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G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2007
384 pp., $25.95
In the Net
Rather more than twenty years ago, William Gibson exploded on to the science fiction scene with his novel Neuromancer, probably the most successful first novel ever in the history of that genre. It won virtually all the prizes and awards for 1984, and launched and defined the new mode of "cyberpunk" which has dominated SF ever since. It seemed to be the perfect script for the computer revolution which was at that time just about to take off. The new hero of the day was the hacker—invariably young, operating outside and indeed against the massed forces of orthodox business and government, owing his and sometimes her success to mastery of forces and techniques which everyone used but few really understood. A key idea was "cyberspace," the "virtual reality" in which the hackers roamed freely, jacked into their computers, trying to beat the "ice," the Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics with which the banks and the authorities guarded their wealth and their secrets. But the secret of Gibson's success was style: he evolved a way of writing which linked the "cyber" and the "punk," on the one hand the aggressive, allusive, street-smart slang of the young and knowing; on the other, the compressed, high-tech, instruction-manual gibberish which almost all of us have failed at one time or another to cope with. No one ever finished Neuromancer without thinking there was something he hadn't understood. Gibson's book made you fear that you were in reality living within a net of unseen and impalpable forces—as indeed, if you consider electronic environments, we are.
Most of the predictions implied in Gibson's early novels turned out to be wrong. Twenty years later, the world is not dominated by Japanese zaibatsus, and the Asian business model, once viewed with awed respect as representing the wave of the future, has repeatedly turned out to have large financial holes in it. Hackers have had their successes, but they rarely amounted to much, and the real dangers of the ...