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The Technology of Neuromancer After 25 Years

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the where-were-you-when-it-came-out dept.

Sci-Fi 203

William Gibson's Neuromancer was first published 25 years ago. Dr_Ken writes with an excerpt from an article at MacWorld that delves into the current state of some of the technology that drives the book: "'Neuromancer is important because of its astounding predictive power. Gibson's core idea in the novel is the direct integration of man and computer, with all the possibilities (and horrors) that such a union entails. The book eventually sold more than 160 million copies, but bringing the book to popular attention took a long time and a lot of word-of-mouth. The sci-fi community, however, was acutely aware of the novel's importance when it came out: Neuromancer ran the table on sci-fi's big three awards in 1984, winning the Hugo Award, the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, and the Nebula Award.'"

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The Theme (2, Interesting)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585799)

Gibson's core idea in the novel is the direct integration of man and computer, with all the possibilities (and horrors) that such a union entails

It's been a few months since I read it but I remember the humans staying human all the way to the end.

Re:The Theme (2)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585919)

It's been a few months since I read it but I remember the humans staying human all the way to the end.

And I seem to remember quite a few characters going insane, some quietly, some in a more bugfuck manner. Not always 'integration' to blame, but there was futsie (future shock, fellow thrill lovers) all over that book.

Re:The Theme (2, Interesting)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586567)

Gibson's core idea in the novel is the direct integration of man and computer, with all the possibilities (and horrors) that such a union entails

It's been a few months since I read it but I remember the humans staying human all the way to the end.

They weren't human to begin with. Not a one of them, except, perhaps, the Finn and Maelcum.

Case, Molly, Armitage, Riviera, 3jane, Dixie Flatline - not a human in the bunch, all of them creatures - monsters - of the Information Age dystopia Gibson envisioned.

It was kind of the point of the book.

Re:The Theme (4, Insightful)

Yokaze (70883) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586973)

I have a quite contrary view on that. They were all human, and to some degree even the AIs (to an increasing degree over the series of books). They weren't monsters, merely products of their culture.
On the matter of distopia, let see what Gibson has to say on that himself [io9.com] :

None of us ever live in dystopia. That's an imaginary extreme. They just live in shitty cultures. And these societies [in my books] seem dystopian to middle class white people in North America. They don't seem dystopian if you live in Rio or anywhere in Africa. Most people in Africa would happily immigrate to the Sprawl. [...]

I think, you can safely say this over the characters, too. Their behaviour and personality simply reflect the situation they live in. Being a drug dealer and -(ab)users, asocial and delusional is hardly desirable but far from seldom among human, as can be observed in the slums of the large cities around the world.

Re:The Theme (2, Interesting)

SoupIsGood Food (1179) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587193)

No, I mean they really weren't human. They are fully realized and empathetic characters, but they really, really weren't like you or I. Their existence was so intertwined with technology, they did not have the same perspective or motivations that ordinary humans do. (Which is a major theme in the book - humans transformed into something else by their circumstances.)

And yes, they were monsters - murderous and dangerous - and made that way by their integration with technology even more than their economic circumstance and amorality.

Armitage's personality was by default artificial, Riviera used his technology to indulge his sadistic whims, Molly was used to murder people for sexual gratification while her mind was asleep, Case felt crippled and desperate when he couldn't use his communion with the machine to rob, steal or destroy, Dixie was alive without a body, a virtual soul to be used as a tool in his digital afterlife, and 3jane was downright alien in her decadence. These are some seriously frightening individuals in seriously scary circumstances.

This is what makes the book awesome, tho, so it's not a complaint or condemnation.

Amazon, here I come! (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28585803)

This looks like something I ought to buy. Also, this is my first first post ever!

Re:Amazon, here I come! (4, Funny)

mihalis (28146) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586033)

This looks like something I ought to buy.

If you want to follow the spirit of the book, find a copy of the text illegally on-line and download it to your phone!

Also, this is my first first post ever!

Welcome!

Re:Amazon, here I come! (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586167)

If you want to follow the spirit of the book, find a copy of the text illegally on-line and download it to your phone!

Don't do that!!! [lib.ru]

Re:Amazon, here I come! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586621)

As an old hand hereabouts, fuckoff.

Also, only dummies say "first first". You a stuttering dummy?

Re:Amazon, here I come! (2, Interesting)

Steve Franklin (142698) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586949)

[[NOTICE: THIS IS NOT FLAMEBAIT--at least it isn't meant to be]]

Actually, about all I remember about this novel other than the space station is that it was incredibly boring all the way to the even more boring space station sequence at the end: Gee, let's describe a trip on a miniature railroad in even more detail than Zelazny's descriptions of hellrides. Yes, it may have been prescient. But could it not have been readable too? Sorry, but I grew up reading Asimov, and enjoyed it, though he wasn't half as prescient. SF is escapist fiction with a little futuristic science thrown in. It's not supposed to be Scientific American Time Travel Edition. Oh well, mod me down if you wish.

Re:Amazon, here I come! (1)

k_187 (61692) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587049)

You know, I agree with you. For all the cool stuff he came up with, Neuromancer just isn't that good of a book. Its important for what it started, but there are better later examples of the cyberpunk motif.

