Neuromancer & Plot

Neurally damaged cyberpunk junkie Henry Dorsett Case takes too many pills for temporary relief from the death spiral in which he is trapped. At the behest of ex-military officer Armitage, hired “razorgirl” and street samurai Molly Millions pulls Case from his miserable existence and repairs his nervous system, effectively indenturing Case to whatever cyberhacking missions Armitage wants him to complete. Cue lots of suspenseful action that ends with Case’s consciousness and that of his dead ex (from when he was a drug addict) forever floating through cyberspace.

Many posts have already commented on the level of sensory detail and its effect on the plot. Though distinctly futuristic, the physical space of the novel is not unfamiliar in the way Le Guin’s planet Winter is, allowing the reader to mentally map out Gibson’s world and follow the intricate visual details that drive the plot. Pistols, computers, bars, and violent crime are easier to relate to versus genderless aliens or humanoid robots, features that create terminology and circumstances that can slow a plot down. The high-speed nature of Neuromancer is enabled by Gibson’s apparent intent to provide a plot that requires little explanation of its surroundings. Even the characters themselves — their feelings, thoughts, pasts — are not as important to the plot as the actions they take, making Neuromancer a pretty quick read.

 

Rick Deckard: Medium man in print, sci-fi badass on screen

In class, the general flatness of Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was a point of conversation, with the entire class finding it odd that the novel’s apparent protagonist was, for lack of a better word, insipid. The following passage, which was brought up in a previous discussion, captures this point well:

“In the irregular light the bounty hunter seemed a medium man, not impressive. Round face and hairless, smooth features; like a clerk in a bureaucratic office. Methodical but informal. Not demi-god in shape; not at all as Isidore had anticipated him.” (218)

Me too, J.R., me too. But I digress.

The android-hunting hero of Dick’s imagination evokes images of cubicles, 3/4 sleeves, and paperwork, not Harrison Ford’s chiseled jaw. Dick’s hero is trapped in a loveless marriage, not a freewheeling bachelor who walks shirtless around his apartment. Perhaps most stark in comparison to the film, Dick’s hero does not waltz into an exotic dancer’s dressing room only to find himself in a hot pursuit that ends in a public shooting and a copious amount of broken glass. In fact, in print, he winds up in handcuffs for being a creepy “sexual deviant,” a charge I find hard to believe would be pressed against Ford. Ultimately, he does not even retire the android himself. On the whole, Dick’s Deckard probably would not sell tickets or popcorn.

The scene in question creates several conflicts with the novel. While there are plenty of instances where Ford is less than heroic, such as when Leon nearly kills him and he has to be rescued by (gasp!) a woman (and an android woman at that), the sensationalizing of Deckard’s investigation of Zhora and his overall persona in the film distracts from one of the novel’s central messages. Deckard’s protagonist status is complicated, and his moon-faced appearance is intentional. The work he does is not heroic or exciting despite the laser tubes and fugitive androids; it is just a job with questionable ethics. The retiring of Luba Luft, more sympathetic as opera singer in the novel, at the hands of Phil Resch is an important turning point for Deckard, who is forced to recognize his appreciation of an android and rethink his world’s concept of empathy entirely. The film’s making of Deckard into a  hard-boiled, lone wolf beefcake is a distraction from Dick’s goal to challenge social perceptions of good and evil because it removes the possibility that Deckard is, perhaps, the immoral one.

The Female Principle

“The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical; hate, rivalry, aggression” (77). 

The Indian tradition believes in the feminine Divine, which means man and woman are equal part of one another, and without one, the other cannot be complete. The male presence is thought to be a stable, static force while the female is shifting and dynamic. While this may sound peachy in a spiritual sense, its cultural implication is one which we humans are all too familiar with: arbitrary gender roles, preconceived notions about men and women, all that good stuff that does more to divide along differences than celebrate them, hence the above passage.  Le Guin references this “feminine principle” in Is Gender Necessary? to explain the “delicacy of a balance” on Gethen. Male and female energies are instead represented by Orgoryen and Karhide’s conflict, with one leaning toward what Le Guin calls “the circularity of the ‘female,’ valuing patience, ripeness, practicality, liveableness,” the other “male” presence “pushing forward to the limit.” In terms of otherness and power, Ai, Le Guin’s cat in a box, seems to be a catalyst for a shift in power and cultural paradigm. Here on Earth alone, history is defined by a need to war against the other, so Ai’s presence as dozens of worlds of unfamiliar cultures and experiences is clearly overwhelming to Gethenians, who, despite varying ideologies and geographical division, are all connected in experience. Le Guin’s inquiry into what truly separates men and women aside from biology ultimately leaves more questions than answers, but one thing emerges from this messy experiment: Sameness and shared experience are not solutions to hate, rivalry, or aggression.

