Tuesday, July 07, 2009

neuromancer turned 25


Macworld | The tantalizing question about William Gibson's ideas in his novel Neuromancer involves their relationship with the course that the Web took and continues to take as Neuromancer's publication date--July 1, 1984, 25 years ago today--recedes farther into the past. In his afterword to the 2000 re-release of the book, novelist Jack Womack suggests that Neuromancer may have directly influenced the way the Web developed--that it may have provided a blueprint that developers who grew up with the book consciously or subconsciously followed. Womack asks "what if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?"

I'll take a stab at discussing Neuromancer's major tech inventions, including the ones that are already coming true, as well as some that seem unlikely to happen anytime soon.

First, a little background. Neuromancer tells the story of Case, once a hot and high-paid cyberspace cowboy who could infiltrate and rip off corporate databases. But he stole from his employer, who took revenge by crippling Case's nervous system with a mycotoxin, rendering him unable to hack. Alone and suicidal, Case is scooped off the street and given a second chance by a shadowy group of people who have big (and scary) plans. In exchange for curing Case's nervous system, they want him to help them infiltrate the core of a huge and powerful AI (artificial intelligence) called Wintermute.

If you haven't already read Neuromancer, consult the (nicely done) plot summary on the Neuromancer Wiki page, which includes a handy character index and a glossary of terms. The novel is widely credited with popularizing the term "Cyberspace," with presenting a thoroughly developed idea of virtual reality, and with introducing the idea of the World Wide Web. Neuromancer also gave rise to a whole new genre in literature: cyberpunk.