Sidekicks: Neuromancer

February 26, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Posted in cyberpunk, science fiction, sidekicks | Leave a comment

berger-culture-genres.jpgBerger, A.A. (1992) Popular Culture Genres: Theories and Texts. NY: Sage.  neuromancer-sidekicks.jpg

Gibson, W. (1984). Neuromancer. NY: Ace Books.  

As the quintessential example of science fiction cyberpunk, Neuromancer’s characters and plot structure are the antithesis of classic science fiction defined by Berger (1992). The protagonist Case is not a heroic spaceman but a selfish, drug-addicted cybercowboy (computer hacker) with the morality of a street hustler on the make. 

Molly Case’s first sidekick is a bioengineered “razorgirl” named Molly who’s assigned by Case’s employer to keep him off drugs and on task. Molly sounds like a cyborg because of her flat affect, superhuman reflexes and optically enhanced eyes protected by mirrored shades. However, Molly reveals her humanity by confessing that she’s helping Case to capture one sleaze who murdered her boyfriend and another who made her commit degrading acts in her former life as a prostitute. Molly herself paid for the painful razorblade finger modifications.  Molly is elevated from sidekick to heroine but is certainly neither the helpless nor plucky spacegal prototypes of classic SF. Molly is incredibly tough, dragging broken limbs through the Matrix with nary a whimper.

Although  Molly protects Case, has sex with him, and watches his back, you never sense that Molly has “feelings” for Case. Case, on the other hand, uses the “SymStyn” to get inside Molly’s head while she’s battling the villains, and to make sure Molly is okay. 

Dixie FlatlineThe second major sidekick is a technician, consistent with SF secondary character roles outlined in Berger. Dixie Flatline is a computer AI with the speech patterns of a 20th century flyboy or astronaut.Dixie is a computer ROM so he lacks emotional capacity, even though he is a computer replica of a human cybercowboy, McCoy Pauley. Pauley survived three brain deaths (flatlines) while hacking the Matrix and was then reduced to being “on call” for hackers like Case.

Dixie foreshadows  Case’s likely fate, and AI Dixie sounds a bit like HAL in Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike HAL, all Dixie wants is to complete his mission and to be permanently deleted. Dixie appears to get his wish at the end of the novel. 

Maelcum  The third sidekick is also a technician, responsible for keeping Case’s hired ship operational. Maelcum is a member of Zion, a Rastafarian space station community, and he speaks a stereotypical Jamaican patois, blasts reggae music and affably smokes dope while working on machinery. He spoke like a stoned Scotty (Star Trek)  minus Scotty’s perennial agita over whether he could get the ship going. Maelcum serves Case well but is clearly a hired helper, rather than a friend or confidante for Case.  

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Cyberpunk Sci Fi

February 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm | Posted in awards, cyberpunk, SCI FI, science fiction, SF, sidekicks | Leave a comment

Gibson, W. (1984.) Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books.  

neuromancerfirst1.jpg

Neuromancer achieved both instant critical acclaim and cult status, earning Book of the Year, the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984 and the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award in 1985.  It is credited with launching a new SF subgenre, termed “cyberpunk” and remains a SF classic today.  In 1982, Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his story. “Burning Chrome”.  In Neuromancer he delineates his concept for “The Matrix”, a global information network which is today’s internet. 

  “Cyberpunk” merges the amoral, urban anarchy of  1980’s punk music and drug  culture with “cybernetics” exploration of the human-machine interface. Cyberpunk’s bleak, dystopian vision of the corrupted near future is typified by the disturbing film Blade Runner.  For more info, see   Cyberpunk as a SciFi genre 

Synopsis:  The protagonist, Case, is a drugged-out “cyberspace cowboy” (hacker), who is banished from the Matrix and close to death after stealing from a client. Desperate, Case agrees to hack the network for a shadowy militaristic figure, Armitage, in exchange for renewed health and wealth. Case works with and fights against a parade of unsavory characters from Tokyo to Paris, aided by Armitage’s razor girl assassin Molly, and an  Artficial Intelligence (AI) cybercowboy named Dixie, plus other shifty sidekicks.  

Throughout the novel, humans are portrayed as weak, flawed beings incapable of intimacy or honest personal relationships. At the start, Case’s prostitute girlfriend Linda Lee betrays him to get drug money; shortly thereafter, Case fails to intervene when Linda is murdered (though he agonizes and has a few nightmares about his indifference throughout the book).

 As Case penetrates the  Matrix “ice” (security layers), he discovers his real client is an AI called Wintermute, whose goal is to merge with another AI, Neuromancer, to exponentially grow in power and psychosocial awareness (cyberspeak for “take over the world”) The only hope for human intervention is from threeJane, the brilliant but emotionally bereft teenage heiress in a  dysfunctional family of capitalists. Her father is a pedophile and necrophiliac. 

The novel fizzles out after the AI components unite, with Case back to his old cowboy and body-abusing habits, and his sidekicks scattered around the world. The lack of full resolution is understandable, not just because it’s cyberpunk. Author Gibson wrote Neuromancer as the first of a cyberpunk trilogy, followed by Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).  

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