160 million copies!? (4, Informative)

trawg (308495) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585809)

160 million sounds like.... a lot.

BBC tells me [wikipedia.org] Da Vinci code sold 30 million (back in 2006). Wikipedia refers me to this article [reviewcanada.ca] from 2006 which says Neuromancer sold around 6.5 million copies - which seems a bit more believable.

Re:160 million copies!? (5, Funny)

JackSpratts (660957) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585817)

it sold 160 million copies, by the year 6010. it was in the footnotes.

Re:160 million copies!? (2, Informative)

downix (84795) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585853)

You do realize that is 6.5 million copies... in Canada, right?

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

trawg (308495) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585871)

Yeh, I wasn't sure about that, but compared to Da Vinci code (woops, I linked the wrong page in my first post, meant to link this BBC article [bbc.co.uk] it didn't sound that unreasonable that 6.5 million was the world total, given 30 million was Da Vinci code, and I would have said that would have massssiiiveeellyyy outsold Neuromancer, even given the massively different amount of time they've been made available. I'd love to be proven wrong though.

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

downix (84795) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585921)

I've heard reports of 2 million copies of the audiobook, but otherwise, no hard data. Neuromancer has been published in so many countries by so many companies, making an accurate count for copies published might be difficult.

Re:160 million copies!? (1, Informative)

LS (57954) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585889)

you realize there are only 33 million people in canada right? If 6.5 million copies were sold in canada, that means 1 out of 5 people read neuromancer. Does that sound right?

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

downix (84795) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585929)

Yes, that did occur to me. It's a hard # to track down, and I would lean more to 6.5 than 150, unless you count torrents.

Minus 8-9 million people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586823)

I think you are being optimistic with that 33 million because Quebec is 8 or 9 million people and its 90% french speaking.

So that's 6.5 million sold outof a potential basin of about 25million.

Since its not about hockey, I would venture that number to be wrong. Very wrong.

Re:160 million copies!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28585911)

If wikipedia can be trusted, that's 6.5 million sales worldwide [wikipedia.org] . That sounds a whole hell of a lot more reasonable than 160 million. For comparison's sake, it is estimated that Stephen King has sold 300-350 million copies of everything he's written. [wikipedia.org]

Re:160 million copies!? (3, Interesting)

charlie (1328) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585925)

Note that any sales figure a major English language publishing house discloses will be inflated by between 50% and 300%. This is standard practice -- everybody does it, so if you don't do it, everybody will assume that you're exaggerating your sales anyway and discount the figure accordingly. Stupid, but that's the way the business works. Even if you assume the 6.5 million worldwide sales figures is exaggerated by a factor of three, that's hugely impressive -- an SF novel that sells 10,000 hardcover and 50,000 paperback in the US is doing really well (and you can triple that figure to get an estimate of the worldwide sales).

Re:160 million copies!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28585939)

Oh, no doubt. I'd even be inclined to believe 16 million sales of Neuromancer. But there's no way in hell it sold 160 million.

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586643)

I wonder if the publishers take into account the libraries that are buying 3+ copies of "popular" books (Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, the Stephanie Plum mysteries...) to meet initial demand. The ALA [ala.org] estimates over 100k libraries in the US, although it doesn't give numbers as to how many of those are specialized. Assume half are in universities or otherwise disinclined to buy popular fiction, and that's still 150k copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone bought and sitting on a shelf somewhere, and no real indication of the number of people who read them. I wouldn't be surprised if (an admittedly small) part of the inflation appearing in publisher numbers is because of the library phenomenon.

Then again, they could just be trying to look good.

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

temojen (678985) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586835)

They're probably counting how many were sold to their customers (the big chains and distributors), not sold to readers. They're probably also not un-counting the ones that end up as remainders.

Re:160 million copies!? (4, Interesting)

charlie (1328) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585907)

Terry Pratchett's total career sales track is around 66 million books. Steven King sold somewhere upwards of 100 million, total. J. K. Rowling is around the 70-120 million mark, worldwide. I call bullshit, by at least one (and probably two) orders of magnitude.

Re:160 million copies!? (4, Informative)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585969)

Yeah, to be honest, a lot of this article is basically bullshit.

What Gibson introduced was the idea of a global network of millions of computers, which he described in astonishing detail--though the World Wide Web, as we know it today, was still more than a decade away

Such global networks featured in the fiction of Heinlein, Asimov and plenty of others before Neuromancer was published. Plenty of authors predicted the growth and utility of world wide computer networks, although none (including Gibson) grasped the full implications of this. And basically, everyone here was copying the ideas of Vannevar Bush, anyway.

But Gibson took the World Wide Web much further. By introducing the concept of cyberspace, he made the Web a habitable place, with all the world's data stores represented as visual, even palpable, structures arranged in an endless matrix.

Gibson didn't "introduce the concept of cyberspace". He may have invented the name that eventually became associated with it, but the idea of a visual 3D interface to computer networks was old by the time Neuromancer was published. Hell, the film Tron was highly popular 6 years beforehand, and basically involved almost exactly the same concepts: a three dimensional world in which a person can interact on a physical level with the virtual components of a software system. Sure, the way the world is presented is different, but the idea is basically the same. And Bruce Sterling was writing stuff _extremely_ similar to Gibson's work a few years ahead of him.

