Who can call themselves fans of cyberpunk, or even modern science fiction, without having experienced William Gibson's Neuromancer? That 1984 novel, which many see as the defining work of the sci-fi subgenre where, as Gibson himself put it, "high tech meets low life," has gone through many print runs in many languages. But you don't need to read it to get to know its distinctive reality — its Japanese megalopolis setting of Chiba City, its characters like "console cowboy" Case and "street samurai" Molly Millions, its technologies like advanced artificial intelligence, electromagnetic pulse weapons, a virtual reality space called, yes, the Matrix. You can also hear it.
Last year, we featured the out-of-circulation audiobook version of Neuromancer read by Gibson himself, and though it faithfully transmits his characteristically sawed-off writing style, some may find that form a bit lacking in drama. But as luck would have it, the BBC, home to some of the last remaining masters of the radio drama form, adapted the novel in 2002, and you can hear the resulting two-hour production on the Youtube playlist above or stream it from SFFaudio. Even Gibson purists may well come away satisfied, since its respect for the original text begins right with the classic opening line: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
In any form, Neuromancer has endured for many reasons, not least that it still gets us thinking every time about the intersection between technology and humanity. It certainly gets critical theorist Fredric Jameson thinking, and you can read his thoughts in his new essay "A Global Neuromancer." He contends that, among other things, cyberspace still doesn't exist: "It is a literary construction we tend to believe in; and, like the concept of immaterial labor, there are certainly historical reasons for its appearance at the dawn of postmodernity which greatly transcend the technological fact of computer development or the invention of the Internet." Jameson doesn't write prose quite as easily followed as Gibson's, but like any true classic, Neuromancer keeps inspiring not just works similar to it, but works wildly different from it as well.
Note: You can download for free a professionally-read version of Neuromancer (the complete book) if you take part in one of the free trials offered by our partners Audible.com and/or Audiobooks.com. Click on the respective links to get more information.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.