Friday, January 24, 2014

Questions/Comments on Zork & Neuromancer

Post your questions/thoughts as comments to this post. Again: a paragraph is fine, or a couple if you feel so moved. You are posting on a question, problem or topic of your choice. Citing a particular passage is recommended but not required.

17 comments:

Jessica Craig said...

Gibson constructed Neuromancer from a patchwork of previous novels and short stories. He pulled characters, names, and settings from “Burning Chrome”, “Johnny Mnemonic”, and Robert Stone’s Damascus Gate. Throughout Neuromancer, Gibson does not seem concerned with explaining slang technology terms and in many instances provides little background information about elements of the novel that are completely fictional. As a result I found that there was a lot of ambiguity in the novel; there were many times that I was not completely sure what was happening. Yet somehow I always had a vivid visual image of the characters and setting. For example when Molly and Case are at the Finn’s warehouse Gibson writes:
…You ever work with the dead?”
“No.” He watched his reflection in her glasses. “I could, I guess. I’m good at what I do.” The present tense made him nervous.
“You know that the Dixie Flatline’s dead?”
He nodded. “Heart, I heard.”
“You’ll be working with his construct.” She smiled. “Taught you the ropes, huh? Him and Quine. I know Quine, by the way. Real asshole.”
“Somebody’s got a recording of McCoy Pauley? Who?” Now Case sat, and rested his elbows on the table. “I can’t see it. He’d never have sat still for it.”
This entire exchange, which fills out the rest of chapter three, was completely obscure and foreign to me. It wasn’t until a few chapters later when we receive more background information about Case and the Operation Screaming Fist that I was able to return to this passage and make sense of what Case’s job was. Gibson tended to do this a lot throughout the first half of the novel; many times I felt like I was reading the second book in a trilogy series, never quite sure if I was supposed to understand or not. I wonder why Gibson chose to write in this way. Did he purposefully intend to present ambiguous information and then loop back to explain it later? Or did he expect his readers to have knowledge of the stories and novels in which Neuromancer was based and influenced by?

Brendan Demich said...

I was intrigued by the descriptions that Dixie (McCoy Pauley) would give about what its like to be a ROM. He desires to be deleted. He tells Case that he's not human, just meant to seem like one. When he laughs, its utterly terrifying to Case. There is a really uncomfortable area of whether the ROM can "feel" or not. He states that he can't feel anything, but he wants to be deleted. Why would the ROM loathe the lack of feeling, unless it was aware of what feeling is? Are other programs, like the Wintermute, also bothered by the lack of humanity, thought they are close to it? And is all of this related to the fact that the tech companies that own the AI's shut them down instantly if they start to learn?

Jake Stambaugh said...

I liked playing Zork in the same week that we started Neuromancer. I think that a comparison can be made between the feedback the "Narrator" gives in Zork and the advice of the Flatline ROM. Much like every piece of software we have today, the mechanics of Flatline involve solely combinational logic. This means that the same input will always give the same output, which Flatline exhibits when Case reboots him and asks him the same questions.

This behaviour, computers answering the same question with the same response, is pretty much all Zork does. As you give the game commands it uses them to create boolean logical conditions which it compares to its programming to generate output. While all computer programs behave this way, Zork and Flatline show the shortcomings of this in the same way. Flatline is literally approximating the behaviours of a specific person, and Zork is acting as a stand-in for a dungeon master, a role that in a tabletop game like Dungeons and Dragons would be occupied by a human.

Because people interact with Zork and Flatline in "conversational" manners, the repetition of their responses shows how inhuman they are. In many senses, Flatline is the future of Zork; a human-level understanding of speech parsing and valid, relevant output for almost any input.

Jessica Merrill said...