This article is basically placing Neuromancer in a historical context that it does not warrant: it did not innovate these ideas.

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585979)

Replying to myself to correct an arithmetic error:

Hell, the film Tron was highly popular 6 years beforehand

I meant, of course, 3 years beforehand.

Re:160 million copies!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586299)

You're still off.

Tron was never highly popular.

Re:160 million copies!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586327)

hahahaha, nice trollin.

Re:160 million copies!? (5, Interesting)

g253 (855070) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586013)

You're absolutely right, a particular 1946 short story worth mentioning (and reading!) is Murray Leinster's "A Logic Named Joe" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Logic_Named_Joe [wikipedia.org]

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586477)

Great story - really enjoyed reading that - cheers! :-)

Re:160 million copies!? (2, Interesting)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586093)

And don't forget Philp K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", where people communed with animal spirits in a virtual world, and the lines between religion, mind, and reality became increasingly blurred. I highly recommend it to people who only ever say "Blade Runner" and have no idea of the very different story that it was connected with. Neuromancer was wonderful, and compelling, and intriguing. But it was nearly "Megabytes and sorcery" in the kind of magical spellcasting by mystical, incomprehensible beings who had to be channeled, rather than having to actually master definable rules about reality that is core to a lot of hard science fiction. I'm afraid that we're seeing a lot of stories on Slashdot lately that are "look, I just got to my sophomore year and read this cool story! I bet it's completely new!" And a bunch of us older, more soldering iron burned geeks are laughing, and hopefully remembering when we were so excited. Let's be nice to the youngsters, and help them see where this stuff really came from.

Re:160 million copies!? (3, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586287)

Such global networks featured in the fiction of Heinlein, Asimov and plenty of others before Neuromancer was published. Plenty of authors predicted the growth and utility of world wide computer networks, although none (including Gibson) grasped the full implications of this.

I think you're incorrect about Heinlein. If you look at his books [wikipedia.org] , the closest I think he comes is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in 1966. A big central computer on the moon becomes self-aware, and he can project a synthesized voice and image over a video phone network. He's also networked to a lot of stuff, and can, e.g., make toilets run backwards. However, it's really not depicted as anything at all resembling the internet. All he really did was take existing time-sharing systems (the Dartmouth time-sharing system started in 1964) and extrapolate to the case where the central computer was self-aware, and the network spread across the whole moon. The way humans use the network in the story is always as nothing more than a video phone network. There is only one computer, and nobody ever transfers any digital data other than video telephony. It's true that the network is described as global (meaning global on the moon), but it's really only depicted as a telephone network, and a global telephone network already existed in 1966. A global network of computers would have been an innovation, but Heinlein doesn't depict the existence of any other computers on the network.

Probably "A Logic Named Joe," by Murray Leinster, is the most relevant example that predates the actual internet.

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586711)

I think you're incorrect about Heinlein. If you look at his books, the closest I think he comes is The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress in 1966

While I haven't read it, I've seen recent reviews of Friday [wikipedia.org] that comment on how accurately it foretells the Internet as we have it today. It's not a central part of the book, but just part of the background of the world that it's set in. I've also seen suggestions that For Us, The Living [wikipedia.org] (which I also haven't read), while off in some admittedly important details (like the basic way the technology works) has a worldwide information network with a similar function to the modern Internet. Here [nielsenhayden.com] 's an interesting discussion on the subject.

Re:160 million copies!? (3, Informative)

mvdwege (243851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587097)

Meh. Friday is from 1982. How about 'The Shockwave Rider' by John Brunner? Written in 1975, with a global communications network as a central plot point, and the first literary description of the concept of a computer worm.

Really, here on Slashdot I'd expect people to know their classics.

Mart

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587069)

Heinlein came closer to the 'WWW' model in a couple of his later books, for instance, 'Time Enough For Love' (1973) where he wrote about massive computer systems actually running and managing a planetary government. He didn't predict almost universal access to that network, though. Most of Heinlein's 'computer systems' tend to be humoungus 'heavy metal', limited access, heavily centralised machines that wake up and become 'human' - Mike in 'Moon Is A Harsh Mistress', Teena in 'Time Enough For Love'. I don't include Minerva in this, as she 'took on a human body', downloaded herself into a human body.

But... (1)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586669)

Such global networks featured in the fiction of Heinlein, Asimov and plenty of others before Neuromancer was published. Plenty of authors predicted the growth and utility of world wide computer networks, although none (including Gibson) grasped the full implications of this. And basically, everyone here was copying the ideas of Vannevar Bush, anyway.

But... where does Al Gore fit in this!?

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

mvdwege (243851) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587125)

None grasped the implications? That's a bit strong. I think John Brunner did a very good job in 'The Shockwave Rider'. Heck, he was a acknowledged influence of Robert T. Morris. How is that for grasping the implications?

Mart

Re:160 million copies!? (1)

dhudson0001 (726951) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586209)

Well, it does say "eventually".We haven't collided with Andromeda yet...

