Lit 80, Fall 2013

The computer is arguably the most indispensable cultural artifact of our generation. They are essential to our world’s infrastructure – it is the primary method of communication, information transference, transaction, and so much more. We have developed a subconscious reliance on technology to function as a society. Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine entertains a very profound and intriguing related concept in the most thorough way possible – what would our lives be like if the computer (namely, the Babbage’s Difference Engine) was invented almost 200 years before they were actually invented? Gibson and Sterling’s attempt to delve into this hypothetical situation is admirably ambitious and impressively complex. They depict a “speculative past” that loosely parallels our actual past, making assumptions about the supposed trajectory that technological inventions may have taken, as well as societal development that might have occurred following Charles Babbage’s successful creation of the computer. The setting of the novel takes place in 1800’s Victorian London onwards, and features important figures or organizations in London’s history (or fictional analogues) such as The Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron, the Luddites, the Labour Party, etc.

The value of reading this novel is not necessarily derived from its plot – it is instead the distinct structure and rich narration that make it stand out. The novel is divided into five separate iterations of a story, with the fifth iteration being written by the “Modus.” Essentially, iterations are revealed to represent computer-generated alterations of a similar story, which raises some interesting questions about the recording of history and the seemingly infinite variable possibilities of computers. The authors also took on the formidable task of creating a logical environment of an imaginary past. This includes creating systems of politics, economy, communication, and even fashion – they had to communicate an entire, immersive society different than our actual society merely through the art of storytelling. The technological innovations of the imaginary society have many notable counterparts in our real world, which makes the story a unique experience – it serves as a form of social commentary on our present society. Specifically, the balances of power and relationships in the novel based on the hypothetical invention of the computer may perhaps demonstrate how people use technology and information to obtain and consolidate power and develop relationships in our real world. While this novel’s plot might have come across as seemingly disjointed or incoherent, it is a very intricate display of society that neatly explores an alternate past, comments on our real-life present, and suggests an alternate future.

Neuromancer: Novel Response

September 6th, 2013 | Posted by Mithun Shetty in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Aside from its bizarrely accurate foresight, Neuromancer is an interesting novel because of the questions and ideas that it brings up regarding the relationship between humans and technology. In a mere set of decades, our society has transformed from a largely disconnected, isolated set of communities to a thoroughly interconnected digital network; in some way or the other, we are constantly transmitting or receiving data in our daily lives. Whether it is the infrastructures of our cities (traffic, navigation, consumerism, etc.) or keeping ourselves updated on our array of electronic devices, urbanized areas are almost completely dependent on technology. Additionally, the technology we are using is tending towards a more profound integration into our biological systems; new inventions are changing the way we perceive information from our environments. The implementation of QR codes, “Google Glasses,” and other marvels that augment reality are steps toward the complete unification of man and machine.

This is an idea that Neuromancer focuses on for the majority of the novel. Where exactly is the delineation between human and technology?  As we become more dependent on our devices to orient ourselves in our changing environments, will we lose the characteristics that we currently consider makes us “human?” The characters in Gibson’s novel all feature some sort of technological miracle; they have been able to cure their drug addictions, develop veritable superpowers (fingernails, cybernetic implants), and even achieve immortality. Additionally, Gibson introduces characters who are able to willfully suspend their consciousness or jack into an alternate form of reality, “the matrix.” Such examples represent the extremes of technological integration – it is understandable that Gibson chooses to represent the characters’ reliance on technology similar to drug dependence.

The reader may find it very difficult to classify certain characters as human or technology. Most notably, Dixie Flatline – who is deceased but has his mind and consciousness stored onto a ROM – is able to interact with Case and Molly and the other characters of the novel. Would we consider him a human? Though he is not the physical manifestation of McCoy Pauley, he is still able to access his mind. Perhaps he is not human because he cannot create or learn new thoughts. This distinction could be a vital part of the definition of a human being. Additionally, characters that have serious prosthetics (Molly, for example) cause readers to wonder how much technological additions/replacements would be necessary to cross the threshold of man to machine. When does a character like Molly cease being human and become a super intelligent bio-computer?

We probably will not have such drastic technological advances as presented in Gibson’s novel in the foreseeable future. However, these examples illustrate important phenomena that are occurring in our present lives: we are co-evolving with the technology that we produce at an alarmingly fast rate, which has both useful benefits (such as increased perception and function) and dangerous risks of total dependence on technology and a lack of a separate, human identity.

Neuromancer-Novel Response

September 5th, 2013 | Posted by Zhan Wu in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Computers and digital media as we see them nowadays were uncommon during the early 1980s. Many people struggled at concepts such as the personal computer (PC), the internet, networking etc. Thus it was not odd at all that William Gibson’s science fiction novel “Neuromancer” was met with huge fanfare and gave people the opportunity to glimpse into the world of digital technology they have never experienced before.

When Neuromancer first came out, it was undeniably the avant-garde in the digital science fiction genre. Although novelists before Gibson’s time were talking about similar thoughts in their writings, their ideas were bound by factors such as politics and economic depressions. For instance, although the book “1984”, written in 1932, does talk about possible technological advances in its future, its general atmosphere is majorly shrouded in political oppression and people’s fear of democratic socialism. Neuromancer is a true science fiction novel in that readers can genuinely appreciate the high-tech world and all of its consequences (if not aftermaths) without being limited by the social and political context as is in the real world.

Furthermore, the book also introduced brand new terminology that we now seem to be especially familiar with. One of Gibson’s breakthroughs with Neuromancer was the introduction of the word “cyberspace”. In fact, the word would have a long-lasting impact on the entertainment industry around the globe even decades after it was introduced. Movies series such as “The Matrix”, “The Terminator” etc. not only heavily relied on “cyberspace” as a world surrounded by artificial intelligence (AI), but also extended the boundaries of the word into virtual reality etc.

The cyberpunk genre seeks to combine “high tech and low life” [1], a phenomenon which was prevalent in the 1980s. Neuromancer itself, with a lucid story, provokes questions that people eventually had to answer as more and more technological advancements at that time period came into being. Will people eventually misuse the advancements of science? (i.e. Case, despite having implanted organs that stop him from metabolizing drugs, uses new organs to get back into his drug life.) Will people get punished in unusual ways in the future? (Case gets his CNS damaged after stealing from his employer.) Do AI’s ultimately become much smarter than mankind? (The superconsciousness as a result of the merge between WIntermute and Neuromancer.) Can AI’s possibly overpower people? (Wintermute kills Armitage/Corto.) Though it seems that the book is answering yes to all these questions, the author’s main intention is to lead the reader into reflecting how life in the 1980s can coexist with emerging new technologies, and how this coexistence can develop in a positive way.

In a nutshell, Neuromancer was a stunning novel, “an archetypal cyberpunk work” [2] that not only includes an entertaining plot, but also reflects upon its time of new technological inventions.


[1] Anonymous. (2009). What is cyberpunk? Cyberpunked: Journal of Science, Technology, & Society. Retrieved from http:\\

[2] Seed, David (2005). Publishing. Blackwell. p. 220.