Neuromancer Topic Essay

Trevor Tinline
Professor Hanley
ENG 602

Neuromancer Topic Essay

“In 2016, when common sense says that travel agencies stand prominent in a long line of industries crippled and mutilated by the advent of the internet, snuggled right between Yellow Pages and Blockbuster. Online booking agencies, such as Expedia and Priceline, proved able to cut out the middlemen and wrestled power back to the people, or so the story goes, while user-generated sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp provided the itinerary. But this wealth of knowledge comes from outsiders — you and me and your friend posting on Facebook — who are only observers in foreign cultures. Outsiders telling outsiders how to get inside. But if Ken Fish is any indication, this outsiderness can be cured, for a price.
“Look, unless you have a reliable source, it’s pretty hard to plan your own trip,” said Fish, at his offices in Manhattan. “Unless you’re really prepared to manage your trip from beginning to end…to get up in the morning and answer every question: Is that really the best hotel, or just by reputation? What’s the right room? Do you know anyone there? Will they give you a special experience, or just know you by name when you arrive?” That’s where Fish comes in.”

Some advanced subroutine for efficiency and simulated omnipotence leads Wintermute, broadcasting itself as the used-car-salesman-esque personality of The Finn, to unwittingly embody the spitting image of the modern luxury travel agent.

At the end of Part 2, The Finn, the mortal one, is first introduced. Less slick than he’ll appear in the future, he’s working on hardware, as directed by Armitage, who was of course directed by Wintermute. What he gives to Case, though, is the Simstim hookup – the ability to travel with Molly by seeing through her eyes and feeling what she feels, wherever she is. Even though Wintermute makes these arrangements remotely by directing others, the experience turns out to be very much like a well-organized vacation somewhere startling and exotic, put together by the sort of luxury travel agent that Ken Fish is described as: “Her body language was disorientating, her style foreign. She seemed continually on the verge of colliding with someone, but people melted out of her way, stepped sideways, and made room.” The foreign illusion is completed with the bouquet of metropolitan aromas; urine and fried krill. Perhaps Molly innately possesses the traits of an excellent Tour Guide through her acquired life skills and upgrades, even though she herself would be insulted to be called something like that. Though in the beginning of the Simstim experience Case wants desperately to literally be able to move his own limbs, he can’t do anything but sit back and observe where the vacation takes him to. The ‘foreign country’ he travels to is simply another person’s body. Although Molly is clearly the chief agent of physical action, it is always Wintermute’s thorough arrangements and preparations that cause everything to proceed as it does.

Humorously, like the flip-side of a coin bearing a visage of Wintermute’s Ken Finn, Molly can also be interpreted as the more standard Online Booking Agency in her relationship with Case – similarly to how websites like Expedia, Travelocity, and “know all about” you by the mundane act of collecting data, she “knows all about” Case because she “read his file”. This association-by-data inadvertently creates another level of alienation and power hierarchy between the customer and client; like that of a one-way mirrorshade. Just like the websites mentioned, Molly gives Case finite and very inflexible options, or at least the appearance of options, instead of Wintermute’s omnipresent guiding hand making everything “work”. She also gives Case, as well as the Reader, most of the necessary background information. Unfortunately for Molly, she is always informing and observing as an Outsider, a fellow traveler – whereas Wintermute, being involved in the intricate processes of naught but everything in the Inter-Galactic Cyber-Society Sprawl, can’t be anything BUT an insider in this system. Eventually he IS the System. Molly can’t be everywhere at once, but Wintermute virtually can. He’s connected. Molly is connected, too, but largely through Wintermute itself. Through the veritable Milky Way Galaxy of access points that the A.I. has available to it, Wintermute has only to tug on a few digital strings, needs only to make a few simple requests to other programs in order to get his travelers on their merry way — and whether it’s the Herculean task of docking spacecraft or the trivial subterfuge of escaping some pesky local authorities, it turns out nothing is impossible if you’re creative and clever enough; no place inaccessible to those who know of it. Oftentimes, Wintermute even has connections from the past with the locals who live there, who are immeasurably helpful.

Tragically, even though the Modern Luxury Travel Agent experience is much more tailored and composed than any automated online booking site could be, you may not always end up in the destination you had in mind for the price you were thinking of; ultimately being at the mercy of whoever it is that you chose to organize your path. Though surely all Travel Agents want their customers to be happy and get what they want out of their travels, and therefore experience repeated service, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that they have different ideas about what you’ve got to see, or the specific landmarks that are worthy of traveling thousands of miles to. No matter the status or rating of the Agent, it’s always clear-headed and rational to determine for yourself if you really “hadda do it”. If you’re careless in your planning, your savings can easily seem as though they’re flying out the window.


Comparisons between Transmission and the Digital Labour, Species-Becoming Essay

The transformation of society described in Nick-Dyer Witheford’s essay is faithfully recreated in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission, albeit with the narrated grace of comedy and irony. The Human race has come to shape itself into this current Information Society, and a statement from the Statigraphy Commission for the Geological Society of London referring to what they think of things in general sounds exactly like a sentence that would appear in the aforementioned book: “Earth had entered ‘a Statigraphic interval without close parallel in the last several million years’.” To me, this is an extraordinarily summative sentence that wraps up nearly everything surrounding our world’s current situation in a simple way. New and cataclysmic things are happening, and they will continue to happen.