Never forget the lesson of Neuromancer (4, Insightful)

FourthAge (1377519) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585843)

When stating the specifications of future computers, never, ever use real units such as "megabytes", because whatever number you use, it will be hopelessly wrong within a few years.

Re:Never forget the lesson of Neuromancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586021)

640 ought to be enough for anyone!

Re:Never forget the lesson of Neuromancer (1)

weirdcrashingnoises (1151951) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586333)

640 concubines?

Re:Never forget the lesson of Neuromancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586105)

Either that, or extrapolate based on Moore's law etc. for the time in which your story is set.

Re:Never forget the lesson of Neuromancer (4, Funny)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586421)

What, you're telling me I can't get rich from fencing 4MB of memory on the street? Way to shatter my dreams of being a hot interface cowboy!

Might read this again (2, Interesting)

Daemonax (1204296) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585849)

Perhaps I should read this again. On the first reading it was incredibly hard to make much sense of the story. It does though drip with atmosphere, but some parts of the story are just so damn bizarre.

Anyone know if the other two related stories are any good (Mono Lisa Overdrive, and Count Zero)?

Re:Might read this again (2, Insightful)

Thyamine (531612) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585879)

I just read it for the first time about a month ago, and thought the same thing. There are parts of the story where you just need to accept what is being said and delve into it later, otherwise you keep going back thinking you missed some explanation of a word/thing/scene. Thankfully I've played Shadowrun which is basically based on Gibson's stories that I can see (although he's not a fan of it apparently). I'm about half-way through Count Zero and so far its ok, but is starting to refer back to Neuromancer, so I'm hoping it gets a bit more interesting.

Re:Might read this again (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586095)

Shadowrun have some cyberpunk themes, yes, but its just as much high fantasy.

I guess one could say they took gibson and tolkien, stuffed it in a blender and hit turbo...

Re:Might read this again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28585885)

They're fantastic, in my opinion.

Re:Might read this again (2, Insightful)

Aggrajag (716041) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585933)

It's a trilogy so yes you should read them all. And I would suggest reading Johnny Mnemonic as well. I really cannot say which one is the best as I've always thought about it as one work.

Re:Might read this again (2, Informative)

Goaway (82658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586895)

The later two are pretty tightly intervowen, but Neuromancer really is more of a stand-alone work that the later books only vaguely reference. All three are definitely not a single work.

Re:Might read this again (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586007)

Gibson is no easy read because he doesn't explain things. He writes as if he wrote a story for someone who lives in that time and needs no explanation of terms and technology. It makes it hard to read, but it also adds a lot to the atmosphere once you got into the mindset.

I don't like stories that explain everything in detail to make it easier for you to read. They take away from the experience IMO.

Re:Might read this again (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586135)

That's called "immersion". A good writer will make it easy by slowly introducing the words and concepts to you so that you have a good idea of the environment by the time the story really starts moving. Anathem was excellent in this way. Even though it had a lot of made-up words and a totally different society, the concepts were introduced so that you could easily follow them. Now if only the story had been a bit better...

Of course, some authors prefer to just dunk you into the midst of everything.

Re:Might read this again (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586773)

Well, whatever you prefer, I like Gibson's style. Not really understanding what's going on often puts you in the same situation as the (anti) hero. :)

Re:Might read this again (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586519)

I don't like it if it becomes narrating/lecturing either, with some exceptions like HHGTTG. But some authors are very good at introducing it through the plot by having someone in the story who needs an explanation, is cause for a discussion around it, or pre-introduce it in the passing at some earlier point. When they do it right, it makes up for very good books without feeling like you're treated like a 5yo but it's a rare talent.

Re:Might read this again (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586965)

In contrast to garbage like Clancy where he explains everything every time, in every novel, as if retards are his target audience. I'll take Neuromancer, Mono Lisa Overdrive, Count Zero, Idoru, and Image Recognition any day. Although The Difference Engine I hated.

Re:Might read this again (1)

mihalis (28146) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586069)

Anyone know if the other two related stories are any good (Mono Lisa Overdrive, and Count Zero)?

They are good, but as Gibson himself said Mona Lisa Overdrive was where he started to run out of material a little. Still they hold up much better than, say, the last couple of Dune books (in my opinion).

Re:Might read this again (4, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586123)

Anyone know if the other two related stories are any good (Mono Lisa Overdrive, and Count Zero)?

As an open implementation of .NET Lisa Overdrive, I thought it was a pretty good attempt, although, as usual, it's a slavish imitation of a paradigm invented by others and released in closed-source format long ago. What's especially weird in this case, though, is that the Lisa, which stole shamelessly from XEROX PARC, had to be overclocked in order to be able to run the bloated .NET Framework, which itself, erm, "borrowed" many toolkit widgets that came out of over nearly decades of Macintosh development, which itself obsoleted the original Lisa project --- only to be being re-implemented in the opensource Mono project so that it could be run on a non-Windows OS stack. Talk about chasing your own tail. Especially since OS X has been out for about a decade, and XCode makes everything else pale by comparison.

