William Gibson Essay, Research Paper
Around the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s a new genre of fiction was beginning to emerge. A derivative of science fiction, cyperpunk was a fresh new addition to what was primarily American literature. One of the pioneers of this new niche was William Gibson. In 1984 William Gibson’s first novel was printed. Neuromancer went on to win the Nebula, Hugo and Philip K. Dick awards, all are high honors amongst science fiction novelists. It was a rare feat for one book to win all three awards. Neuromancer presented it’s readers with a fresh new world of science fiction, by combining high tech with the effect of technoshock. It was revolutionary.
After Neuromancer, Gibson went on to write several more ground breaking novels, all based within the same reality Neuromancer introduced. Count Zero, Monalisa Overdrive, Idoru and Virtual Light all pulled the reader into a harsh new world where technology was rampant and things were out of control political. In other words, his novels showed of a glimpse into a possible, a very possible, future.
His books revolved around a few basic themes. The themes in which he wrote, were what he felt were inevitable turns approaching on the worlds path. Primary among these was the acceleration of technology. Not only was technology accelerating, but it was outpacing humanities ability to cope with out. The resulting effect was classified, in his works, as technoshock. Simple defined, it was a humans inability to react sensibly to the science around him. Mostly this takes the form of medical technology. Specifically the introduction of mechanically prostheses devices as replacements for lost limbs. Although at the time, this was a very real concept, Gibson added a significant twist to the reality. The idea of voluntarily removing a limb or two, to gain the added strength of a mechanical leg or arm. Of course this had a price. Gibson’s books explore the idea of losing a piece of your humanity along with the body part you chose to replace.
For example in Neuromancer, the main character, Case, constantly worries about getting attacked by gangs of “cybered” up people. Cybering up would be the process of exchanging a real part for the metal one. Case explains that these flocks of metal clad people are many times more violent than your average street criminal. With the loss of so much flesh and bone, and the installment of the cyber parts, their minds were made unstable and as a result, they were much more violent and prone to acts of terror.
This had a real world counterpart. People with pacemakers and other artificially organs often felt a bit detached by them. The same thing was experienced with people who have had transplants of animal organs, such as a pig’s. The felt like losing a heart of liver was like losing a piece of their soul.
Gibson’s version of this takes us a few decades ahead to when this kind of radical, at present, surgery would be common place and even more exotic prodcedures would be possible. Cloned, vat grown limbs could be used to replace mangled ones, and of course mechanical ones could be another option. People would become nonchalant about changing a toe if theirs bothered them. Something so de-humanizing would become a subject dealt with in apathy.
Another quirk of this technological advanced would be a new kind of crime. Today cars are stolen and stripped of their wheels and other parts to be sold on the black market and in chop shops. In Gibson’s works, a regular healthy person may be stopped in an alley somewhere to be robbed of an arm of a leg. Maimed and dying the victim wasn’t safe yet as scavengers would come and try to sell the other organs to human body chop shops. Though, much more morbid, these kind of setting almost plays out in hospitals nation wide.
When people are in accidents or are injured purposefully, and they need an organ transplant, they are placed on waiting lists until an organ frees up for them to be helped. But what if a rich man greased some palms to try and get bumped up on the list, his life fleeting from his possession ? The likely next stop would be for people arranging accidents to folks with similar blood and body types to increase the supply of organs that go to those on organ waiting lists. Gibson gives us the next steps in his books.
During the book a mysterious boss known as Armitage is seemingly a victim of the loss of empathy due to having body parts replaced with cybernetic implants. He was a soldier in one of the many corporate wars. Not the victim of any accident, Armitage seems to have volunteered to have many of his body parts exchanged, arms and legs, most torso organs, so that he could fight as a mercenary in the corporate wars. It was almost a military style enlistment. A person would volunteer to be “cybered” up and the corporation would pay for the surgery and parts. Then in exchanged the person would serve in that companies covert army for a few years, then he or she was free to be a mercenary or whatever that person wanted to do.
