Neuromancer: 25 years later

Above: Why Gibson figured the future was gonna suck it

Neuromancer succeeded in capturing the political, economic and cultural zeitgeist of the early 80s, suffusing it with an air of eerie plausibility. While Reagan and Thatcher ebulliently pushed privatization and supply-side economics, superpowers pointed nuclear missiles at each other across the Iron Curtain and secret wars raged across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Information Age companies like Microsoft, Apple and Genentech were on the ascendancy, while the industrial base began shifting to the developing world and the resulting wealth consolidated in the hands of multinational corporations. No, the 80s weren’t all neon and white suits and Ferraris – crack cocaine descended on the ghettos and spread to the ‘burbs. Nihilistic kids passed over by Reaganomics took up punk rock and slam dancing and skateboarding. The inevitable comparisons to Orwell weren’t lost on the day, as seen in this jaw-dropping ad for Apple computers that aired during the Super Bowl in 1984.

Above: Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) directed Apple’s “1984” TV ad

In popular culture, films like TRON (1982) and War Games (1983) introduced the rebellious archetype of the hacker. Blade Runner (1982), often referred to as the definitive cyberpunk film, had been a commercial flop but developed a resurgent fan base as the genre gained popularity. Other film influences on Neuromancer include Fritz Lang’s dystopian classic Metropolis (1927), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968,) THX-1138 (1971), and the noir detective thrillers of the 1940s. Neuromancer also evokes a variety of literary influences, not all of which are science fiction. Echoes of Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick, Bruce Sterling and non-SF writers like William Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon and Dashiell Hammett run throughout Neuromancer. The roots of our present day mashup cyberculture are apparent in Gibson’s sampling of influences, in which the rapid assimilation and recombination of information fragments into cultural memes that reshape thought and human experience.