Re:Might read this again (1)

amrs (442747) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587135)

It really depends on what you like. I like Neuromancer mostly because it has mostly cool, competent people doing interesting stuff. Of course all the advanced tech is interesting too since I'm a technophile. Wouldn't mind having some of that.

In contrast, both Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive are boring. There are multiple plots, all boring and/or nonsensical. The people are also boring, usually losers, doing boring and/or nonsensical things. In the end the plots tie together, but that doesn't really help.

Pay Phones (4, Interesting)

bhima (46039) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585859)

Sorry, I enjoyed Neuromancer as much as anyone. However, you can't talk about what Gibson got right without talking about what he missed... most interestingly he missed the invention of mobile phones and so pay phones make an appearance in the book.

Re:Pay Phones (2, Interesting)

X10 (186866) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585917)

Yeah, right. As if a prediction is only correct if it doesn't miss a single detail. I have always seen Neuromancer as the perfect prediction of the future of technology. Even now, there's things in the book that haven't come true yet, but will eventually, if not shorltly. VR is one of them - think of html5 on a VR headset - and computers that talk intelligently is another.

Re:Pay Phones (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586301)

I did not say ANYTHING about predictions or their validity. What I said was that A DISCUSSION about the prescience of speculative Sci-Fi limited to only what was correct is incomplete and thus less interesting. It doesn't make Neuromancer a bad book or Gibson a bad author. It does make this list disappointing and unworthy.

As it happens, I am a William Gibson fan. I bought first edition hardback copies of all of his books as they were published and I own an Agrippa.

So lighten up a little.

Re:Pay Phones (1)

mambodog (1399313) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586351)

As if a prediction is only correct if it doesn't miss a single detail. I have always seen Neuromancer as the perfect prediction of the future of technology.

How can it be a perfect prediction if it misses details? The first sentence invalidates the second one.

VR is one of them

The 90s called... they want their.. agh, I can't even be bothered. VR is a perfect example. Its one of those things that seemed great until it became a reality, and then no-one gave a shit.

Re:Pay Phones (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28585935)

He didn't predict goatse [goatse.fr] either. Or slashdot. Or niggers.

Re:Pay Phones (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586053)

Thats the thing about scifi, it will most often just project the experimental tech of "today" into the future, making it smaller and lighter...

Re:Pay Phones (4, Insightful)

Dmala (752610) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586185)

Yeah, there are definitely parts of Neuromancer that are hilariously dated. The one that always sticks out for me is the part where Case has 3MB of stolen RAM that he's trying to move. It sounded impressively futuristic in 1985. Today, not so much.

Re:Pay Phones (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586251)

Because nobody [ebay.co.uk] would [ebay.co.uk] do [ebay.co.uk] that [ebay.co.uk] today [ebay.co.uk]

Re:Pay Phones (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586329)

For some reason that storage space business got me more in the film adaption of Johnny Mnemonic with Keanu Reeves, than the books. Though admittedly I'm sure I had more RAM in my own computer the last time I read Neuromancer.

They could have easily slipped in another SI prefix...

Re:Pay Phones (1)

fermion (181285) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586631)

I disagree. Nueromancer is important because it translates common themes into a new language. This is all science fiction was and is. A literary form that helps us deal with a technologies(the telling of skill) that the average person has increasingly difficulties understanding. I think most people understood a pencil or a lever or even a car, but how many people understand a transistor, or the working of a stage two booster on a Saturn V, or how Little Boy is different from Fat Man. I certainly don't. I understand the effects, but not the details of the process. So we have a conflict, in the archaic language, of man versus machine.

The theme is old. Hero is punished by god/king/country/corporation for a minor mistake. Hero find a way to redemption, but a great personal costs, and in a morally dubious manner. Hero has help from friends picked up along the way. Hero is double crossed. Hero is more or less vindicated. The wonderful thing about Neuromancer is that Gibson translates this old theme into a context in which the hero is not based solely on physical strength, or cleaverness, or the ability to con with good looks, but on access to information and the ability to deal with machines. This was kind of revolutionary. Perhaps the phone think is not so important because the synchronous voice communications are inefficient and we may see it fall to a more efficient asynchronous data feed.

In any case, most science fiction gets most of the details wrong, and it matters little as it merely reflects the world the author is living in, not the fundamental conflict. For instance, many pulp writers assumed we would get automatic house cleaning and diagnosticians before we got automatic astronavigation. By the time star trek came around, and we had computers that did math, but not clean floors, this was corrected. BTW, Star Trek was notable because it translated the form of The Odyssey into a modern language, just as Huckleberry Finn did before it. The important thing about these, then, is not the predictive element, as a stopped clock will be right twice a day, but the preperation such books can give the reader to live with then not well known technologies,

bluetooth headsets (4, Insightful)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586787)

most interestingly he missed the invention of mobile phones and so pay phones make an appearance in the book.

It's true that he doesn't have any mobile phones and seems to prefer implants, but he had a lot of those that do similar functions to a phone. E.g., Molly has some sort of implant that gives the time, and radio functions and then Case monitors her position through his cyberspace rig (more than just her position, her whole sensory apparatus), of which a video conferencing phone might be considered a clumsy version. Also, throughout the book, one sees people who insert some sort of chip called a "microsoft" into a jack behind their ear that give them some extra knowledge, or some enhancement. When those Bluetooth headsets became popular and people just started wearing them around like they were an item of clothing, it reminded me precisely of those "microsofts" in Neuromancer, or whatever they were called.