Even women actively undergo cybernetic surgery. They seem to have a broad range of reasons. Some weaker ladies like to augment their physical strength so they could resist the attacks of the various denizens of Gibson’s future. Some have sexual organs replaced and enhanced so they can work as high price call girls. Neuromancer’s female protagonist, a woman named Molly, ha had both of the above done. Her hand are equipped with razor sharps nails. This is due to her service as a covert spy, taking missions that required subtlety not brute strength. She had her sexual organs removed and replaced because she was actually, previous to her covert service, a slave.
Captured and beaten, Molly was forced into the service of a pimp who controlled her by implanting a behavior modifying computer chip in her brain. For most of her teen years and some of her adult years, her mind watch idly as her body did everything it was ordered to due. Only a compassionate customer of the pimps eventually did her a favor and paid for the chip to be removed. In return she severed from the company her worked for and as his body guard. This is what led to the other implants.
Molly also had a strange looking face. In place of eyes and the bridge in-between, molly had a hard visor. Almost like a pair of sporty eyeglasses, this visor was permanently in place. After her servitude, she know longer wanted to look weak and frail any longer. She also had cybernetic eyes installed, which like in many science fiction movies, gave her enhanced vision. The visor partly served to protect this investment. When molly and Case meet, He finds her cold and unemotional. Even through out the novel, while Case challenges the world he lives in, Molly remains cool and apathetic about everything. She just helps him along with Armitage, takes her pay for the job of being their body guard, then moves on. She had no intention of keeping the friendship she formed with Case active.
Even Neuromancer’s main character has parts of his humanity removed. First he had his brain augmented with cybernetic implants that would allow him to jack into the future’s version of the Internet. After an accident, his lungs were replaced, along with several other internal organs. This was Armitage’s doing, as he wanted to enlist Case’s computer skills to harass the huge company which turned on him in while Armitage was employed there. Occasionally Case would look down at his chest and imagine the machinations under his ribs working to replicate the breathing he took for granted for years with his own lungs. He also imagined seeing the trademark of the company from which his lungs were manufactured from appearing on the tops of his mechanical lungs. This relates to another one of Gibson’s main theme’s.
The antagonists in Neuromancer and it’s pseudo-sequels Count Zero and Monalisa Overdrive are multinational corporations which have almost a sovereignty in the world. As these companies grew in economical power they flexed political muscles which after years of manipulation delivered the companies more power over a city than it’s local government. The executives of the company could get away with anything in the companies locale, because the corporation probably owned everything in the city, and the police force was saturated with stooges humble to the money the corporation was spreading around. The largest of these corporations boasted as much power as the United States of America wields today. Gibson’s books showed the power of dollar out pacing the force of a bullet. Economic power was the primal force in developing the world Gibson set’s his tales in. Today, one can almost see the beginning of this cycle.
As companies combine and merge, they increase the power of themselves and also the range of their influence. Many of these companies span the globe already, and combining with other equally large corporations almost makes them ubiquitous. At present the governments of the world are stronger than these companies but for an instant, one might wonder what would happen if, let’s say, the United States’ national deficit put the country in serious trouble. A greedy mega-corporation might step in with the funds to bail the country out in exchanged for a good amount of land in one of the states. This is almost like signing over a piece of the country as the result of losing a war. That land would almost become sovereign under the cooperation because the country would need the assistance. This is far from a reality now In the U.S., but say in third and fourth world countries not economically stable, this could be a reality. After this, any number of things could happen. Companies could apply to the United Nations perhaps, and be recognized as nations. In Gibson’s novels the companies themselves are the nations of the world, subject only to the law’s of social Darwinism. They fight amongst themselves in covert operations covered as civil wars in third world countries.
