Now a quarter of a century old, Neuromancer is widely regarded as a classic of modern SF (if that isn't a tautology). It won just about every award going for its portrayal of a future in which skilled people could be "jacked in" to the information technology network, able to experience it as a virtual landscape and navigate around its programmes and data storage nodes, evading defensive systems and stealing data. Old hat now, but not at the time.
I read it when it first came out, and frankly had forgotten everything about it - even reading it again rang no bells at all. I find these inconsistencies from time to time; sometimes I can clearly remember stories even if they're not much good, at other times even a good tale slips through the gaps in my memory.
Anyway, what did I think of it this time? I was deeply impressed; I found it much better than I had expected. This is not mainly due to the virtual world concepts but simply because the tale of Case, a former cyberspace expert recruited to a dangerous mission, is a rattling good thriller, told with a blend of pace and style which would be equally successful in other genres. The language is often terrific:
"Gravity came down on him like a great soft hand with bones of ancient stone."
"Case's consciousness divided like beads of mercury, arcing above an endless beach the color of the dark silver clouds. His vision was spherical, as if a single retina lined the inner surface of a globe that contained all things…"
If I have any criticism it is that the plot is so densely packed, the writing so laconic, that you really have to stay on your mental toes to keep up with everything that's going on. This is not a book to fill an idle moment, you need to settle down and concentrate. In fact, I was tempted to read it again immediately, in order to savour it in a more leisurely fashion and pick up on the nuances that I suspect slipped by me the first time. Why it made so little impression on me on first reading I don't know; but this one is now added to my pantheon of the SF greats. If you've never read it, treat yourself.
Joy of joys, the third (and sadly final) series of Ashes to Ashes commences on UK TV next week. For those unfamiliar with this, check out my blog post of 25 June last year where I write about this series and its predecessor, Life on Mars. I'm looking forward to a lot more of those bizarre one-liners from Gene Hunt, like "…as nervous as a very small nun at a penguin shoot".