I didn't think it was that good (1, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585897)

I simply didn't find the book as compelling as the hype. I don't think it was predictive. It certainly pre-dated fiction like the Matrix, but the terminology, and the feel of how things work feel very much rooted in a sooped-up virtual reality extension of the technology that was around back then.

It's a while since I read it, and I'm not inclined to revisit it. Perhaps its just me *shrug*

Re:I didn't think it was that good (0)

mmclean (29486) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585951)

I read it for the first time only recently (I know, turn in my geek card, etc.). In the harsh light of the real future, the book doesn't even begin to hold up. Even trying to mentally adjust for the fact that I was reading it late, I couldn't get into it much. It took me an obnoxiously long, slow time to read, with continual questions to myself along the way; "why am I reading this," "Why is it considered so good," etc.

Re:I didn't think it was that good (1)

dzfoo (772245) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586115)

No, it's not just you. The same happened to me. I read it when I was 18 or 19 years old on the enthusiastic recommendation of friends and strangers alike, and I found it extremely weird and hard to follow. I "got" most of the plot and theme, I just didn't care much for it.

I then tried to give it another chance later on, when in my 30s, thinking that perhaps I was too young to grasp and appreciate the book on my first read. You see, I fell for the hype (again), and wanted to make sure I wasn't missing out on something grand. Alas, no; I felt even more removed from it, and just could not understand what so many saw in it.

I must admit that reading the plot synopsis in Wikipedia is very interesting: somehow the wiki-editors managed to make sense and explain in a coherent and entertaining fashion, in just a few paragraphs, what Gibson couldn't do in endless pages of freaky and overwrought exposition and technobabble.

      -dZ.

Re:I didn't think it was that good (2, Interesting)

TerranFury (726743) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586443)

I read Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition on similar advice. I disliked both, but probably for very different reasons. (I also read his collaboration with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine, and though I won't say I disliked it, I also wasn't impressed by it; I simply didn't feel strongly about it either way.)

My problem with William Gibson is an impression I get from him: That he is a popular-press reporter, trying desperately to be "hip" and "relevant," and writing about subjects about which he knows rather little. As I read his work, I feel assaulted by cultural references which do nothing to advance the plot or set to mood; it's all just so much 'name-dropping' on Gibson's part.

Basically, they read to me like they're intended neither to enlighten nor to entertain, but only to make a name for William Gibson as a guy who "gets it."

You may be surprised to hear this in the next sentence, but I love a lot of Neal Stephenson's work -- particularly Cryptonomicon and The Diamond Age. Now, that man's ego definitely fills his writing. But he knows what he's talking about, and you get the feeling that he's writing the story that he wants to write and not the story that he thinks will use the right buzzwords to generate attention.

(I cannot stand his Baroque Cycle though. I'm thinking he jumped the shark with Quicksilver.)

I don't know if this has been the most coherent post. I find it hard to articulate the feeling I get when I read Gibson's stuff that turns me off to him. But it's there, and every time I forget that I don't like Gibson's writing and I pick up one of his books on someone's advice, I am annoyed and disappointed.

Re:I didn't think it was that good (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586933)

Gibson is, technically speaking, a far better writer than Stephenson. But Stephenson is so obviously enjoying writing his ridiculous tall tales, and that enthusiasm adds a lot to the reading experience, and can easily make up for what he lacks in literary skills otherwise.

Re:I didn't think it was that good (1)

cmprsdchse (656291) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586889)

I didn't like it much either. However, I really got into the book Idoru, which was the middle book in another trilogy he wrote later on.

Predictive? Not. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585915)

Murray Leinster predicted the future of computer technology better in the '50s than Gibson did in the '90s.

Re:Predictive? Not. (1)

solanum (80810) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585941)

Don't forget he wrote it on an old typewriter (see his own blog: http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/2006_10_01_archive.asp [williamgibsonbooks.com] )and was well known for NOT being a computer nerd. I love the book (got it in the 80s and have read it a number of times. I don't think he as trying to predict anything. He was trying to write a good story in a new way and he did both of those things.

Precisely... (1)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586035)

I don't think he as trying to predict anything. He was trying to write a good story in a new way and he did both of those things.

Absolutely agree. I'm not saying he didn't write a good yarn or three.

Re:Predictive? Not. (1)

sootman (158191) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587047)

Don't forget he wrote it on an old typewriter and was well known for NOT being a computer nerd.

It took the power of eBay to get William Gibson online. [wired.com] "I went happily along for years, smugly avoiding anything that involved a modem. Email address? Sorry. Don't have one... Then I found eBay. And I wanted to go back."

Can the attitude and pay your respect, boy. (5, Interesting)

MisterSquid (231834) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585977)

This is the man who coined the term "cyberspace"--first in "Johnny Mnemonic" in his 1982 Burning Chrome collection and popularized in Neuromancer--and imagined the representation of information as virtual/geographic landscapes. All of it pounded out using a manual typewriter. This 15-year-old interview [wordyard.com] may give you some sense of why Gibson's novel will probably matter more than any cultural artifact you or I will ever create.

