Neuromancer’s Finale

William Gibson says this about the revision process for his novel, Neuromancer:

The first two-thirds was rewritten a dozen times- a lot of stylistic changes, once I had the feel of the world, but also a lot of monkeying around to make the plot seem vaguely plausible… My revisions mainly involve looking for passages that “clunk.” …Usually I can correct it by condensing my prose so that individual parts carry more weight, are charged with more meaning; almost always the text gets shorter. I’m aware that this condensation process winds up putting off some readers. “Genre” SF readers say that Neuromancer… [is] impossibly dense, literally impossible to read… One of the big problems with Neuromancer was that I had so much stuff- all this material that had been accumulating- that it was hard to get it into a manageable book.

You can see the change from the first two-thirds of the novel to its climax. There is more of a rushedness to the prose in the end. The earlier chapters are stoically minimalist in their exposition. You can tell Gibson wrote some things long, explaining what he thought was actually happening in the scene, then he went back and asked himself, How can I make this tighter, sleeker? Those early scenes have the feel of a movie trailer or a “previously on….” prelude to a new episode, bursts of narrative with just enough language to, on a second read through, understand what is happening. Even going beyond that, there are a number of early scenes  (the murder of Linda Lee, for example) where there is almost nothing to tell you what has happened, and only much later will a sort of explanation come out.

The climax, though, just feels different. The  characters have traveled into outer space, to a satellite paradise where they will attempt to accomplish a certain mission. The plot is a classic jailbreak, except instead of a person they are rescuing an artificial intelligence (AI) so it can join with another AI called Neuromancer so it can kinda become a god…. Never mind, it is completely silly. The plot is, in the language of the novel, a construct for getting at ideas: altering reality, the nature of freedom, etc. Gibson’s description of his hero, Case, breaking through the cyberspace security systems and bonding the two AIs, and then escaping, is a flurry of colors, tech words, and nonsense. It also struck me as much more beautiful than any true realization of the Internet could be. To hear cyberspace described the way Gibson does, it is a place more beautiful than any I’ve ever seen. Attempts to construct this in film or television fall short. Consider Tron, for example, which is about as close to what Gibson was attempting to create. It doesn’t translate well to a visual form. Ends up just looking cheesy.

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