Gibson was a man of the 80s, and the 80s were all about technology. The decade popularized the home computer, the VCR, and the video arcade—the grandparents of the tablet, Blu-ray player, and video game console. But while most people were trying to get the high score on Pac-Man, Gibson was wondering how technology like Pac-Man would affect humanity and vice versa. Would new technologies fundamentally alter what it means to be human or is the core to humanity deeper in our being, beyond the world-changing grasp of gadgetry? It's one of the many questions that set Gibson on the path to writing Neuromancer. Good thing, too, because Billy Mitchell's world record Pac-Man score of 3,333,360 would have been difficult to beat.
Gibson is ambiguous on the computer's ultimate role in human development and evolution. His goal was to get his readers to think about the subject, not to hand out easy answers to the question.
The machines in Neuromancer are not fundamentally different than our own tech. It only seems that way because it was imagined on a grander scale.
As technology evolves, we integrate it into our bodies, our lives, and the world around us. Even today, pacemakers keep hearts pumping, trains alter landscapes, and computers combine trillions of 1s and 0s into entire worlds for exploration à la World of Warcraft. This brings about transformation through technology. The question then, is whether or not this is a good thing. To paraphrase the wise Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park, just because we can doesn't necessarily mean we should. It's all rather ambivalent, both in Neuromancer and in real life.
Bottom line? Neuromancer shows that transformation through technology is an essential part of being human.
On the flip side, transforming ourselves too much through technology would make us something other than human. In academic circles, this is called posthumanism (post as in "after"), and it's a wee bit creepy.
If transformation (see "Transformation") is your average Joe, then manipulation is his evil twin brother, the one kept locked in a basement and fed only fish heads his entire life. The difference is that transformation suggests someone choosing to alter herself in a way she desires, like a contestants on Extreme Makeover. On the other hand, manipulation occurs in Neuromancer when an outside person or force changes someone against her will. Again, just like Extreme Makeover, only this time the contestant thinks she's going to be on Wheel of Fortune. Little does she know…
Case is actually the most manipulative person in the novel. Boom.
Riviera chooses to be manipulated by the other characters. He enjoys both manipulating and being manipulated equally. He's also one sick, sick puppy dog.
The more technology seems to free us the more it also confines us. Ironic, isn't it? Gibson explores both these sides of the technology coin in Neuromancer. Cyberspace allows Case the ability to be free of the "meat" of his body and all the bad stuff of the world like disease, overpopulation, and violence. But the threat of flatlining also confines him and threatens to trap him in cyberspace forever. Molly's technological modifications free her from her previous life as a squatter, but what she had to do to get those modifications confine her to constant guilt about the past. Freedom and confinement are balancing forces in Gibson's world. You can't have one without the other.
Case has freed himself from his past after making his peace with Linda in Neuromancer's world. Molly, however, does not get a chance to free herself from her past because she never confronts Hideo.
The lower social classes like those of Night City have more freedom to pursue their desires than the Tessier-Ashpools. But that freedom comes at the cost of a more volatile and dangerous life.
Identity is a sticky issue in any world, and Gibson's futuristic world is no different. Each character expresses his or her identity through various means. For Case and Molly, it's initially their jobs. For others like the Panther Moderns, it's their physical appearance and the groups they hang out with. For Armitage, it's the reprogrammed memories of a betrayed man. In a way, Neuromancer is a novel about the search for identity and how we manifest it once we find it. Wintermute is seeking his other half in Neuromancer, and Case and Armitage both rediscover who they are, each with, shall we say, varying degrees of success.
Armitage is a character who completely understands and accepts his own identity. Corto, on the other hand, had some serious identity issues.
Wintermute has no identity of his own, he only has drive. To get his hands on an identity, he has to fuse with Neuromancer.
Our experiences create our view of the world, good and bad. They also help us create goals and motivate us to achieve them. The characters of Neuromancer are no different than the rest of us in that sense. When we first meet Case, he's obsessed with not only his past but in finding a way to resurrect it. Even the computer-created characters like Wintermute and the Dixie Flatline seem driven by memories of the past. The only problem is that the memories aren't theirs; in cyberspace, memories can outlive the person whom they belong to, interwoven into the algorithms of a program. Yeah, it's all kinds of crazy up in here. Keeping track of the past while looking forward to the future is one of the major issues in the novel.
Case sees himself in the matrix at the novel's end. This Case is a memory of Case left on Neuromancer's beach.
Wintermute, like the Dixie Flatline, cannot create memories and therefore can't create anything new for himself. That's why he relies on the memories of the person he is talking to.
Does technology bring us closer together or push us further apart? Neuromancer seems to support both possibilities. The technological developments that have lead to the urbanization of the Sprawl have brought people living in closer quarters, but the same technology means no one can trust anyone else. Riviera isolates himself behind a barrier of holograms. Yet, Molly and Case genuinely grow closer to each other through the simstim. And what about Armitage? He exists to keep his other persona, Corto, imprisoned within their shared mind. When it comes to the debate, this novel is, according to Shmoop's word-of-the-day calendar, ambivalent.
Riviera's modifications serve to isolate him more than they do to trick others.
Although cyberspace is said to be a "consensual hallucination," Case never meets anyone else in the matrix except for computer programs (3.94).
Drug use seems pretty commonplace in the world of Neuromancer. And not just pedestrian substances like alcohol or tobacco, but some pretty heinous, mind-bending stuff. Oddly enough, some of the most evocative, disturbing, and humorous moments in the book come during or after a character doses. But to what end? Why is drug use so prevalent in this world? Is the novel trying to romanticize drug use? Is it trying to point out the dangers of addiction to these dangerous concoctions? We at Shmoop aren't sure, but we will say that Gibson is at least fairly realistic in his portrayal of his drugs. The characters get all Rocket Man before crashing back to Earth with hangovers to match the highs. It is, at the very least, honest.
Armitage didn't get Riviera a new pancreas and liver because the plan was to kill him through his drug intake the whole time (or at the very least as a mission failsafe).
Some characters, such as 3Jane, use people like drugs—as a quick high before promptly discarding them.
Many works of science fiction from the fifties suggested that through technological innovation humanity would overcome its tendencies toward violence and war. Neuromancer is written as a countermeasure to this idea. Violence runs red in these futuristic streets. In Chiba City, violence is so rampant that no one seems to care anymore. Assassins and ninjas kill without remorse or second thought. The Panther Moderns create a riot just so Case and Molly can steal a ROM construct. Even computer systems can cause brain death if you aren't careful. It's as if the book is saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Right?
It is not technology but the creation of large urban areas that is responsible for most of the violence in Neuromancer.
Violence is not always immoral in Neuromancer. Instead, the reason for the violence determines whether it is right or wrong.