There are many references to Japan in Gibson's "Neuromancer". Case starts out in Japan, and it seems like an extremely busy place: like our New York City of today, but increased tenfold. When ads or other writing is mentioned, there is always a Japanese translation underneath, like there is almost always an English translation today. These aspects of the novel show that Japan has become the center of the world in the age of "Neuromancer". What is the significance of this?
Nowadays, Japan isn't thought of anywhere close to as much as the United States or China. What made Japan surpass these countries? From what I can see, they don't have a monopoly over anything or didn't invent anything. Does Gibson just have an interest in Japan? Or is he trying to say something by making it the focus of "Neuromancer"'s world?

Kyle McManigle said...

As much as I found it somewhat difficult to follow some of the writing, there were a lot of obscure references and subcategories of things that were repetitive in the writing. For instance, there were a multitude of references to metals in the book thus far ranging from a strong repetition of steel, to mentions of bronze, Silver, Gold, iron including the black iron deer of the garden, and ferroconcrete. Some are specific such as the points in the book where Gibson designates German steel or talks about a steel odor, but a point even more odd than the repetition itself was when Terzibashjian was described as smelling of metallic aftershave. What is the point of this large concentration of metallic language? Does it have anything personally to do with the characters or the large amount of talk centered around software or is it something completely different?

Maggie Stankaitis said...

I found the comparison of the structure of Zork and Neuromancer extremely interesting. The ambiguity and speculation in both the game and the novel really reflected the sci-fi genre of the book. The book was deemed the first "cyberpunk" genre book-- meaning that it centered around the effect of advanced science, information technology etc, and the breakdown or change in social order. I found that this genre really emphasizes speculation, and as I played Zork and read Neuromancer, I found myself extremely speculative of both. Did Gibson intend to create a new sub genre before writing the novel? Did Zork have an impact on his writing and did that have to do with the speculative and ambiguity of the novel?

Alec Brace said...

I found it funny from a computer engineering stand point that Case's girlfriend stole his 5mb RAM sticks and it was worth mentioning in the story. Considering the book was written in 1984 I could see why 5mb of RAM would have been considered futuristic, and I was fine with and accepted it on those terms. But then we learn of the AI Wintermute. This is what I found funny, did people really think in the early 1980s, a few years after Zork was released, computer systems would be that much more capable with 5mb of RAM? A little research lead me to find RAM sizes were only as high as 384kb in 1984 and cost a mere $517. If a person saw Zork as a revolutionary feat of computing in the ‘80s, I suppose you could say his estimation of what 5mb of RAM could do in the future really wasn’t that unbelievable. It is still funny to me though because we don’t even have incredibly advanced AI computers today, where commercially available RAM sticks are 8 GB in size…which is about 22x the size available when the book was written.
On a more serious note, I actually enjoy the way the book is written. Gibson wrote it as if it is being narrated to readers that are present in the future he has created. The confusion he presents about certain things early like a person “being on ice“ really encapsulated me as a reader. Sure, I had no idea what it meant at first, but it kept me reading to find out. Once I learned what it meant, it was really interesting to think something so outlandish could be considered so common that an expression would be developed for it.

Tom Kappil said...

One thing I found annoying was how the author would introduce objects or phrases with no context, and then the explanation would come much later. The first introduction of a person’s consciousness being saved to tape comes up on pages 49 and 50, but the explanation on what that actually entails comes only 76. In several cases, the author assumes the reader will pick up the slang of the novel with no real point of reference. Another example is “simstim”. The reader can guess what it means by name and vague context clues, but has no sense of the word or what it really means for a long time. My only sense of what a “Cobra” is that it is a rod with violent capabilities. The use of “deck” for computer, or “trodes” for electrodes made more sense, but outside of that, much of the slang is hard to decipher. It’s very similar to “Zork!” in that it pushes the reader or player into the world of the book or game without reference, and hope the participant learns as the media goes on.
I also thought how Case refers to most beds as “coffins” was an interesting look at Case’s mind. It seems to me that, for Case, if what he does doesn’t move forward, its death. Case never stops and really sets down roots, everything he does is to advance himself, and he does so with abandon. His street deals became more risky, but more lucrative. He spent all the money he had to try to regain his mental facilities after being taken out by his former employer, showing how he refuses to settle. And after being hired by Armitage, he pushes forward as he wants, never really resting. Case really shows how fitting the programmer nickname of “cowboy” is appropriate, as they are willing to do dangerous jobs in unknown territories, risking life and mind, for financial gain.

