Humanity in Gibson’s Neuromancer is defined as a society which has achieved a status of advanced technological capabilities. Even though the society has become extremely intelligent it is still structured in a similar way as it is today. From reading the first half of the novel I have to agree with Brian Aldiss’s definition of what science fiction is. Gibson is attempting to define the status of mankind in his fictional world and how people are functioning in their lives. Although Gibson has not explicitly stated mankind’s place in relation to the universe as a whole, some inferences can be made to fill in the gaps.
To define what mankind has become in the world of Neuromancer Gibson starts the novel by describing a few things about the main character, Case. Case has had his mind altered, functions in society as a smuggler, and possesses the qualities we would associate with the lower class citizens. Things such as drug use and illegal purchases of firearms are present in the beginning of the story. We also learn about some upper class people like Armitage, who has seemingly unlimited resources to provide necessary travel and equipment to Case and the team. This is representative of a structured society of mankind existing in the world.
Mankind is also defined in the novel by its intellectual capabilities and in Neuromancer, technology has become extremely advanced. There are ROM constructs that hold computer representations of people, computers like the one Case uses for his hacking, and the artificial intelligence known as Wintermute. Here, Gibson is defining mankind as more developed in the field of technology and intellectually more complex and capable.
Towards the end of the first half of the novel we find that Case, Molly, the Finn, Armitage, and the rest of the crew board a shuttle. From the context of zero gravity and later the mention of their destination generating its own gravity, we know they are commercially flying in space to a location holding a human population. This action is definitive of mankind’s exploration and expansion into the universe. Although there is not mention of encountering extraterrestrials or other civilizations, mankind is reaching out into the universe. Social structure, intelligence, and space exploration cover defining mankind and its relation to the universe.
However, Aldiss’s definition adds more to the requirement of being considered a work of science fiction. He states that science fiction must also be characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode. In order for a work of literature to be considered Gothic, typically that means it needs to contain a mix of romance and horror. It is obvious from the first half of the novel that this definition absolutely applies to Neuromancer. Early in the novel, after Case’s surgery to repair his pancreas and prevent drugs from affecting him, there is a rather explicit sexual scene involving him and Molly. This scene is short but gets the romance feeling across very strongly. Later, when Case is a “rider” in Molly’s head, as Larry referred to their connection, there is a quick scene of her teasing him by touching her own nipple so he could feel the sensation. A quick scene, but it still pokes at the recurring tone of romance between Case and Molly in the novel.
Moving on to horror, remember the novel was published in 1984, where horror was not quite as terrifying as it is today. There are several scenes that could be considered horrific in the first half of the novel. In the very beginning when Case is being tailed by people and hides in the office cubicle with the Cobra, I found to be a little frightening because he did not know whether he was going to live or die. Where true horror lies in the first half of the novel is with Wintermute. “… [Case] had to walk the length of the ranked phones. Each rang in turn, but only once, as he passed.” (Gibson). This scene is full of terror. Wintermute, an AI computer, knows where Case is down to the very steps he is taking. Wintermute can talk and wants to talk with Case through the telephone which is even more disturbing. The horror doesn’t end there either. When Case is “jacked in” to the Matrix, he is taken over by Wintermute who uses Case’s own memories to depict a world to him and communicate with him. Case is so disoriented he’s not even sure he’s still “jacked in” or not. A computer has taken over his mind and is preventing him from discerning reality, an utterly horrific situation for him to be in.
Gibson’s work of science fiction, Neuromancer, is characteristic of Gothic literature, containing romance and horror, and also defines the state of mankind in his fictional world. Brian Aldiss defines science fiction by these qualities, therefore Neuromancer can be declared as a work of science fiction by his definition. Gibson’s introduction states that his goal was to make a science fiction novel unlike any before it. He writes in a different tone and structure than most, but he still kept his story within the realm of science fiction novels.
Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Aldiss, Brian and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. London: Victor- Gollancz Ltd., 1986. Page 26.