In spite of the fact that I believe rereading books is a good thing, I rarely do it. I’ve read maybe 20 or 30 books more than once. I can’t exactly explain why I don’t reread more. Maybe it’s that I have a reasonably good memory and sometimes I’m just plain old bored when I start a book the second time; I stop reading at that point. Or maybe I’m addicted to new. Some people in my life have suggested as much.
Whatever the case, William Gibson’s Neuromancer is among those books I’ve read more than once; I believe this was the third time through. I wanted something reasonably light but that I would also enjoy—a book that would engage some of the pleasure centers in my brain and few of those responsible for pain. I think I also wanted to read about a down and out loser who likes his vices, does a couple of things well, and manages to survive despite his contempt for life. My motivation was similar to why I rented a series of Eastwood westerns. At this particular moment in my life, loners are appealing and the resigned taking of the shit that life dishes out seems an important theme on which to dwell.
That was all by way of saying what has been said before more succinctly: context is everything. In this case, I think I was much more patient than I was during the first two readings of the book, readings through which I raced, inhaling the text like some kind of champion hot dog eater; the flavor and texture of the dogs tend to get lost in the rush to get them down the throat.
This time, for the first time, I see that Neuromancer is noir. It’s got: an anti-hero; a dead girl friend; multiple dark, dangerous cities populated by shady characters in bars and alleys in which you could lose your wallet or your life in equally fast moments; drugs; cigarettes; alcohol; a dangerous woman; some sex; a potentially life-threatening, but intriguing job to do with ambiguous moral consequences; and some bizarrely messed up rich people. All this and written in abrupt, cruel sentences that leave the reader feeling some of the words were razor-bladed out. Why didn’t I see it the first time?
However the book is classified, I love it; on my list, it’s still the best science fiction book I’ve read and I don’t think Gibson has ever regained that level of clarity and focus. Elsewhere, I have commented on his more recent development and speculated about some of the reasons. Again, it’s all about context and I think Gibson is now in such a different place in his life than he was back in the early 80s when he wrote Neuromancer that it is ridiculous to expect him to go back there, even metaphorically. Therefore, though I’m looking forward to reading his most recent offering, Spook Country, I’m not expecting it will be a return to his first book’s wonderfully, re-readably dark oeuvre.