With 1984’s Neuromancer, William Gibson may not have invented cyberpunk, but he certainly crystallized it. The novel exemplifies the tradition’s mandate to bring together “high tech and low life,” or, in the words of Gibson himself, to explore what “any given science-fiction favorite would look like if we could crank up the resolution.”
It may have its direct predecessors, but Gibson’s tale of hackers, street samurai, conspiracists, and shadowy artificial intelligences against virtual reality, dystopian urban Japan, and a variety of other international and technological backdrops remains not just archetypal but, unusually for older technology-oriented fiction, exciting. Now you can not only read Gibson’s cyberpunk-defining words, but hear them in Gibson’s voice: a 1994 abridged edition, released only on cassette tapes and now long out of print, resides in MP3 form online here .
You can get a taste of this particular Neuromancer audiobook and its production in the clip above. I always appreciate hearing authors read their own work, but people will surely disagree about whether the laid-back tones of a man who often describes himself as thoroughly un-cutting-edge ideally suit the material. If you think it doesn’t, or if you don’t like the abridged-ness of this edition, you suffer no lack of alternatives: Arthur Addison read an unabridged one for Books on Tape in 1997, in 2011 Robertson Dean read another one for Penguin Audiobooks, and in 2012 Jeff Harding did yet another. (Note: You can download the Dean edition for free via Audible if you enroll in their 30 Day Free Trial. We have more details on that here.) Those who have found themselves hooked on the internet, in any of its modern forms, will certainly hear a lot of prescience in Gibson’s conception of technology as addictive drug. But in my experience, cyberpunk stories, too, can prove fiercely habit forming. Rather than the first cyberpunk novel, or the most important one, or the genre’s blueprint, let’s just call Neuromancer the gateway.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.