Because when you listen to enough Vex'd and Boxcutter, you start to get curious, y'know?

Obv slightly redundant to read this for the first time in 2011, when so much of what is described in the book has now become reality. Also unfair to fixate on what Gibson got right or wrong, although I did a lot of this as I was reading. For example, Case's 'Fall' from the 'the bodiless exultation of cyberspace' into the 'prison of his own flesh', while overly apocalyptic, did capture some of my own dissatisfaction when I jack out of my computer. I mean, surfing the webz is hardly a blissful rapturous out-of-body experience, but it is a kind of hungry addiction -- the dogged, sometimes desperate search for distractions, cravings, new stimuli. Withdrawal becomes less about missing the highs, as realizing how insignificant and worthless they were. I don't develop a death-wish when I'm away from my console, in other words, rather a regret at the hours stolen away by the machine.

Gibson also noticed the way computers could make you see reality differently: 'the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market'. I've done this myself, although mostly through the frame of videogames. I've often felt the horror of realizing that, unlike an FPS, I cannot just reload a savegame of my life and redo that terrible decision I made a couple of hours ago. I've also come across people who have described the way they perceive their personalities and behaviour through the lens of RPGs (altho never in such simple terms as "I'm lawful neutral, is she chaotic good?"), or who understand politics through the resource management of strategy games.

Anyway enough about me and my personal problems. What is perhaps the most interesting part of the novel is Gibson's allusive discussion of AI. Wintermute (as the Finn) tells Case that the 'holographic paradigm' is the closest humans have got to 'a representation of human memory', and that 'artists' specialize in such representation. However, they are not good enough at it. We're 'always building models', but now we have the chance to build the real thing. Gibson links together memory, consciousness and the need to represent it as the fundamental drives behind invention, a process that will culminate in the creation of AI.

The plot of the novel is shaped by Wintermute's attempt to fuse with another AI and acquire the ability to form its own personality. Wintermute is all intelligence, no soul (the left brain w/o a right). Neuromancer ('Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead') is able to store personalities and build worlds, but has no interest in what is outside itself. The book takes this name because it is also a vessel containing artificially created personalities in an artificially created world. It's one example of the human capacity to imagine -- to imperfectly represent the memories stored in our consciousness.

There is another aspect to this unfolding. These two AIs are owned by a reclusive family that control a multinational corporation, their power making them both more and less human: a hive which clones and freezes its members for when they are needed. Their aim is immortality -- 'a gradual and willing accommodation of the machine'. One of the members of this family realize that such an existence is a sham, forever unsuitable for human life. She gives Wintermute the urge to merge with Neuromancer and to destroy / take over the hive the family have created. But when this happens, the two AIs become something else: the sum total of the whole show -- all possible forms of human consciousness. Unsatisfied, the go off in search of other AIs, and leave humanity to themselves.

Case is called out of Neuromancer's matrix / heaven by music: 'Maelcum's Zion dub'. The matrix is described as being 'like city lights, receding' -- a system too intricate to be comprehended, always out of reach. The book ends by evoking the simple sensations of food, sex, sleep, the darkness of 'pulse and blood', the 'long pulse of Zion dub'. Music being non-representational, it's used by Gibson to suggest pleasures of immediate sensory experience: the life beyond cyberspace or novels -- the baseline animal-self we all start off from. My sense is that the book, as opposed to heralding the advent of a higher form of consciousness, is actually trying to vindicate and celebrate this more simple form of life. As Case tells the flickering screen at the end: 'I don't need you'.

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