Why Neuromancer by William Gibson is hard-slog-read

Updated: Jan 26

When reading Neuromancer by William Gibson I found myself constantly zoning out over the extraneous detail, and then having to re-read pages and pages of the book. But why is it such an unenjoyable read?

The detail

The detail contained in the book is disconnected from the character or plot development — it is there to world-build. While the world-building is fantastic — but since the world-building is disconnected from the character's personal growth I personally found the detail uninteresting. As the characters move through the world, Gibson stops to shove in more and more detail into each sentence, then the action resumes, we get a few more lines of dialogue, followed by more detail stuffed into the book.

The principle of Chekov's Gun applies here:

"If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there."

In this case, the plot of Neuromancer cannot simply keep up with the level of detail in the world-building — there is too much detail to be useful. This causes the reader to zone out, forget the detail that will be used, and get frustrated because they feel like the book is wasting their time — at least, that is how I felt.

The vocabulary

The slang and vernacular of the book is incredibility difficult to keep pace with. Gibson doesn't provide an explanation of the meaning. Many of the words have entered into our modern vocabulary — cyberspace, matrix — but many of the words have not, or mean something different now, such as "microsoft".

The technology

Some people may complain that the technology is archaic. While this is true — because our modern internet evolved into something much more complex than imagined in Neuromancer — I didn't necessarily have a problem with the archaic-ness. The reader must remember that the book was written in a specific point in time which influenced the future. Some writers theorise that Neuromancer brought about the internet as we know it.

In his afterword to the 2000 re-issue of Neuromancer, fellow author Jack Womack suggested that Gibson's vision of cyberspace may have inspired the way in which the Internet developed (particularly the World Wide Web), after the publication of Neuromancer in 1984. He asks "[w]hat if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?".

I will admit, however, that this can make it hard for millennial readers to understand.

The characters

The main characters are flat and uninspiring. Case, the anti-hero, doesn't inspire any affections or feelings from the reader. Molly is much more interesting than Case, but isn't established well as a character and comes off as two-dimensional. The villains, Wintermute and Neuromancer, are interesting, but are not given enough page time.


I'd recommend this book for people who love cyberpunk sci-fi and world-building, and for people with a lot of patience and mental space.

For most readers, I'd say give it a miss. There are much better classic sci-fi books out there. While it could have been a great story, it is just too hard to follow. I think this would work much better as a film, as the visual imagery of each city would be striking, a talented actors could bring depth and life to the characters.