I’ve tried reading this book something like four time over the last two years, but something about it always kept me from feeling comfortable about finishing it, about casting it aside and with it settling upon a judgment that I could stand behind and get into imaginary arguments over one too many drinks at all those fancy science-fiction parties I’m invited to.
This is not to say that the book is bad, it’s not, at all. With its world-building, inventive language, and an almost preternatural ability to see into the darkest crevices of the future I’m left awestruck at just how on point the book is. It is a strange and rare delight to witness the creation of a subgenre with all of the sweat, sinew of the 1980s behind it. The problem is just how gangly and uneven the book is. A brilliant mind trapped in the throes of puberty, a journeyman who has mastered the basics of his craft, but whose growing pains are written across every page.
The book moves quick, as the best pulp fiction demands. Sometimes. Other times it drags its feet, taking a paragraph to flesh out the world, but ultimately injecting nothing back into the plot. If the book had stood by one of these styles the book would have flowed brilliantly, but that’s not what happened. It swings from one to the other with an authorial whimsy that oscillates like the manually serrated edge of a ka-bar. It’s not about over or under explaining, it’s a matter of consistency. When you crush entire conversations into one-line summations and then spend half a page telling me about your totally sweet looking trench coat you’re not letting the world breathe. Feed me the world, or make me piece it together as you drag me kicking and screaming into an LCD-noir mystery.
Street samurai, high-tech cowboys, and the vibrant hallucination known only as Cyberspace, Gibson erects the world, its massive sprawling skylines, as fast and as caked with grime as he can muster. Only occasionally does he manage to look back long enough to splash some paint along the edges of things. There are two great ways to tell a story in this book, it’s just a shame they don’t work well when mixed together. The result is a book where details are fleeting, but where the atmosphere sticks to your lungs like the tarry kiss of a cigarette.
“Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button.” ― William Gibson, Neuromancer