Ignorance of the Classics

I just finished listening to How Great Science Fiction Works, which is a great introduction to the history of literary science fiction. Professor Gary Wolfe gave so many examples of books I haven’t read, but really should, and I don’t know where to start!

After listening about William Gibson and the birth of the cyberpunk genre, I wanted to and how this book propagated into movies and subcultures around the world,  I realized I had me next book to read: Neuromancer.

It’s a tough read.

I’d like to think of myself as an intelligent reader, or at least smart enough to follow the basic plot and actions of the characters, even if the themes go way over my head, but Gibson is SUCH a good writer (I guess) that I am really struggling to understand what’s going on.

As I struggle to write my own terrible stories, such bleak thoughts got me thinking. What takes precedence in crafting a scene: setting evocation or understandable story structure?

“You idiot,” I hear you say. “They’re one in the same. Evocation is at the heart of telling a story.”

“I knew you’d say that,” I reply, “but hear me out.”

In reading Neuromancer, I can’t help but get the feeling the setting trumps the story itself. Gibson paints the future world of yesteryear in broad, masterful strokes, and I connect with the gritty reality where the lines between virtual and reality are blurred. I connect with this world on a visceral level, but I feel there is so much immersion, I am just at a loss.

This is probably because of my own stupidity. After all, isn’t it one of the greatest science fiction books ever written? Concerned I might be alone in my growing frustration with the book, I consulted cyberspace (#neuromancercallout), and it turns out I am not alone.

There are many a reddit user who agree – Neuromancer is confusing. Many sympathized with my own position – that is, “I want to like this, but it’s just so hard.” In this pool of self-pity, a few selfless lifeguards tossed in lifesavers of encouragement with posts like:

“After a few reads, it will be worth it.”

That’s a lot of investment. Reading a book multiple times to understand the story should be reserved for religious texts, and as prescient as Neuromancer is, I don’t think it qualifies. Perhaps in today’s world where stories are told in 6 seconds and where the gif has come unexpectedly back into fashion, I am showing my impatience for stories that don’t tell me what’s going on right at the start, but I don’t think that’s the case. By dropping a reader headlong into a world with barely any frame of reference, how does an author expect that reader to navigate? Certainly, some readers are better at this kind of navigation than others, but there is a risk of getting lost and eventually hailing a cab to get somewhere else.

I haven’t given up yet. I love the setting and admire the style, though I doubt I will emulate it myself, but I am hanging on to thin hope that I will suddenly get on board the cyberpunk train, and ride it to a better of  understanding story-telling and of how literature can influence society.

If not, maybe I’ll just watch The Matrix.

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