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The Chemistry of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (chemistry-blog.com)
112 points by sohkamyung 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

Neuromancer gets a lot of attention because it was the first of Gibson's Sprawl trilogy, but for my money Count Zero is a far better book.

Probably. I'm able to piece together a lot more of what happened and why in Count Zero than I am from Neuromancer. But I still think they're both "required reading". Neuromancer has its great bits that are worth reading and mulling over.

I remember being blown away by the Rasta. Because even in a book that predicted an information matrix connecting everything before the internet existed, that character predicted the culture that would form on it.

He compares their internet to Babylon, which in Rastafari thought refers to Israel's captivity by Babylon and is a symbol of oppressive foreign power. The internet can be an oppressive place with the advertising and the tracking and the pressures of social media.

But beyond just that, Babylon to someone like a Rasta also points back to Babel, and the Tower of Babel was a massive structure built by humanity to unite themselves and become like gods, but which led to their division instead (a theme which is the core of Snow Crash as well).

The modern internet is definitely a massive structure, and on one hand provides a previously unimaginable access to information (Snow Crash considers the possibility that the Tower was built for astrological purposes, thus it too is built for purposes of information). It can sometimes feel like being virtually omniscient. But we've also seen that as people connect online, memes which trigger strong negative emotions spread rapidly. People are once again becoming divided, as we've seen with political developments in recent years.

It probably helped that I read it while dubstep (which originally spun off from dub) was still sweeping the internet so that helped make the connection all the more intriguing.

>dubstep (which originally spun off from dub)

"Dub"step is something of a misnomer and did not spin off from dub. It evolved out of 2-step garage as part of the UK Hardcore Continuum[0], which began in the second summer of love in '88 [1].

[0] https://www.thewire.co.uk/in-writing/essays/the-wire-300_sim...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Summer_of_Love

Oh I would say this is a case of multiple inheritance. It evolved out of the 2-step scene primarily, but it has influences from dub, grime/hip-hop, d&b, etc.

It's usually agreed that dubstep got it's name from the dubplates, but you can't discount the dub's influence: the heavy use of delays, raggae-influenced lyrics and other dub elements are prevalent in the early dubstep of the 00s.

I think they're all deeply flawed, despite being great reading.

Neuromancer benefits from a neat underlying idea (an attempt to free an AI), but reading it today, it suffers from overly linear plotting. The "heist" story is made out of a clunky series of steps so the characters can collect McGuffins, and has the "gang" stay together just so the main character can be a passive spectator to it all. Plot points such as Case's relationship with Molly are not fleshed out enough to make much sense, and Case himself remains something of a cipher at the end; characters like Armitage are much more fleshed-out by comparison.

Count Zero, on the other hand, has more careful characterizations, and shows Gibson mature as a writer, but relies on the old sci-fi trope where multiple intertwined subplots slowly accelerate, then race towards a suspenseful climax in which everyone eventually comes together and realizes they're all part of the same mystery. I liked a lot of the parts, and Turner is certainly a lot more fleshed-out character than anyone in Neuromancer, but I always felt it was a bit scattered, and its conclusion, which should feel neat — AIs inhabiting the net and manipulating events from behind the scenes — feels flat, perhaps because the AIs' manipulation seems overall more mundane and less profound than what Gibson intended.

(I don't remember enough of Mona Lisa Overdrive to comment, which is perhaps telling.)

Gibson is a great prose writer who often conjures up terrific images of futurism, which is what ultimately saves some of his books from being terrible, but he also has a huge problem with plotting. Most of his stories follow a very specific formula, in which a mysterious something (usually an eccentric billionaire who's into art) hires a brilliant, no-nonsense loner to do something that turns out to involve shadowy, revolutionary tech, or some variation on this. As great a writer Gibson is, he is never able to hide the mechanics of his plotting, and as a reader, it's often jarring to see the writer show his cards so much.

I think my favourite work of his is still his early collection of short stories, Burning Chrome. It highlights his scintillating prose and wonderful ideas, but suffers from none of the awfulness of plotting.

What writers do you like, who do this well?

Just curious.

* Terry Pratchett had a problem with endings, but his plotting is often fantastic.

* Iain M. Banks. Consider Phlebas is a "heist" novel that resembles Neuromancer in structure, but where the mechanics of the plot never gets in your face. The Algebraist (which is a great read despite being way overlong) and Against a Dark Background resemble Gibson in certain ways. Player of Games, Feersum Enjinn (which often reads like something Terry Pratchett might have come up with) and Use of Weapons are also really well-plotted novels.

* Philip K. Dick rarely sticks his endings, but he has some great plot-based stories, such as Ubik and Three Stigmata.

* Gene Wolfe.

For some less realistic pharmacology in science fiction:



I remember there were lots of drugs in Bruce Sterling's 'Schismatrix'. I think the cyberpunks were deliberately trying to imitate the Beats in their attempt to create a new kind of writing.

> there were lots of drugs in Bruce Sterling's 'Schismatrix'

Like.... [see my username & profile]

# "Life moves in clades."

Sounds a lot like high dose LSD!

Actually its a call back to the original "new wave" Sf (both the US and UK versions) from the 60's Samuel Delany for one.

The article mentions MPTP, the street drug byproduct that caused a Parkinson's-like condition. I learned about that at university while studying neuropharmacology - those cases led to a huge leap forwards in Parkinson's research:


Incidentally, I tried to use Neuromancer in a TED talk about artificial chemistry. Also used a pseudo William Gibson quote from the excellent [0]. Too nerdy! Slides [1] (js neded), script and story [2].

[0] https://aphyr.com/posts/340-reversing-the-technical-intervie...

[1] https://chorasimilarity.github.io/chemlambda-gui/dynamic/cfp...

[2] https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/chemlambda-...

> Street amphetamine (crystal meth, or simply meth)

That's weird - I always thought that meth is methamphetamine, which, wild very similar chemically, has distinctly different psychological effects.

Street amphetamine != crystal meth, or simply meth

Methamphetamine = crystal meth, or simply met

In Australia, that’s not true. Actual amphetamine is relatively rare, and most “speed” is in fact low grade methamphetamine

You sound like you're agreeing, not contradicting; or is this a regional difference in the meaning of "speed", which I understand to mean "methamphetamine"?

Regional difference. The common misconception here is that “Speed” is amphetamine (of some salt)!

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