published on 2015-02-26

TL;DR: Awesome. Read it.

For my next installment in the reviews series, I listened to William Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer from 1984, narrated by Robertson Dean. Now, I’ve been listening to audio books and podcasts for some time, trying to alleviate the boredom of commuting from San Jose to San Francisco (and, previously, from Fairfield to Sacramento) while making up for lost reading time, and it’s not frequently that I come across a presentation as good as this one!

Neuromancer book cover

I’m sure that people have done some comparisons, at least in the feel of the setting, between the 1983 movie [Blade Runner][bladerunner] and Neuromancer; since I didn’t like Blade Runner I won’t be doing much of that. I will say that both had the same kind of sorta noir, sorta dystopian, techy futuristic setting. But that’s only to give a visual guide to how I envision, and how Gibson builds, the world in which Henry Case, our protagonist, lives. It’s a world where the line between technology and biology is blurred even further than it is today: one character has implants which can project holograms, another has retractable blades in her fingertips, and one can jack into the Matrix, a virtual-reality cyberspace accessible to virtually anyone with the right hardware.

Despite the very organic and precise way Gibson describes his characters, scenery, and settings, the plot is what makes the story; he didn’t scrimp here. Even though this was his first novel, he displays a mastery of pace, description, and story makeup that makes for a very easy read. Couple this with some VERY cool sci-fi ideas (which, by the way, don’t really feel dated even 30 years later, despite the fact much of it has to do with computers and the last 30 years have been… transformative), and you’ve got the makings of awesomeness.

Henry Case is a hustler and a former hacker, and when we meet him, he’s basically just trying to get himself killed. Addicted to drugs, unable to find meaningful work, unable even to hack (which it’s clear he enjoys) due to some past drama, Case has given up. Then he falls in with Molly Millions, an augmented (she’s the one with the finger-blades) assassin who works for a powerful mystery person who wants a job done. Cue the intrigue, the danger, the joy, the sadness, etc.

Of course, listening to the book was probably even more enjoyable, thanks to Robertson Dean. He has a magnificent bass voice which is VERY easy to listen to! He also does a very good job of changing his voice and inflection for the different characters, making tracking the conversations very simple. But man, that voice! I mean, I wasn’t recommended this book, and there are two recordings of Neuromancer on Audible (my choice for audio books I have to pay for), so I could have either gotten his or the other. By the way, “the other” was narrated by Jeff Harding; go ahead and listen to the sample audio of his vs the one I purchased. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I KNOW, RIGHT??? There’s just no contest! How could one want to listen to Harding’s rendition for 9 hours? Both recordings are unabridged, both are the same price (if you do the monthly thing and use credits as I do)… just why would you subject yourself to Harding when you have Dean?

Any rate, highly recommended. Great book, you can totally see how it influenced other later works like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash or, well, The Matrix, and it also defined and really anchored the cyberpunk genre. Oh, and I guess I should mention that it was the first book to win the science-fiction “triple crown”: the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.