Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of a Cyborg and her Cowboy

Isn't it interesting to note that William Gibson was born in Conway, South Carolina! His biography indicates an early interest in science fiction in his childhood. There is also talk that he rejected religion, which, I suppose is meant to explain his imaginative creativity. He is also said to have vowed to "sample every narcotic substance in existence," which drug influence may be that shown in his strung up characters in the Neuromancer. His work belongs to that literary sub-genre known as cyberpunk.

The history of Cyberpunk has it that its origins are closely linked to the development of technology, particularly the computer. The computer brought about new worlds other than our own, which in turn fired up the imagination. The Virtual became a Reality, called Cyperspace. This setting is rather convenient, for as Tony Myers observes, " The concept of cyberspace is valuable as a narrative strategy because it is able to represent "unthinkable complexity," to gain a cognitive purchase upon the welter of data. It is a response to what Fredric Jameson has called "the incapacity of our minds, at least at present, to map the great global multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects" (The Postmodern Imaginary in William Gibson's Neuromancer 887)". Its new inhabitants, the new communities that arose were called cyberpunks. Unfortunately, you can take the human out of the world, but you cannot take the crime out of the human. And so it was that when humans migrated to the nether world, they took their crime with them. Only this time along with physical violence made possible by physically enhancing people, hackers went to work; phishing, and other forms of crime that were difficult to trace, or to prevent. Unfortunately, the world in The world of Neuromancer seems to have degenerated into a dystopia.

There is organized crime and there is oppression…those who lord it over others get them to carry out their wishes or else. Chiba City is not a place desired. It is full of criminals, gangs, thieves, drug addicts, yakuzza, and enhanced human beings, who can easily tear their victims from limb to limb. It also has people who have the capacity to radically alter a person's nervous system; it happened to Chase as punishment for stealing from other thieves. Who knew mycotoxin could be so damaging?

At any rate, the damage prevents Chase for accessing and utilizing his brain-computer interface, a skill he requires to coexist in cybersace. He becomes suicidal, as his desperate attempts to find a cure fail and leave him bankrupt. Along comes Molly, who for lack of a better word I'd call cyborg. In “The Fetishization of Masculinity in Science Fiction: The Cyborg and the Console Cowboy, Amanda Fernbach interrogates this concept of a cyborg, and, I guess, her cowboy. She is a mercenary for a fleeting character named Armitage, who offers to cure Case in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case is obviously excited at the possibility, but it is not as if he has much of a choice. At any rate, this console cowboy gets his nervous system repaired using new technology, but, to maintain leverage, Armitage has mycotoxin sacs implanted into his blood vessels—the same poison which initially crippled Case. Armitage promises Case that if he completes his work in time, the sacs will be removed, otherwise they will burst. Armitage also has Case's liver modified to prevent him from metabolizing cocaine. Wow!

There is a love underlying story…with Molly and Case becoming lovers, and even looking out for each other. They engage in clandestine acts for their master, Armitage, that involve stealing a ROM, sabotaging a plant, holographic illusions, artificial intelligence, traveling across borders to places as far afield as Finland , Turkey's most populous city, and its cultural, and economic center.

The twist is the Tessier-Ashpool family residing at the mansion in the Freeside space station. In the same vein we learn of Wintermute, who was programmed by the Tessier-Ashpool dynasty with a need to merge with its other half—Neuromancer. Unable to achieve this merge on its own, Wintermute recruited Armitage and his team to help complete the goal. Case is tasked with entering cyberspace to pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a Chinese military grade icebreaker

They have to contend with Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool, an unfrozen daughter clone and leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA. Things go awry. There are captures, slayings, escapes, re-emergence of Linda Lee, Case's girlfriend from Chiba City who was murdered, poisoning, but most importantly, circumstances are such that Lady 3Jane is forced to give up her password and the lock is opened: Wintermute unites with Neuromancer, fusing into a greater entity. All is well with Case restored, except Molly leaves. Benjamin Fair writes of identity that in Neuromancer, "the new forms of identity point not so much to where we are headed in the future as to where we are in our present condition" (92). Fair's discussion of Neuromancer echoes N. Katherine Hayles' work, which I have been studying lately as it relates to information, emodiment, disembodiment. I agree that being posthuman is coexsiting with technology. We need not dominate, not be dominated by technology. Just look at Chase and his struggles, first to escape the body second the price he pays for that desire.
Unresolved issues for me include questions such as:
Why does Molly leave Case?
In what ways is Neuromancer different from Wintermute?

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