William Gibson Essay - Critical Essays

William Gibson Long Fiction Analysis

William Gibson had little knowledge of or interest in science when he began writing science fiction, but he was keenly interested in the counterculture (including protests against the Vietnam War) that opposed dominant trends in American politics. Significantly, he also was interested in the potential impact of new communications technologies on its associated subcultures. He not only recognized the possibilities but also relished the thought that the rapid development of information networks facilitated by computer technology would become a metaphorical frontier. He believed that within this frontier’s shifting margins, nonconformists could flourish and then carry forward a subversive crusade against the would-be monopolists of the military-industrial complex and its political puppets.

In actual space—most of which has decayed into a postindustrial wasteland—such nonconformists are permanently on the run, and there is no hope for them to live a rewarding life, even if they were able to settle. In cyberspace, cyber outlaws are potential heroes, and they feel a sense of belonging, which they do not receive in the actual world.

This hypothetical way of life, formed by Neuromancer, exerted a magnetic romantic attraction on countless young science-fiction readers who knew that the world to which they were condemned would be irreparably changed by computer technology. Readers found that they could steal a march on their elders by mastering intricacies that were difficult and alien to persons—including their elders—educated in a “predigital” era.

Although Neuromancer’s literary style was cleverly polished, and its artfully designed narrative magnificently forceful, the novel became a modern literary classic by virtue of its status as a cyberculture handbook. The book helped spawn hordes of dedicated nonconformists, who were not only employable but much in demand because of their skills in making computers do things that were beyond the capabilities of more orthodox thinkers.

In reality, most cyberpunk hopefuls “went native,” using their skills’ economic rewards to escape the threat of abandonment in the urban wasteland—but Gibson did not. As a writer, he kept the faith, and even though his work became steadily more naturalistic, with the “futures” featured in his work retreating toward and ultimately merging with the dynamic present, he maintained his commitment to heroes on the margins of society. In his personal life, Gibson was reasonably settled and content—the blog he began in 2003 makes this clear—but because he was a writer and, thus, by some definition, socially marginalized, he was allowed to live the cyberpunk dream to some degree in spite of his admittedly limited computer skills. Neuromancer, famously, was composed on a manual typewriter.


Neuromancer was the archetype of cyberpunk fiction. The central character of the novel, the fallen hero Case, is an outlaw whose ability to “jack into” computers gives him the freedom to roam the virtual wide-open plains of cyberspace, armed and dangerous in ways that are infeasible in real space, and far more “glamorous.”


(The entire section is 1324 words.)