Also explored in William Gibson’s book was the idea that these corporations were almost living entities. Despite the higher-ups who ran the companies, the corporations almost seemed to have an instinct of survival. Case, spends most of Neuromancer running from the various elements of a huge corporation known as Tessier-Ashpool. This is the company in which Armitage served as a covert operative. After hacking into their network at Armitage’s forceful request, Case finds out that he is permanently on the companies black list. During the end of the novel, Case tries desperately to find out who is behind the many attacks he is target of. But it appears that know one person seems to care who Case is. There is something else guiding the story.
This guiding force is not some mysterious God or elemental. It’s actually the computer intelligence that runs Tessier-Ashpool’s many mainframes and data networks. Known as AI’s, for artificial intelligence’s, these are seemingly sentient computer programs which have personalities and temperaments. Tessier-Ashpool’s AI, is angered by Case’s intrusion upon it’s systems and since it is “bored” it decides to chase Case down, along with his compatriots, to amuse itself. To do so it chases Case out of the very element which is his existence.
Armitage was attracted to employ Case because on the “Net”, Case was known as one of the best hackers. In Neuromancer’s future, the “Net” is apparently the evolution of today’s Internet. Only Gibson’s book was written a few years before the Internet was even near a reality. The terms Gibson used in his book were actually assimilated into popular culture, after the Internet grew to resembled a crude, text based version of the sprawling colorful pseudo-reality Gibson describes. The term cyberspace was first used in Neuromancer and is the commonly accepted word now for mentioned sites on the Internet. Also parallel to the Internet’s evolution, was the rising of a counterculture. Hackers, people who use complex programs to break the security of private networks, to access the data hidden there, are just as real in this world as they are in Neuromancer and in Gibson’s other works.
In the novels, the “Net” is accessed by one of two ways. The simplest way is the way people access the Internet now. By using a computer, a person can sign on and browse the various places that the “Net” has to offer. But the only way to use the “Net” according to Case, is to jack in via a interface cable which is plugged into a cybernetic implant. This implant, along with some wiring in the brain, interprets the data of the “Net” into a virtual reality that one can actually inhabit while jacked in. Case feels so disdain about the real world, that he spends most of his waking hours jacked in and exploring the sprawling universe of the “Net”
Case is not alone in this behavior. Many people in Gibson’s future are victims of the draw of the “Net”. Afraid and often rightly so in the flesh world, many seek the haven of the “Net”. It allows them to have a whole other persona and in the “Net”, their computer skills bring them the strength and respect they would never have outside of it. Even in the present day, many people spends countless hours in front of their computer monitor, living out life online. In fact, science is now deeming this an actual disease, similar in diagnosis to drug addictions and alcoholism. This is another example of technoshock. The author of this paper has actually seen this first hand while enjoying the Internet as merely a hobby. Gibson has apparently foreseen this side-effect of the Internet evolution and makes a point to show it to the readers.
In another one of his novel Gibson explore another symptom of technoshock. In one of his latest novels, Idoru, Gibson tells of the tale of a man in love with a singer. Only the singer is actually a construct of an artificial intelligence and not even remotely real. This has no real life counter part yet, but when Neuromancer was written, the Internet wasn’t a widespread reality either. Possibly this could be the next evolution of mankind’s addiction to computers. There are hints of it, though, as many people seem to worship the procurement of technology such as computer parts, rather than cherishing relationships with other people.
William Gibson is still an active author and in addition to his groundbreaking novels, he has collections of short stories that also deal with the major themes in his longer works. The movie Johnny Mnemonic is actually the fusion of one of his shorter works with the same title and Neuromancer. After his first books many other great authors contributed to the genre of cyberpunk, their stories spawning from Gibson’s earlier success.
Aside from the great story telling, Gibson’s gave works gave us a glimpse of the present day, and his later works may actually foretell what is to come. Perhaps humanity is reacting slowly to technology’s breakneck pace. Technoshock may one day be a scarier reality than physical diseases are. One day corporations may have more power of a person than the nation they swear allegiance to. Although still unlikely at present, we have been warned through William Gibson’s works.