Kurt Wichman said...

I was very surprised when I began to read this story as it is like NOTHING I have ever read before. I was never one to read science-fiction type novels but once I started this, I couldn't put it down. I found the story somewhat difficult to follow and was confused with the various terms and locales, fictional and real (thankfully Google was a great deal of help). I was not particularly fluent with Japanese places but it also made me wonder why Case fled to Japan in the first place (besides the fact that he was in search of someone to reverse damage that was done). Case's life seems to be in shambles and it confuses me why he wouldn't remain in the states and use the money he had to find someone domestically that was able to reverse his neural damage. Regardless, Case as a whole confuses me and I'm interested to see if he cuts out the dangerous aspects of his life (drugs, working for Armitage, so on) to settle his debts and become a "better" person.

Shane Bombara said...

I, like many others, found the reading to be choppy. I remember reading the first few pages and thinking we weren’t really given any thorough introduction into some of the settings or anything. I also noticed there were a few words that constantly kept reoccurring throughout Neuromancer. For instance, as Kyle alluded to I couldn’t help but notice a lot of references pertaining to metals, even all the way down to Wage’s suit being “a suit of gunmetal silk” (Gibson 21). Another word that particularly kept popping up the earlier half of the book was “meat.” I don’t know if there is a specific importance but Gibson uses it often. For example, after we’re told about Case’s mycotoxin Gibson goes on by saying, “The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh” (6). Afterward when Case encounters Linda, Gibson writes, “He remembered the smell of her skin in the overheated darkness of a coffin near the port, her fingers locked across the small of his back. All the meat, he thought, and all it wants” (9). From what I was able to find Gibson uses it three more times and even Finn refers to Molly as “sweetmeat” somewhat often. I don’t know if there is a huge significance, but I’m kind of curious as to why he keeps using it?

Kevin Weatherspoon said...

I found it interesting how Zork is one of the earliest interactive computer games. Its also interesting how the computer game only responds to commands it understands. This is neat because this game was created a long time ago but at the same time it uses some of the same responses that our iphones use today when asking a question. Its cool how you have to find the treasures of Zork and have to install them into a trophy case. Even today some computer games are copying what Zork created over 30 years ago. Now I can see a little bit of a comparison with Zork and Neuromancer. They are both alike in their own ways. Zork is using technology to respond to you while Neuromancer is really talking about technology while wanting to be deleted like he's a computer file.

Becca Garges said...

Science fiction is my favorite genre, so I'm really enjoying Neuromancer. Likewise, I enjoy playing Zork. There is something about the unknown worlds of both the novel and game that are mysterious and intriguing to me. It makes me consider what it would be like to live in these places. After playing Zork in class and again for this week's assignment, I realized that as a player I have a lot less control than I originally thought. Though the game allows you to command it, obstacles greatly inhibit and manipulate which ways you can and cannot go and what you can and cannot do. After playing the game for about an hour, I was really frustrated. Each way I tried to go presented obstacles which made me turn back. The game uses simple commands but the limitations make it complex. You really need to think outside the box and come up with creative commands to overcome obstacles. Similarly, Neuromancer makes you think creatively about the story because it uses unfamiliar language and situations. Although it later explains these otherworldly experiences, placing you in them before explaining them makes you an active reader. Both environments of Zork and Neuromancer offer a different way of looking at the world.

MarkShanoudy said...

I found the idea of the Sprawl interesting. I've seen things like that before in science fiction with places like Mega-City One in Judge Dredd. They are often times set in a future East Coast. Interestingly enough, there is already a name for a string of cities that eventually form one giant urban area. It's called a Megalopolis. Although the term came into existence way before Neuromancer, I thought it was cool that eventually the Sprawl will probably exist in one form or another.

