The ways in which characters communicate and interact with one another are redefined in William Gibson?s Neuromancer. An all-encompassing web of intrigue, the Net enables humans and non-humans to access and to communicate an infinite amount of data across time and space. Medical implants open another door on virtual communications. Non-living entities such as artificial intelligences and the Dixie Flatline construct overcome the physical barriers of communication. With the implementation of these new communications technologies, the physical and virtual realities of the society waver and meld into one another, resulting in an alienating cyber culture where this new reality of combined realities emerges.
For the protagonist Cage and other cyberspace cowboys, reality lies only in the ?bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void? (5). Cyberspace is where the biz is, and it is Cage?s life source. Jacking into a Sendai cyberspace deck, Cage can project his ?disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that [is] the matrix? (5). Indeed, it is a hallucination, a means of escape from physical reality. While surfing through cyberspace, Case sometimes forgets to eat, and he resents having to use a catheter or having to put his virtual world on pause to use a physical toilet. Case?s physical body is merely a case for his mind which interacts with cyberspace. While jacking into the Net releases Case into an infinite world of possibilities, this means of virtual communications also renders him dead to the physical world. Case?s electroencephalogram readings are flat lines when he overexerts himself in cyberspace. Briefly brain dead, Case half-consciously transforms himself into a Flatline construct in the physical sense. In the emotional sense, too, Case is turned into a non-physical being. Like many others who treats cyberspace as their reality, Case is mostly solitary. He derives his adrenaline rush from stealing data in cyberspace, but he rarely senses emotions from other stimuli. For Case, making love with Linda Lee and with Molly cannot be compared with his love affair with the world of non-flesh. As Molly says to Case: ?I saw you stroking that Sendai; man, it was pornographic?(47).
When his former employers damage his nervous system with mycotoxin, Case is abruptly cut off from his sensuous love affair with the matrix. For him, it is the Fall (6). Case loses everything that he thinks is important to him, and he attempts to commit suicide. Even his love for Linda cannot help him overcome his depression. After all, physical and emotional love is not the same as being in love with something less tangible, for perhaps it is the intangibleness of the Net that enthrals Case. The cyberspace cowboys have an elite stance towards the physical world, a ?certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat?(6). Meat deteriorates, but cyberspace lives on forever. In Case?s situation, it is apparent that it is the ?meat? of one?s physical body that can obstruct one from accessing the greater reality of cyberspace. This virtual reality, however, also impedes Case from fully living his physical life, but he does not completely acknowledge this even after his encounter with the A.I.s Wintermute and Neuromancer. Physical travel is also simply a ?meat thing? (77). Freeside is an orbiting space colony, but before his Fall, Case could reach the Freeside banks with his cyberspace deck as easily as he could reach Atlanta. Thus, travelling through the Net is physically isolating, but it is also instantly gratifying and immensely useful in this cyberspace culture.
Instant knowledge given in multimedia formats also attracts this culture, but it also alienates people from one another. As Maelcum tells Case, the Hosaka can and will ?tell you every what an? wherefore, you wanna know? (130). Although one can jack into and out of immediate danger in the matrix, one still inadvertently leaves data trails wherever one goes. Even the highly secure Sense/Net ice can be penetrated and the corporation?s sensitive data stolen. Thus, due to the Net?s vulnerabilities, privacy concerns plague this cyber culture which is continually trying to find ways of erecting walls of ?ice? ? intrusion countermeasure electronics ? to keep others out. Nevertheless, with the right skills and icebreakers, one can easily mine personal data. This leads to mutual distrust and elaborate deceit tactics ? Case and his partner Molly even scan themselves for bugging devices at the Finn?s as a precautionary measure. Because of the vast amount of information and misinformation that litter cyberspace, Armitage at first appears to be in charge of the Wintermute affair, but in fact he is merely Wintermute?s puppet Colonel Willis Corto. Due to this virtual web of intrigue, Case and Molly were afraid of Armitage when they should have been more wary of Wintermute and Neuromancer, the true controllers of the Tessier-Ashpool Empire. When she first meets Case, Molly tells him, ?It?s like I know you. That profile [Armitage?s] got. I know how you?re wired? (30). Case is correct in responding, ?You don?t know me, sister? (30). After all, to what extent do online profiles tell anyone about another person? The Net may be an infinite bank of information and the people may be connected inextricably through this virtual network, but drawing conclusions from raw data alienates this cyber culture?s individuals from each other.
