I recently gave Neuromancer a second read-through. But it was more than just another romp in the Sprawl or buzz through Freeside, it was a second chance of sorts. I hadn’t read it for a very long time, and for lack of understanding and the passage of time, I did not remember most any of the plot points in the book. I remember ‘jacking’ in and out of something and a general state of confusion.
But I love the idea of Neuromancer, and on a grander scale the idea of science fiction that can be taken seriously alongside other works of literature, so I was eager to revisit and see how jacking into it a second time- with a more mature brain and a stronger will- would play out. Immediately upon starting the book I was reminded of a third feeling the book had given me upon my initial read- this book sure seems to have inspired a lot of works after it.
And I don’t mean lots of niche works in the realm of science fiction. I am not a sci fi nut (although I think I’d be a great one), so I don’t want to address its influence on dusty old classics of which the majority of the populace would never have heard. I am sure Neuromancer’s influence on those movies and books are much more intricate and vast. But there seemed to me to be a real connection to incredibly popular books and movies.
Here are some of the (admittedly tentative) connections that I saw upon both read-throughs of Neuromancer.
I felt this connection more the first time I read the book, when I displayed less rigor for comprehension and just felt the skeleton of the story. I remember thinking that this was THE inspiration for Inception. Not that they are similar, or that Neuromancer may have influenced Inception in a tangential way, but that Christopher Nolan had most definitely sat down with Neuromancer at some point… that he had loved it, that it remained in his subconscious for an indeterminate length of time until… bang… he hit us with Inception.
On the second time through, I rescind everything I wrote above. But I do get why I felt that connection so vividly. At the heart of this book is the story of a man whose living is to go into an alternate state of being in order to commit various illegal acts, who is now in trouble with a very powerful organization, and forced to commit one last and extreme illegal act in order to free himself from that yoke and get back to doing what he loves. This is both the story of Case and Cobb (those names seem pretty close too… both starting with C and being one syllable and shit…).
Plus, in order to accomplish this final run, everything that comes before is both an introduction to this world and the line of work Case is in, and a gathering of the ‘heist team.’ Which is exactly the overall structure of Inception.
I also think the last run in Neuromancer, and the closing dream sequence in Inception have parallels. From space, Case jacks into another dimension, very similarly to the team in Inception descending into dream space. Case maneuvers multiple layers of the run, going from the matrix, to a simstim of Molly, to the real world with Armitage and back again, which is reminiscent of the descending and ascending of the scenes in Inception as the film navigates the layers of the dream sequence. And at one point, Case, when it looks like he has failed, is thrown into a level of cyperspace where he washes up on the shore of a beach, waves lapping against him, a ruinous city crumbling in the distance, and the long lost love of his life tempting him to stay and get lost in this world forever. Friends… that’s Limbo.
The relationship seems odd because the tonal quality of Inception (a savvy heist film) and Neuromancer (a cyber-punk tech dystopia) are really off, and because a lot of other heist films follow these tropes, but dang if I don’t feel the connection as I go through it.
The Matrix’ connection to Neuromancer feels like firmer footing. In Neuromancer, they jack into what they call ‘the matrix’ which is a data and code driven reality. The movie The Matrix is also about a place called the matrix which is a data and code driven reality. But admittedly, the connection beyond this feels a bit weaker. That is not to say there is not more, but it has a lot more of an abstract tonal connection than clear plot and device parallels.
Mostly Neuromancer has a dystopian and sad view of humanity. As people struggle to find meaning in life outside major vices they turn to cheap thrills and illegal activity. This is a ‘feel’ shared by The Matrix, where people are unaware how meaningless and shallow their lives are, until they are unplugged and brought into the dystopian reality outside the matrix.
In both stories, tech is the villain and the savior. The advancements in technology have grown so large they ruined humanity (a huge concern in the 80s and 90s when every gizmo and gewgaw was so new) but also is the main avenue for meaning and redemption for the main characters.
So the connection is not merely a shared name for a virtual space, but a commentary and tone used to tell the story.
Ready Player One
Ready Player One was not a thing on my first read of Neuromancer, so this connection was made entirely on the second go around. But, someone as into 80’s sci fi as Ernest Cline was, most definitely read one of the best works of 80’s sci fi ever written (there may even be a reference to Neuromancer in Ready Player One,and if I had a fact checker I would most definitely tell them to look into it for me- now receiving applications).
So once that premise is established it is easy to see the parallels between the two. Case lived in the Sprawl, a mess of housing and humanity who get by through using technology and drugs to better their miserable reality, and Wade Watts lives in the Stacks which can operate under the same description.
Case jacks into a computer console for hours on end in order to become his true self, make money, and feel alive. Wade Watts does basically the same.
Both the ‘deck’ in Neuromancer and the OASIS in Ready Player One are high tech computers that operate like VR and use attachable trodes in order to create a simulation of actual feeling while in the system.
The hits keep coming… Honestly Ready Player One feels like the YA version of Neuromancer, and, my feelings on YA aside, I am not sure that’s a bad thing. I do like the immersive quality of Ready Player One in comparison to the ‘take what you get’ world development of Neuromancer, which seems to assume creativity and understanding more often than I have it.
However you look at it, these books feel related, and I think Ernest Cline would be pleased to hear it.
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