Neuromancer by William Gibson: Synopsis, Characters & Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Gaines

Benjamin has his master's degree in literature and has taught writing in and out of academia.

Neuromancer is a science fiction novel by William Gibson that had a major impact on the cyberpunk genre and our broader ideas of the role of computers in science fiction. Read more about this bleak world of crime, technology, and corporate espionage.

Synopsis of Neuromancer

Neuromancer, a novel written by William Gibson in 1984, takes place in the near future in a cyberpunk setting. Cyberpunk is a genre that focuses on future societies where technology has advanced, but crime and corruption have as well. Common features include globe-spanning mega-corporations, cybernetically enhanced mercenaries, and the importance of technology as a tool for crime.

The story follows the experiences of Case, an out-of-work hacker who is contacted by a mysterious new employer called Armitage. Along with Molly, a mercenary cyborg, and a thief/illusionist named Peter Riviera, Case participates in a series of data thefts for their employer.

Their first job has them stealing an electronic copy of the mind of McCoy Pauley, a brilliant hacker who taught Case a great deal of what he knows. They steal this electronic mind to help them in performing their next job.

After that, the group must head to Freeside, an enormous space habitat in orbit around Earth. Freeside serves as a luxury resort and casino for the wealthy, and it is also the location of Villa Straylight, the home of the incredibly wealthy and powerful Tessier-Ashpool family. The group's second job is to break into the Villa Straylight and hack into Wintermute, a powerful artificial intelligence created by the Tessier-Ashpool family.

In the end, it turns out that Wintermute itself was behind the whole scheme. Government regulations put careful restrictions on artificial intelligences to prevent them from getting out of hand, and Wintermute was using Armitage and his team to break those restrictions. This allows Wintermute to merge with another A.I. called Neuromancer, becoming a new, more powerful electronic being.

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  • 0:01 Synopsis of Neuromancer
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  • 3:21 Analysis of Neuromancer
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Characters of Neuromancer

Henry Dorsett Case is a professional hacker who works for corporations as a data thief. Before the events of Neuromancer, Case had stolen from one of his employers. As punishment, the employer poisoned him with a toxin that destroyed his ability to access the global computer network known as the Matrix. Depression and listlessness from losing his livelihood led Case to become a drug addict. Armitage hires Case and provides him with a cure for his crippling condition, but has the same poison that originally harmed Case implanted inside him. Either Case continues with the job, or he goes back to being unable to use the Matrix.

Molly Millions is a street samurai, a mercenary who has been surgically altered with cybernetic implants. Along with enhanced reflexes and specialized mirror lenses over her eyes, she has retractable razors under her fingernails and a variety of other enhancements. She and Case begin a relationship early in the novel, which continues until she leaves him suddenly after they complete their assignment.

Armitage is a former Green Beret who assembles Case, Molly, and Riviera for a series of jobs. He is working for Wintermute, a sentient artificial intelligence. Early in his life, Armitage participated in espionage for the United States government. Severely injured after a failed operation, he was subjected to Wintermute's influence and ultimately became its pawn. By the end of the novel, the false personality Armitage had been imprinted with breaks down, resulting in him becoming immersed in his past battles.

Peter Riviera is a thief and drug addict with extensive cybernetic implants that allow him to project holographic images, effectively creating illusions. Riviera is a sadist, taking pleasure in the suffering of others.

Analysis of Neuromancer

The role of the internet in our daily lives is often so all-encompassing that it's hard to imagine another way for technology to have gone. Since Neuromancer was written before the rise of the internet, it gives us a glimpse at one way people imagined it could have gone. In place of the internet, the world of Neuromancer has the Matrix.

The Matrix is like an entirely graphical internet. Users 'jack in' by connecting their brains to a computer and entering a synthetic world where data appears as physical objects. Many of our modern concerns of data security, secrecy, and electronic theft still exist, albeit as visual symbols of information rather than file names and folders.

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