Neuromancer Summary

William Gibson


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Neuromancer Summary

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Neuromancer (1984) by American-Canadian writer William Gibson is a Hugo and Nebula award winning science fiction novel. It is considered one of the best-known works in the cyberpunk genre of science fiction. Gibson’s debut novel is the first in the Sprawl Trilogy.

Data thieves and skilled criminals join forces to pull off the ultimate hack in cyberspace in a computer-created world known as the matrix. In Neuromancer, Gibson creates a glimpse into our digital future. In fact, Gibson is credited with coining the term cyberspace. The novel deals with the central role that technology plays in the lives of humans in the present and in the future. It also demonstrates how humans grapple with rapidly changing technological innovations.

The novel is mainly told in the third person omniscient point of view from Henry Dorsett Case’s perspective. The novel’s anti-hero, who goes by Case, is a washed up computer hacker and drug addict wanted by a drug lord named Wage. He cannot get a job and is suicidal. He lives in Chiba City, Japan, in a dystopian underworld. Once a masterful data-thief, he made the mistake of trying to steal from fellow criminals. In retaliation for his betrayal, he gets poisoned with mycotoxin. This damages his nervous system. Due to the damage, he is no longer able to access a virtual reality database known as the matrix.

Enter Molly Millions, a street samurai. She is a Razorgirl enhanced with cybernetic modifications. These include claw-like, retractable, 4 cm double-edged blades under her fingernails. Her eyes and reflex system have also been enhanced. She works as a mercenary for a mysterious employer led by Armitage, an ex-Green Beret.

Molly’s employer hopes to recruit Case as a computer and cyberspace expert to pull off a large hack. He will be part of a team targeting a powerful artificial intelligence that supports the evil Tessier-Ashpool business clan. Armitage, the team’s leader, makes Case an offer he cannot refuse—he can help cure his damaged nervous system.

Case is not the only member of the crew who is damaged. The leader, Armitage, was formerly Colonel Willis Corto, a Green Beret. After being physically and psychologically injured in a secret operation, he assumed the new identity Armitage. This was done via computer-mediated psychotherapy.

Peter Riviera, the final member of the team, is another damaged individual who now has artificial implants. His implants enable him to project holographic images. Like Case, he is also a drug addict. The sociopath is recruited in Istanbul.

Before the job can begin, Case is taken to a clinic for repairs. His drug addiction is cured by replacing his pancreas and with a tissue graft to his liver. His nervous system gets fixed with a catch—sacs of the poison that injured him have been inserted into his blood vessels. If Case does not commit his work in time, he will be disabled again as the sacs dissolve. If he completes the job on time, the sacs will be removed.

With the team assembled, Case and Molly perform a small practice job to hone their skills working together. Case and Molly have become friends. Together they steal the ROM module of McCoy Pauley, a deceased cyber-cowboy, who was one of Case’s mentors. The module contains Pauley’s saved consciousness which contains his hacking expertise. They simulate a terrorist attack to steal the goods from Sense/Net’s corporate headquarters.

The latter part of the novel takes place at Villa Straylight, the home of the rich and powerful Tessier-Ashpool family. The home is on a Las Vegas-style cylindrical space resort orbiting space named Freeside. The family owns two different artificial intelligences called Wintermute and Neuromancer. In Berne, Switzerland, Wintermute is housed on a computer mainframe. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Neuromancer is on a physical mainframe. If fully joined, the two systems would become too powerful. Currently, they are joined at a single computer terminal.

The team learns that their employer is actually Wintermute, who wants to merge with Neuromancer. Riviera convinces someone from the Tessier-Ashpool family to let Molly into the home and access a restricted computer terminal. This enables Case to hack into the safeguards protecting the two AI systems. The mission faces several setbacks. They are pursued by the Turing Registry, an AI related law enforcement agency. They are also thwarted by some people Case knows. Even Neuromancer gets in their way. The worst setbacks result in the deaths of both Armitage and Riviera.

Despite everything, Case and Molly successfully accomplish their mission allowing Wintermute to merge with Neuromancer. This merge has unknown consequences. Case is saved from death by having the poison sacs washed out his bloodstream. Case and Molly are paid generously for their success. Victorious, Case and Molly return to Earth where they have a brief fling. They part ways amicably to begin the next chapter of their lives.