Arjun Mehta has only a small glimpse into the larger picture of how the world works before, quite strenuously, experiencing the whole spectrum all at once within just a handful of years. As we view more varied environments set in the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century through Arjun’s eyes, all of the different elements of our current society and the species we have become are vividly present. ‘Human landscape transformations’ and ‘agricultural monocultures’ are, ironically, the most recognizable part of this Alien culture of our own design. Seemingly parallel to the yin and yang of hardware and software, Arjun finds two different societies among the high and low classes. Another similarity: Each of these things runs off of the energy created by the other. Just as software can’t run without the proper hardware, Guy Swift couldn’t ride a jetliner everywhere if he hadn’t found the customer base for CAR (Cool, Attitude, Revolution). Despite programmers like Arjun doing most of the menial labor (chiefly waiting), they are always the last to benefit from the work they actually do. This alienation that Marx himself described is now just another fact of daily life, or at least even moreso than it used to be, merely an extension of the cycle that began with the birth of industry. As long as new technoscience is produced, and the profiting hierarchy remains the same, the Arjuns of the world will only be put under that much more strain.

A final observation is that Arjun himself seems to be progressing through the Value Chain of Life – becoming gradually more and more competent and Valuable as time goes on.

Comparisons between Neuromancer and Pickup On South Street (POSS)

There are a lot of very cool and interesting similarities between the two forms of storytelling, but the thematic elements and specific character attitudes seem the most solid connections between worlds. Throughout the entirety of both works, the dialogue of Neuromancer seems simply to be a more streamlined, less formal, and more cyberpunk-term-heavy version of the way that the most prominent characters in Pickup on South Street (POSS) happen to speak among each other, themselves. There is much to be made of street-slick abbreviations and vague descriptory terms – in both realms, a suspicious item is “hot”. If the authorities’ll corner you, you’re “in a spot.” Clever wit in the name of the satisfaction of both the speaker as well as their audience is paramount above all else, and actually seems to be the proper or culturally agreed-upon way of speaking in most places and settings. To be the slick talker, in both worlds again, is to hold at least some semblance of being in control of the situation. Skip, the antihero of POSS, and Case, the antihero of Neuromancer, both exemplify how powerful this projection of self-assurance can really be, often by merely pretending they know more than they really do, or misleading someone to distraction. Though they do their best to project the appearance of laid-back smugness and street-cred with their smooth talking, this is almost always a cover for a racing mind trying desperately to figure out what “the deal” is, or to distract someone while they steal/hack something. It can be as much a tool as it is a part of their personality.

Besides how they talk, Case and Skip are often mirror images of one another in other respects. They’re both thieves, they both find themselves dragged into the midst of a conspiracy to free secret information that has been artificially compressed and concealed, and they both fall for very competent street-smart girls that track them down first and who appear intimidating almost the entire movie and who then appear to them in the penultimate scene all beaten-up in order to provoke an emotional reaction. However, Candy has no sunglasses and no poison-dart gun, and Molly never does beat Case up. They both end up cooperating with the “authorities” in the end, and starting a new, more promising life with a girl.

As an afterthought, characters just like Moe from Pickup on South Street have got to be just everywhere in The Sprawl if they aren’t already completely autonomous digital programs.

“Blog about the relation between hacking and Gibson’s novel.”

Recently, I’ve gotten used to thinking about the concept of Hacking through more physical examples, as though it were the verb in the phrase “hacking together something”; for example, welding a rear-view mirror onto a lampost. It might not be logical or provide any advantages whatsoever to attach such a small mirror to such a large stationary object, but the important parts are that it is possible, and that it can be done regardless of whether or not anyone who ever existed meant for it to happen. A third possibly important point is that it could be funny (the importance of this is different for everyone, and is purely subjective). At the most anarchistic end of the spectrum, hacking is all about being able to change the world around you – often with surrealistic results. Whether or not you are using it as a means to an end is up to the user – the results you can achieve range anywhere from toppling your government to entertaining your boredom. In the text of Neuromancer, one group in particular personifies these traits virtually perfectly: the juvenile terrorists, Panther Moderns. There is nothing those guys love more than to change the world, and all their various tricks and schemes are extremely hacker-ish — between their polycarbon chameleon suits, pages of technical callsigns for their comsats, and far-reaching organizational schemes, they must feel pretty smug behind their wizard-like veil of control. The effeciency these gadgets lend them could easily seem as though it was magic.

It’s not all about doing whatever you feel like, though. Since it generally requires a fairly technical understanding of the way things work, most “hacking” activity is undertaken with a specific purpose in mind. When you talk about “hacking” something, it’s often taken to mean that you’re exploiting it somehow – getting overtime out of it in some way you weren’t originally meant to. However, the phrase is in no way limited to such a singly negative connotation: “Hacking” often also involves the combination of two or more concepts, or even the omission of something in order to simplify a task or process. Today, the most desirable sort of hacking, “life-hacking” can be reduced to anything which serves to make any task easier or less time-consuming. The fusion of genres in pursuit of a new concept – for example, the blending of Noir and Science Fiction in Neuromancer – could also be thought of as a desirable form of hacking.