Re:Can the attitude and pay your respect, boy. (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586015)

This is the man who coined the term "cyberspace"

And we still haven't cyberrecovered from all the cybershit that people keep cyberinventing.

I mean seriously, the term was a stupid one when he invented one, stupid people adopted the prefix without even considering what it meant, and suddenly everything's cyber-something. And none of them cared that "cyber" refers to electronic control of real systems, not virtual interfaces.

Re:Can the attitude and pay your respect, boy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586723)

If you can see it, move in it, feel it, who's to say a space isn't real ? It's as real as the mind is. Add to that that the "space" is controlled by electronic systems and the term cyberspace seems appropriate.

And yes it captured the popular imagination but where would we be if global computer systems for communication hadn't ? Terms like "cyberspace" and "information super highway" helped ordinary people visualize abstracts like the internet.

Who are you calling "boy", kid? (4, Insightful)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586017)

I read just about all of Gibson's novels the week they came out, and they were super cool... but they have had about zero predictive power.

The word "cyberspace" almost always means that the person using it has no idea what they're talking about. Oh, there are exceptions, but the people who are most taken by Gibson's vision are sorely lacking in insight.

The representation of information as landscapes has been a repeated dead end.

Not believing in the predictive power of Gibson's novels doesn't mean I don't consider them important, it just means I'm aware that they're fiction.

Lord of the Rings is a great cultural artifact without having people yammering on about Ringwraiths being real.

Re:Who are you calling "boy", kid? (3, Insightful)

MisterSquid (231834) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586133)

Excellent points taken.

Regarding "the representation of information as landscapes" as "a repeated dead end," I agree it has been done to death and the idea may not have any meaning as such. However, considered as a metaphor, the idea that networked information and the traversal of these domains would/could serve as a replacement for physical/real/actual landscapes is, to my mind, prescient.

Vannevar Bush, Tim Berners-Lee, Marshall McLuhan, Jaron Lanier, Sherry Turkle, and many other theorists and creators of human-machine interfaces have helped produce what we recognize as contemporary information systems and, in my opinion, Gibson's fictional vision to some degree shaped what has been created (e.g. Second Life) and what we imagine possible (e.g. real-time augmented reality). I think you too quickly dismiss Gibson's influence when you claim Gibson's work has no predictive power.

Gibson may not have predicted anything, but his vision indisputably reflects and affects some of the very real technologies that have since come to pass.

Excellent interview thanks (1)

biscon (942763) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586367)

This quote in particular grabbed my attention:

Gibson winces at the term "information superhighway" ("a nasty piece of buzzword engineering"), but has good things to say about the Internet: "I'm not a user, but I'm a big fan. I like the idea that it's extra-national, and no one particularly owns it. My concern now is whether it can be dismantled by corporate interests who want something more structured so they can sell us stuff - or whether there's some innate urge toward freedom inherent in the technology that will keep it evolving."

Seems a bit like the current "quest for control and censorship" we hear about every week here, as well as the net neutrality controversy.

Meat is still important (1)

yacoob (69558) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585981)

One of the funny bits in the book for me, is how they fly around from city to city to talk/meet with people, and fix things up. And at the same time they have a worldwide computer network... :)

Re:Meat is still important (1)

m.ducharme (1082683) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587183)

They would have had an awfully hard time kidnapping Peter over the internet, don't you think? Or beaming the Flatline's construct out of the Sense/Net building instead of sending someone in to steal it?

It's to Gibson's credit that he refrains from making his technological imaginings into deii ex machinae that can save the day for our intrepid heroes.

a psychoactive novel (0, Flamebait)

hoarier (1545701) | more than 5 years ago | (#28585987)

A reality check for all the litcritty and ther types who like to suggest that Gibson somehow created the web in this novel: Tim Berners-Lee and CERN created it.

The much-quoted descriptions of "cyberspace" in this oddly soporific novel may or may not be interesting but they're hardly prescient. Cyberspace is described as "unthinkable", but here we are thinking about it. There are "huge, shining, cities of data", uh, where exactly? Et cetera, but let's not labor the point.

For me, Neuromancer worked well as a sleeping pill; your dosage may vary.

Well he sure predicted the color of the sky (2, Insightful)

localroger (258128) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586121)

First line, oft quoted: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" When Billy wrote that that would have been grey, but today it's bright blue.

Re:Well he sure predicted the color of the sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28586249)

Actually that would have been electronic noise or snow not grey.

Re:Well he sure predicted the color of the sky (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586693)

First line, oft quoted: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" When Billy wrote that that would have been grey, but today it's bright blue.

So maybe it was a pretty day out?

Re:Well he sure predicted the color of the sky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28587057)

That was an astute observation when it was made ten years ago. Recent TVs autotune: there's no dead channel screen at all.

