard, to capture Molly. Worried about Molly and operating under orders from Wintermute, Case tracks her down with help from Maelcum, his Rastafarian pilot. After reaching Villa Straylight, Case uses a computer inside the compound to enter cyberspace where Neuromancer attempts to trap Case within a simulated reality. There he finds the consciousness of Linda Lee, his girlfriend from Chiba City, who was murdered by one of Case's underworld contacts. He also meets Neuromancer who takes the form of a young boy. Unlike Wintermute, Neuromancer is able to create its own personality and identity. Neuromancer tries to convince Case to give up and remain in the virtual world with Linda, but Case refuses. He escapes, partly because Maelcum gives his body an overdose of a drug that can bypass his augmented liver and pancreas.

With Wintermute guiding them, Case goes with Maelcum to confront Lady 3Jane, Riviera, and Hideo. Riviera tries to kill Case, but Lady 3Jane is sympathetic towards Case and Molly, and Hideo protects him. Riviera blinds Hideo with a concentrated laser pulse from his projector implant, but flees when he learns that the ninja is just as adept without his sight. Molly then explains to Case that Riviera is doomed anyway, as he has been fatally poisoned by his drugs, which she had spiked with a lethal toxin to ensure he would never survive the mission, regardless of the outcome. With Lady 3Jane in possession of the password, the team makes it to the computer terminal. Case enters cyberspace to guide the icebreaker to penetrate its target; Lady 3Jane is induced to give up her password, and the lock is opened. Wintermute unites with Neuromancer, fusing into a superconsciousness. The poison in Case's bloodstream is washed out, and he, Molly, and Maelcum are profusely paid for their efforts, while Pauley's ROM construct is apparently erased, at his own request.

In the epilogue, Molly leaves Case. Case finds a new girlfriend, resumes his hacking work, and spends his earnings from the mission replacing his internal organs. Wintermute/Neuromancer contacts him, saying that it has become "the sum total of the works, the whole show," and has begun looking for other AIs like itself. Scanning old recorded transmissions from the 1970s, the super-AI finds an AI transmitting from the Alpha Centauri star system.

In the end, while logged into the matrix, Case catches a glimpse of Neuromancer standing in the distance with his dead girlfriend Linda Lee, and himself. Neuromancer appears as a smiling boy, Linda waves, and Case hears inhuman laughter (a trait associated with Pauley during Case's work with his ROM construct). This suggests that Pauley was not erased after all, but instead transformed and exists in the matrix. The implication of the sighting is that Neuromancer created a copy of Case's consciousness. The copy of Case's consciousness now exists with that of Linda's and Pauley's, in the matrix. As promised there has been change, but what that change means is left ambiguous.

See also




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