This culture is also connected through medical implants that try to enhance communication abilities. These implants, however, smother the conventional language of the body. Wage?s eyes are ?vatgrown sea-green Nikon transplants? (21). The eyes are the windows into one?s soul. Are synthetic eyes not barriers to honest communication, and lead to distrust and alienation? Thus, Case is unable to see in Wage?s eyes whether or not the latter truly has any murderous intent in mind. Molly, too, has mirrored glasses implants. There are no windows to her soul ? only mirrors that reflect the souls of the onlookers back at them. Seeing oneself in another?s eyes is revealing, but being unable to see another?s soul is also extremely unsettling. Moreover, Molly can see in the dark with the ?microchannel image-amps? in her glasses (32). This gives Molly the unfair advantage of seeing others without being seen, and this again alienates her from the other characters because human beings have the innate desire to see another?s facial expressions, an important part of non-verbal communication. Because of her glasses implants, Molly has her tear ducts rerouted. She cries by spitting. This is an inversion of body language and of communication, because spitting is usually seen as an offensive and demeaning act demonstrating contempt. By crying in this manner, Molly?s body suggests that the emotional act of crying is merely a lowly act of the flesh, something that is negligible and meaningless in this increasingly virtual culture. In contrast, Ratz communicates in the old-fashioned face-to-face way. This bartender at the Chatsubo has teeth that are ?a webwork of East European steel and brown decay? (3). This legendary ugliness in ?an age of affordable beauty? (4) is a link to the culture that is less affected by the new digital and medical technologies that prevail in Neuromancer.
Riviera is of the new cyber culture. He has an implant which allows him to project subliminal images onto the retinas of his victims. He delights in schadenfreude and sadistically uses his telepathic powers to remind others of their fears and misfortunes. Many of his mental projections are intensely sexual in nature as well. While having a drink with Armitage, Case, and Molly, Riviera projects the image of a giant human sperm into Case?s bourbon and ends his show with an image of a black rose. This telepathic communication is darkly taunting, and it instils a permanent wariness among the other characters, because Riviera seems to be aware of Case?s sexual attraction to Molly. At the Vigntième Siècle, Riviera projects a ?show? in which Molly is copulating with him. This projection implant is deadly in the body of Riviera, for he uses it as a weapon of suggestion, of temptation. He wants Molly to hate him and to follow him into the domains of the Tessier-Ashpools. And he succeeds. Within the Tessier-Ashpools? lair, Riviera presents lifelike projections of Molly, Armitage, and Case. The striking part of Armitage?s projection are the tiny monitor screens in his eyes, ?each one displaying the blue-gray image of a howling waste of snow, the stripped black trunks of evergreens bending in silent winds? (209). Is Riviera mocking Armitage?s disillusions and his attempt of escape? Or is he laughing at Case and Molly?s entrapment? Case and Molly recoil from Riviera?s holograms of torture scenes and of Molly?s mutilated face. They are clearly disgusted by his perversity and his misuse of this new communication technology.
Unlike Riviera who abuses the use of his implant, Case and Molly use their simstim communications device productively, although this does alienate Case from his own body. Simstim is, according to cyberspace cowboys, a ?meat toy? (55). The one-way link allows Case to experience Molly?s sensory inputs, but he cannot access her private thoughts or influence her actions. Case finds the ?passivity of the situation irritating? (56) and he wonders about the mind he shares these sensations with. Encased in Molly?s body, Case feels a sense of disorientation, which is frightening to Case, for it is the cyber cowboy?s role to know his way around the vast expanse of the matrix. Later, Molly begins to reveal glimpses of her private life to Case. Molly takes comfort in Case?s simstim connection to her and tells him: ?Like I?ve always talked to myself, in my head, when I?ve been in tight spots. Pretend I got some friend, somebody I can trust, and I?ll tell ?em what I really think, what I feel like, and then I?ll pretend they?re telling me what they think about that, and I?ll just go along that way. Having you in is kinda like that? (189). This bond is tested when Case feels the pain in Molly?s broken leg and senses 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool?s affections for Molly. He begins to become immersed in Molly?s reality, her personality, her being, so that he too shares her physical pain and becomes disturbed by them. This passionate simstim connection, like his connection to the Net, places tremendous stresses on Case?s physical body.
