The Neuromancer Trilogy

by William Gibson
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1599

In Neuromancer, Henry Dorsett Case is a cyberspace cowboy, or computer hacker. He is running toward suicide because the criminals he was working for have chemically altered his brain so he can no longer enter cyberspace, the visualization of the computer universe accessed through a keyboard. He is captured by Molly, who is working for Armitage. Armitage restores Case’s ability and sends him on a “run” into cyberspace, but he also has toxin sacs sewn into his arteries that will maim him again if he fails to complete his assignment. Case and Molly employ the services of the Finn, a fence and computer expert, to find out who is employing Armitage. They all travel to the Sprawl—a vast megalopolis that covers all of the territory between Boston and Atlanta—where Armitage instructs them to steal the Dixie Flatline, the ROM construct (computer-encoded mind) of a dead cyberspace cowboy. Shortly afterward, they discover that an artificial intelligence (AI) called Wintermute is the moving force behind Armitage.

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The group travels to Istanbul, where Peter Riviera joins them, and they then take the JAL Shuttle, transferring to Zion Cluster, an orbiting miniworld run by Rastafarians, several of whom Wintermute has coopted. They move on to Freeside, a vast entertainment and commercial vacation paradise in high orbit, where they prepare to enter Straylight Villa, a private enclave at its tip. Straylight Villa is the family home of Lady 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool, and the group has been instructed to force Lady 3Jane to assist them by providing them with a password in the physical side of their run.

The run turns out to be the illegal amalgamation of two AIs, Wintermute and Neuromancer. On the way to its completion, Armitage commits suicide, Riviera dies of poisoned drugs, and Case experiences “flatlining,” a temporary death of the body, while first Wintermute and then Neuromancer place him in virtual worlds. With the assistance of the Dixie Flatline construct and his own immense anger at the manipulations of which he has been a victim, Case finally breaks through and allows the AIs to merge. As the story ends, Molly and Case have been made rich, the toxin sacs have been removed, and the couple go their separate ways. The entity created from the combined AIs announces that it now is the cyberspace matrix and has discovered another intelligence in Alpha Centauri.

In Count Zero, Turner is hired by Conroy to assist in the defection of Christopher Mitchell. The project goes very wrong, as the transfer site is destroyed and only Turner and Mitchell’s daughter Angie escape alive. Unsure of who has betrayed the operation, Turner retreats to his brother Rudy’s rural hideaway and then takes a hovercraft to the New York portion of the Sprawl, constantly on the run from attackers. Angie’s brain has been augmented with biosofts by her father, and she is therefore a target. She has seizures when she is possessed and guided by voodoo gods who dwell in the network matrix of cyberspace.

Meanwhile, Bobby Newark—a would-be cyberspace cowboy living in the slums of Barrytown—nearly loses his life when he tries to run an “icebreaker,” or hacking program. He escapes brain death only when Angie (unbeknown to him) intervenes in cyberspace. Bobby is pursued by those alerted by his attempt, until he is rescued by Two-a-Day’s helpers after he has been badly cut up and robbed. He meets the black lawyer Beauvoir and his friend Lucas, who are interested in him because they think their voodoo god was the source of the voice that saved him in cyberspace. Beauvoir and Lucas shepherd Bobby to the Sprawl, where he ends up in Jammer’s eighth-floor nightclub, under siege from Conroy and Josef Virek. Turner eventually brings Angie to the same club.

Marly’s art gallery has collapsed because her lover Alain perpetuated a fraud. She is hired by Virek to track down the creator of seven small artworks in the form of boxes with arrangements of objects inside them. Virek is suffering from expanding cancers and is stored in life-sustaining tanks. He appears to Marly in a virtual representation.

Marly’s pursuit of the objects leads her to Alain, who tries to sell her information but is murdered. Marly finds the information, but she decides that Virek’s overpowering wealth and his security apparatus, led by a Spaniard named Paco, are corrupt. She escapes into high orbit, where she discovers a mad former console cowboy named Wigan who believes he has found God. She also finds that a massive semirobotic entity dwelling in the wreckage of the Tessier-Ashpool cores is assembling the boxes. Marly becomes aware that Virek has been seeking the boxes in order to gain personal immortality and escape from his prison of flesh.

