Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The first novel to win all three major awards for science fiction—the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award—Neuromancer has its roots in two kinds of science fiction. The first is the New Wave of the 1960’s, which emphasized literary craftsmanship and style. New Wave writers such J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock included descriptions of life on the streets, rock and roll, and the effects of drugs in their science fiction. This influence gives Neuromancer its emotional edge and gothic atmosphere.

The second kind of science fiction that influenced Neuromancer is the traditional “hard” science fiction of writers such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. These writers typically extrapolate current trends and new technology and project their effects on people and society. Yet where traditional science fiction concerns itself with such technologies as rockets, robots, atomic energy, and space stations, Gibson writes about prosthetics, microprocessors implanted within the human body, cosmetic surgery, virtual reality, cloning, and genetic engineering. Clarke helped to invent the concept of the communications satellite; in turn, Gibson and the other cyberpunk authors developed the concept of a worldwide virtual-reality network.

By the time Gibson wrote Neuromancer, microprocessors were appearing everywhere; even new cars contained microcontroller devices under their hoods. People wore portable radios and headphones while they jogged, carried cellular phones and pagers, and played computer games for recreation. Although the Internet was in its infancy, computer-literate people dialed up local bulletin boards and on-line services. More affluent people could elect surgery to remove the need for eyeglasses or contact lenses. Gibson extrapolated what the world would be like if those trends continued.

Gibson, in turn, has influenced both computer hackers and computer scientists, although he himself knew little about computers when he wrote the novel. For example, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists named a remote camera platform after Molly, the lead female character in Neuromancer, and a German computer criminal cited the novel as an influence at his trial. Moreover, writers studying the Internet and virtual reality credit Gibson with coining the term “cyberspace” to describe the on-line world.