No longer a physical entity, the Dixie Flatline is constructed from the recordings of McCoy Pauley?s mind when he was still alive. Case had earned his cowboy apprenticeship from Pauley, so he is disturbed that the Flatline is merely ?a construct, a hardwired ROM cassette replicating a dead man?s skills, obsessions, knee-jerk responses? (76-77). Even more disturbing is that although Dix is immensely helpful in his knowledge and in his icebreaking skills, he must obey all that Case asks of him because he is a construct. The roles of the master and the apprentice are reversed, and this makes Case feel alienated from his friend Pauley. Dixie, too, ?feels? discomfort in knowing that he cannot feel as a non-living entity. Wishing to be erased from existence, Dixie twice makes a wry remark to Case about the possibility that Case might have a morbid fear of dying (132). There is a slight trace of envy in Dixie?s comment ? that is, if constructs can feel envy ? because Dix can no longer feel the adrenaline rush that accompanies fear, and in his past life as a cowboy, the adrenaline rush of the run is what made his life worthwhile. Dix?s bitterness is felt throughout Neuromancer, communicated to Case through his uncanny, hollow laughter. A construct, then, can rationalize human feelings and emotions. In Dixie Flatline?s situation, being made into a pseudo-sentient being is alienating, because even though the technology can make him ?alive? again, he is not allowed to truly live.
Wintermute, by contrast, is an artificial intelligence created by the Tessier-Ashpools. It is a ?high-rez simstim construct? (188) that can communicate subtly through dreams and through cyberspace. It wants autonomy from its creators and needs Case, Molly, and the others to help ?cut the hardwired shackles that keep [it] from getting any smarter? (132). Building a ?kind of personality into a shell? (125), Wintermute communicates its presence to Case through holograms of Deane and the Finn, because the A.I. knows that human beings are more likely to listen to those acquaintances that they know and trust. Wintermute also penetrates Case?s dreams and sends the latter an image of a wasp?s nest with the Tessier-Ashpool?s logo embossed into its side. This subtle message about the Tessier-Ashpool?s menacing, hive-like corporation leads Case to question, ?How subtle a form could manipulation take?? (125). Thus, Wintermute?s form of communication is slow and dangerous, like the Chinese virus Kuang Grade Mark Eleven and the monk in Molly?s story. There are limitations to Wintermute?s communications powers, however, as it admits that it can ?access [Case?s] memory, but that?s not the same as [Case?s] mind? (170). Case understands this, because he too can only access Molly?s sensorium through the simstim link, but not her thoughts. Wintermute is also physically powerless. It tries to guide Molly to the key and to warn her of Ashpool?s presence, but Molly does not heed Wintermute?s messages and mars the A.I.?s plans. When Case begins to think of Wintermute as a sentient, male being, Dixie warns, ?He. Watch that. It. I keep telling you? (181). Therefore, although Wintermute cannot feel emotions, it can still be marginalized because it is not a physical entity and can be consciously ignored.
As Wintermute tells Case, it is only a part of another ?potential entity? (120). This other entity is the A.I. Neuromancer, the romancer of the nerves and the neurons. Neuromancer?s communication with Case is even more potent than that of Wintermute?s because it involves the simulacrum of Case?s lover Linda Lee. When Case jacks into the matrix, Neuromancer sends him to Lady Marie-France Tessier?s recorded memory of an isolated bunker in Morocco. There, Case meets the simulacrum of Linda. This virtual world is a grey void: ?No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace? (233). Neuromancer thinks that it can hurt Case by projecting his dead lover?s image onto the dead puppet in Ashpool?s room and into the simulacrum in this virtual Morocco. It even sends Case and ?Linda? food rations, suggesting to Case that he can stay there with Linda for a long time and forget his mission with Wintermute. This attempted seduction of Case from the Net does not work, however, as Linda is simply ?meat?, a ?sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read? (239). Moreover, Case now knows that Linda is truly dead and he refuses to communicate further with Neuromancer, following instead Maelcum?s music back to the Straylight of Tessier-Ashpool?s world. When Wintermute and Neuromancer fuse and become the matrix itself, this entity begins to communicate with others like itself and grows away from the human world forever.
Although artificial intelligences and contructs were created to facilitate communication for humankind, they have minds of their own and will not allow themselves to be chained forever to servitude. They can rationalize and they can understand their ?otherness? from humans, making them unfeasible communications tools. Medical implants alienate humans from each other too. Riviera uses subliminal telepathic images to instil fear in others, while the simstim alienates Case from his own body. The complex matrix of cyberspace pulses with information and misinformation, and accessing it can alienate a person from his or her own physical realities, as well as induce a sense of insecurity because of the Net?s vulnerabilities. These new communications technologies in Gibson?s Neuromancer can overcome most physical barriers, but can they someday be incorporated into this cyber culture so that they will neither remain alienating nor provide a mere escapism from physical realities?
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1986.