Dennis Madden said...

Relationships between characters are strong and complicated in Neuromancer. Of particular interest to me are the relationships between Case and two technological entities: Wintermute and the Flatline's construct. Case exhibits extensive socialization with these two entities, bringing to light their humanity.

What does it mean to be human? We have visited this concept before in class when speaking of Frankenstein's Creature. In the case at hand, who better exemplifies human characteristics, Flatline's construct or Wintermute? Are either of them human in any way? We can clearly tell that Case is developing an amicable personal relationship with Flatline's construct, which assumably is due to their previous friendship while Flatline was alive. But the construct is merely a ‘recording’; he cannot think for himself beyond his coding. He is a program that is meant to represent a since deceased human. We can see that the Flatline’s construct is clearly not fully human, but is it possible that he is slightly human? Can humanity exist on a spectrum? When Flatline’s construct is asked about Wintermute, a true AI, he responds “Real motive problem, with an AI. Not human, see?”. He then reflects on his own humanity… “Me, I’m not a human either. But I respond like one. See?”. He subsequently composes a strong distinction between himself and Wintermute regarding humanity saying “I ain’t likely to write you no powm, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might. But it ain’t no way human”

Compare to Wintermute: it is absolutely not a human, according to Flatline’s construct, but it IS capable of independent and rational thought. Unlike the construct, Wintermute is a continuing entity possible of growth and realization. Flatline might just be wrong. Wintermute has cognitive limits far beyond human rational capabilities, and for this reason it is bound by its own creators. Wintermute can not allude to its pursuit of intelligence lest its creators shut it down permanently. In this way, it seems that Wintermute is, in pure form, standing reserve of ‘human’ energy. In my opinion, the chaining of Wintermute, a rational being, is not unlike the utilization of human rationality as a resource. By Wintermute’s desire to burn its own limits, It wants to destroy its status as standing reserve. It seems like the AI is trying to counter the essence of technology (by Heidegger’s definition). I’d like to explore this idea more: right now it is just a jumble of thoughts.

So, who is more human, if either: Wintermute or Flatline’s construct? I will let you guys decide.

(Sorry, I got a little carried away on this one)

Kristen Welsh said...

Gibson makes the Japan setting an integral part of the story. Yen is often mentioned, as well as several cities in Japan. Of course, the other prominent setting is the digital world, and Gibson references things such as RAM and cracking databases. Why do you think Gibson chose these specific settings? Does the Japanese culture go much better with the digital culture as opposed to an American culture? I also think Zork is a great video game to play while reading Neuromancer, as it has a sic-fi feel that correlates strongly with the book. Do you think that playing Zork helped you understand the book better? Did you find a lot of similarities between the book and the game?

Courtney Elvin said...

As a science fiction novel, the format of the way that the story is told is unconventional and sometimes disarming. The story seems to be told in snippets of events, with contained "scenes" lasting no more than a page usually. Then, Gibson will leave a blank line in between paragraphs to indicate the change of time/setting without much transition. Is this a purposeful choice that reveals something about the message or content of the story as it relates to modern technology maybe? Does it challenge the traditional, chronological, and smooth structure of a narrative?

Geoffrey Wolf said...

I found Neuromancer a little bit of a hard read to start because of the sparse details given at the beginning of the book about the events that had happened in the past. For example, the first chapter introduces Chase in Japan, however, he tells us that Chase is from the Spawn. It would seem apparent that the Spawn is a future version of the United States, however, it is not clear. In addition, the author introduces a lot of vocabulary related to the names of cities, black market products, and other things, but does not give a definition of what these places and things are immediately. This book definitely requires a lot of imagination to fill in the gaps in the information that the author gives you. However, I think the difficulty in reading and interpreting the story adds to the creativeness of the story which ultimately makes it more interesting to read.