Every now and then you come across a book and you ask yourself "why have I not read this before?" This most recently happened to me when I finally settled down to read William Gibson's Neuromancer. I had certainly heard of the book before hand, but had no idea of how influential it has been; Neuromancer is full of the original source material for many other cyberpunk settings. Case in point, Neuromancer coined the term "Matrix" in the sense of a digital reality. Quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read.
At it's heart, Neuromancer is a character and setting driven heist novel. The plot itself is fairly derivative (except for the object of the heist,) but the real energy of the book comes from the parade of characters you're introduced to and the eclectic series of locations we travel through.
We start off in the Chiba City, Japan, where we meet Case, a damaged former computer hacker. From there Neuromancer takes us around the world and then into a couple of off world locations, New Zion and Freeside. The cast of characters grows quickly; Molly Millions, a razorgirl, turns up to protect Case, Armitage, apparently the mastermind of the con, slowly reveals what exactly he's planning, Dixie Flatline is a digital reconstruction of a dead hacker. All very engaging and wonderfully written. Gibson also paces the book perfectly, drip feeding information and plot development to begin with, before escalating the tempo as the team struggle to complete their mission.
Neuromancer is full of memorable scenes, Zions elders, a blank Armitage in his hotel room, Case jacking into Molly's nervous system, Riviera's holographic show, Wintermute trying to talk to Case, too many to relate here. What should be emphasised is the depth of the world Gibson creates, just how cyberpunk everything is. Not only the vibrant, neon urban areas; Gibson treats cyberspace the same way, he doesn't try to describe the indescribable, but instead relates the rush, the freedom, the danger involved in hacking. Neuromancer is one of the most immersive books I've come across.
I feel I should also mention the narrator of the audiobook I listened to, Jeff Harding, because he was simply excellent. This was the first audiobook where the quality of the voice acting was a noticeable positive. Each character has their own accent and is consistent throughout; Armitage has a booming boardroom voice, the Finn has a gritty Irish growl while Maelcum has a languid Caribbean drawl. The editing is handled very well too, to the point where the different voices flow seamlessly from one another.
Any negatives to report? Well, Neuromancer does feature my least favourite plot device, namely one of the main characters is poisoned at some point to ensure their commitment to the scheme. I hate that mechanic, but at least here it isn't too intrusive to the plot. Other that that, not much. The narrator does take a little adjusting to when you start to listen; he has that peculiar American accent that dips down at the end of a sentence, making everything he says sound sarcastic. After half an hour, though, I'd forgotten all about it.
Lastly, something I noticed about listening to this as an audiobook. Neuromancer is a short book, the kind of book I suspect I would have blasted through in a weekend. By listening to it instead, and considering I listen to books either commuting or while out walking, I was able to string Neuromancer out to well over a week. This really helped me enjoy the book; not only did it give me a lot of time to think about what was actually happening, but the anticipation of what would happen next kept me hooked.