Bobby and Jackie use the net to try to contact Jaylene Slide in Los Angeles to tell her that Conroy has had her lover killed. Slide responds by destroying Conroy, but Bobby and Jackie accidentally plunge through Virek’s security, and Jackie is killed. Bobby is about to be destroyed as well when Baron Samedi, the voodoo deity of death, enters the hallucinatory construct and destroys Virek in the net, leading to his physical death. Angie and Bobby go with Beauvoir to the Projects, where Angie will be protected and will learn to use her exceptional powers. Turner simply walks away from the action; seven years later, he is raising a son he had with Rudy’s lover. Angie, with Bobby as her companion, in an understudy for the simstim star Tally Ashram.

In Mona Lisa Overdrive, Kumiko is sent by her father, a crime overlord, from Chiba City to London and into the protection of Swain and Petal. She is accompanied by Colin, a ROM device that generates a speaking image of a young Englishman to advise her. In London, Kumiko is befriended by Sally Shears (formerly Molly from the first book), who introduces her to Tick. Sally commissions Tick to discover who is controlling Swain and, indirectly, herself. It emerges that Swain and Sally are being forced to participate in the kidnapping of Angie Marshall, now a simstim star, and to substitute another body in her place.

Sally steals Kumiko away to the Sprawl, where Sally talks to the Finn, who now exists as a construct voice at an alleyway shrine. They talk of 3Jane being the mover behind the plots under way. Kumiko is taken back to London but escapes to Tick to get help; she tries to warn Sally that she will also be a victim of the plot. While attempting to warn Sally in cyberspace, they get caught up in a generated reality created by 3Jane (who appears as Kumiko’s dead mother), but Colin intervenes to save them. Finally, Petal arrives: Swain has been destroyed by Kumiko’s father, and Kumiko is free to return home.

Meanwhile, the former convict Slick Henry inhabits the Factory, a vast industrial ruin in a pollution field called Dog Solitude. There, he uses scrap materials to create large, radio-controlled figures such as the Judge—products of his imagination, which has been twisted by the chemical-psychological punishments he experienced in prison. Henry lives in uneasy peace with Gentry, who spends his time trying to understand the shape of the matrix. Kid Afrika brings Cherry-Lee Chesterfield and the comatose Bobby Newmark to Dog Solitude in order to hide Newmark. Newmark is connected to something called the “LF,” and Gentry insists on jacking into it as well.

The “LF” turns out to be the “aleph,” a vast biosoft that contains an abstract of cyberspace. Gentry is knocked out by his experience of it. The group rigs a way for Slick Henry to enter the aleph, where he meets with the illusion of Bobby, Count Zero, who cautions him that they must connect the aleph to the matrix if enemies come. Those enemies do arrive en masse, and Slick and Gentry reenter the aleph; they are briefly trapped by 3Jane in Straylight before the Count pulls them out. Sally-Molly arrives with Angie and Mona. Gentry and Slick Henry hold off and destroy their attackers with cyber help from Bobby (Count Zero), but Bobby’s body dies, leaving him “alive” in cyberspace.

Angie Marshall has become a world-famous simstim star. She is recovering from drug addiction and is still haunted through her modified brain by voodoo gods, particularly one called Mamman Brigitte. Brigitte cautions her that those around her are plotting against her. Angie moves from Malibu to the Sprawl, responding evasively to Hilton Swift, the network’s agent, and making use of Continuity, an AI who answers her questions and guides her. She investigates the history of the Tessier-Ashpools. On her arrival in the Sprawl, she is kidnapped by Sally-Molly, who is attempting to short-circuit 3Jane’s plan. Sally-Molly takes Angie to the Factory, where Angie is reunited with Bobby’s body and dies physically in order to enter cyberspace with him.

Meanwhile, Mona Lisa, a prostitute and drug addict, is taken from her pimp-lover by Prior, who arranges for her to have surgeries that make her an approximate double for Angie. Prior, Lanier, and Swain are acting under the distant direction of Lady 3Jane. They plan to kidnap Angie and leave Mona’s body in her place. However, before they can execute their plan, Molly-Sally intervenes and takes both women to the Factory. After the struggles in the Factory, Molly leaves with the aleph; Mona plans to replace Angie as a media star, and Bobby, Angie, and Continuity exist only in cyberspace.

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Critical Essays