The two things you need to understand about Neuromancer are that a) this is a book that informed practically every sci-fi future story you’ve encountered for the last 25 years, and b) that Gibson was bursting with ideas and terrified of critical failure. The future Gibson portrays is full of thousands of little details and big sweeping vistas of complicated societies that he moves through at an almost breathless pace, as if he were terrified that you might not like one idea, so he just moves quickly onto the next one until you’re so bewildered that you just fall into the story and become enmeshed in the world. I hope that doesn’t come off as negative, because this book is awesome. The internet as a visual projection of data, a massive sprawling metropolis covering all of the East Coast, space stations run by Rastafarians, covert assaults on Soviet military databases, one of the most compelling notions of how society would handle and interact with Artificial Intelligences, and a healthy dose of drugs, murder and corruption. If the book was three times as long and consisted entirely of characters hopping around the globe and describing crazy future stuff, I think the book would still be fascinating.
The story itself, when you break it down, isn’t all that original. At it’s basest, it’s the old heist tale. A group of motley, broken, but incredibly talented individuals is gathered up to carry out the impossible caper. Half the fun is watching the character interactions and clashes, the other half is trying to figure out how they plan on carrying it out. In this case, of course, the protagonist is a burnt out drug addict hacker who teams up with a sociopathic hypnotist, a schizophrenic special ops cypher, and a beautiful cyber samurai with razor blade fingers. And their job is to break into a crazy cult-family-corporation-futurist enclave in space to (SPOILERS) unleash a fully sentient AI on the world. It’s every heist story you’ve read or seen, but cranked to 11 and given a stiff dose of amphetamines. What’s really remarkable is that Gibson manages to write relateable and believable characters through all of the chaff of world building details. There’s enough of a person behind the crazy tech that you can follow along, and you can fill in all of the blanks for how they developed in the crazy world around them.
Neuromancer isn’t a book for everyone. If you don’t really appreciate high concept science fiction, or you thought Blade Runner was dumb, don’t bother, this book is not for you. It is a book that at first, rushes through so many details and concepts that it’s not improbable you’ll get lost or confused. If you’re willing to stick with it though, and think through the logical consequences of the notions that Gibson puts forward, this is one of the most entertaining science fiction works you’re ever likely to read.