D-503’s Animal Instincts

No! After everything that had happened, after I had unequivocally shown my feelings toward her!

Besides, she did not even know whether I had gone to the Office of the Guardians. After all, she had no way of knowing that I had been sick — well, that I generally could not…And despite all this…

A dynamo whirled, hummed in my head. Buddha, yellow silk, lillies of the valley, a rosy crescent… Oh yes, and this too: O was to visit me today. Ought I to show her the notice concerning I-330? I didn’t know. She would not believe (indeed, how could she?) that I’ve had nothing to do with it, that I was entirely…I was sure there was going to be a difficult, senseless, absolutely illogical conversation […]

I hurriedly stuffed the notice into my pocket — and suddenly saw this dreadful, apelike hand of mine. I recalled how I-330 had taken my hand that time, during the walk […]

And then it was a quarter to twenty-one.

[…]and all the shades dropped suddenly, in all the houses, and behind the shades…

A strange sensation: I felt as though my ribs were iron rods, constricting, definitely constricting my heart — there was not room enough for it.” (Record 9, page 40).

D-503’s attitude toward sex prior to meeting I-330 is the same attitude he holds toward any other biological function. As all things are in Zamayatin’s dystopian future, sex, what One State calls “lowering the shades,” is a highly regulated process in which one must seek permission and follow the proper protocol. D-503, ever loyal to One State, even rejects O in Record One when she makes her spontaneous desire known to him: “How funny she is. What could I say to her? She had been with me only the day before, and she knew — as I did — that our next sex day was the day after tomorrow.” To D-503, sexuality is just another primitive impulse the ancestors could not control. D-503 never takes notice of other Numbers lowering their blinds, but suddenly, as he heads to see I-330, he addresses the routine and even seems to be excited by it. As D-503 increasingly begins to address the sexuality of the other Numbers, he finds himself confronted by his own feelings of desire, which he quickly succumbs to in his encounter with I-330.

The sultry, iconoclastic I-330, is, for all intents and purposes, is what we “ancients” call a tease. The (deliberate) result of her seduction is a very “ill” D-503, who is deeply perturbed by the possibility that his forebears had perhaps not conquered the elemental force of love and reduced it to mathematical order by the Lex Sexualis. Under One State’s strictly systematized order, love and sex are not mere biological requirements, but tools of rebellion that can never be stamped out completely.

Narrative Differences

What stood out as I read “The Sunset of Mankind,” in which the Time Traveller introduces the Morlocks, was the drastic difference in the structure of the story. While the novel version is  told entirely through a frame narrative — save for the beginning and end, where the first-person narrator details the interactions between the Time Traveller and the various other characters — the National Observer publication is a dialogue between the Time Traveller, the “red haired man,” the “common-sense” person, the “medical man,” and the “very young man.” It is through this dialogue that several questions are posed and answered directly: Do the Eloi have skilled labor, as is suggested by their garb? When did civilization cease to exist and allow the “unfit” to rapidly multiply? What is a morlock?  What about the change in climate? Rather than allow the Time Traveller divulge the details of the story and slowly reveal the answers to these questions, this interruption in the narrative seems to work as a tool to satisfy the reader’s curiosity or perhaps quell skepticism. However, the splitting of the Eloi and the Morlocks, which is explained in the novel as a result of the “social difference between the Capitalist and the Labourer,”  becomes lost in the dialogue. What is also lost in the dialogue is the evolution of the Time Traveller’s knowledge of the strange environment in which he finds himself. In the novel, as the Time Traveller narrates chronologically, the reader is limited to his present state of knowledge and the suggestion there is more information to come: “I dare say you will anticipate the shape of my theory; though, for myself, I very soon felt that it fell far short of the truth.” The benefit of the frame narrative is that the reader is able to accompany the Time Travellor on his journey of discovery