Panther Moderns and Lo-Teks (1)

lelitsch (31136) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586289)

Weirdly, this article about saline face modification [bizarremag.com] in Bizarre magazine. Makes me want to reread Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic (but definitely not watch the movie again)

Ice as the figure for a firewall (1)

AtomicJake (795218) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586467)

What I liked most in Neuromancer, is the use of figures, such as ice as a firewall, and the hero hacking and melting through it to access the protected part. I could easily imagine this in a movie ...

Re:Ice as the figure for a firewall (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28587043)

ICE is "intrusional COUNTER electronics". Firewalls detect and reject. ICE fights back. A firewall might detect, say, attempts to locate an unsecured machine via banging on commonly used and traditionally unsecured ports. ICE might send back a response many times, each with an enormous payload of junk data, and convincing the origin to accept those oversize packets, in so doing slowing it down if not knocking it offline. Even more damaging payloads can easily be imagined. This would make for an even better bit of movie, the data cowboy having to evade an active defense response as opposed to just hacking through a passive wall.

You have missed the point (3, Insightful)

billybob_jcv (967047) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586595)

Great sci-fi is rarely about the technology. Neuromancer was first and foremost a great cyberpunk story. The technology that the main character Case used was secondary to who Case was - a guy from the underbelly of society who lived by his own brand of ethics and was being manipulated by evil-doers. The technoworld in which he lived is simply an interesting setting - like Sam Spade's San Francisco.

Re:You have missed the point (1)

micronicos (344307) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586817)

The whole Sprawl Trilogy was well plotted & characterised & embedded with quotable phrases & invented meanings. I still read Gibson but struggled a little with his latest. There is a good BBC radio dramatisation of Neuromancer and also an interesting graphic novel version, unfinished.

No mention of drug patches? (1)

dugrrr (582161) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586749)

I had never heard of dermal drug delivery before neuromancer. Now people use patches for nicotine or birth-control (but nothing like the 'cocktails' of patches in the book's bar scenes).

FTA:

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding."

Maybe a board or committee should be formed to establish a standardized interface for 'jacking-in'. IEEE? AMA? LSD?

The Other BS (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#28586915)

Others have rightly called BS on TFA already for the grossly inflated copies-sold figure. If the movie comes out as planned http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1037220/ [imdb.com] his total readership + moviegoers + game players for all his works and derivations might total something like the 160 million figure, but only if that's not constrained to sales of those.

Before taking the article to task for other details, it's worth noting that it's not very original. At the 20 year mark the Neuromancer was reviewed by Velvet Delorey http://www.geocities.com/canadian_sf/pages/media/delorey.htm [geocities.com] for the Canadian SF web site Made In Canada http://www.geocities.com/canadian_sf/index.html [geocities.com] (1998-2008, RIP). Rather than focusing on the tech itself, she made the observation that "Whatever aspects of the Eighties Neuromancer may have extrapolated from, however, much of the Eighties influences, both -punk and cyber-, seem to have taken their cues from Neuromancer, instead of the other way around," suggesting the influences were bidirectional, and social in nature. That appears closer to Gibson's own views, which although may carry some bias of their own, should be taken as closer to the truth than other viewpoints. This provides its own segue to criticism of TFA for focusing on science-fictionary special effects and giving them primacy, to the neglect of the reason for their creation.

William Gibson himself holds that where he created technology, it was to further the interaction of the characters and carry the plot, and was never meant to be prophetic in any sense. Furthermore he claims that when it has proven prophetic it was actually because it was instead descriptive of possibilities, and techies who were already engaged in development of things along the same lines read the book, then used it as a clearer description than they were capable of elucidating for what they were trying to develop. In a 2007 interview with The AV Club focusing on his then upcoming "Spook Country", http://www.avclub.com/articles/william-gibson,14143/ [avclub.com] he says "There was a time in the late '80s, early '90s, when every government in the world decided to have a huge, lavishly funded virtual-reality conference, and I got invited to all of them. So I met lots and lots of the players in the goggles-and-gloves school of virtual reality. None of them actually became the man who invented television, which is what I think all of them expected to become. But to a man or woman, they all allowed as how I had really helped them out. They had this idea, but they'd never been able to explain to anybody what it was. Once they had Neuromancer, they could just go around with a suitcase full of copies, and when people said, "I just can't fathom what you're talking about," they'd say, "Read this. It's sort of like this." [Laughs.] I don't think they were just flattering me; I think they were actually doing that." So, Gibson didn't get any of the tech right or wrong. He just got some story points on paper. The tech, and the rights or wrongs about it, belong to the techies who tried to develop it (with or without Gibson's influence) and succeeded or failed.

As an aside, I'm writing this in a small Appalachian town known as the home of Mountain Dew and very little else. I'm 25 miles from Gibson's boyhood home. Despite the big green signs along Interstate 81 announcing that this is "Virginia's Technology Corridor" (thanks to the proximity to Virginia Tech, and no mention of William Gibson in sight) both can well be said to be "a place where modernity had arrived to some extent but was deeply distrusted", as was Gibson's account of his home town of 40 years ago. The future obviously arrives at different rates in different places, this place among the slowest. Luckily for some, when confronted with this fact in places like this, they construct that reluctant future in their heads. Luckily for the rest of us, some of them share it.

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