My thoughts on the end of Neuromancer
I just finished reading Neuromancer again. It's been a hell of a long time since I read it, so it was new to me in a lot of ways. I was reminded to read it because Gibson has a new book out, and now that Diego has gotten Jabber up and running, I can see the default names of his home and work computers: Wintermute and Neuromancer. (They're both insanely powerful Power Macs, so the names are actually not too far off the mark).
BTW, if you haven't read the book, you should probably not read the rest of this post. :-)
Okay, the first thing I should mention is that I didn't go out and buy the book again. I can personally remember purchasing it at least twice, and maybe even three times over the years, so I felt no need to do it again. Happily, the first page of results on a Google search for the book includes a link to the full text on some Russian site, so I snagged it, reformatted it very lightly using VI, and then threw it on my Nokia 770, which using FBReader is an *astoundingly good* ebook reader. Though one would have thought by 2007, the story would be zapped into my brain via some sort of embedded cable, there was something satisfying about reading Neuromancer on a handheld Linux device. The screen is so big and clear, with anti-aliased fonts, and in portrait mode the +/- toggle buttons fit perfectly under your thumb to swap pages. I've tried this before with other handheld devices, and though they've worked okay, the quantity of text per "page" always was considerably shy of a real paperback book because of the limited resolution, that meant you were flipping pages more, and losing the "flow". The screen on the 770 (and the new N800) is 800x480, which means it can hold pretty close to the same amount of text as a paperback, while still being very readable.
Anyways, if you can't recall Neuromancer off the top of your head, the plot of the book revolves around a team of mercenaries with various talents who have been hired to break into the base of a secretive family-run corporation in order to help two Artificial Intelligences combine into a greater whole. The international "Turing Police" limit this sort of thing because of fear the AI will get too powerful. But Wintermute (one of the two AIs, the other being Neuromancer) had been created with the desire to merge with its other half in its original design, and has been manipulating people and events for years in order to circumvent its hard-wired limitations which prevent that from happening. Read the Wikipedia link above for a better synopsis.
So, if you've read the book, you know that at the end, they succeed in breaking the preventative barriers and the two AIs merge to become "one with the matrix" more or less, and immediately become aware of another being with equally powerful intelligence near Alpha Centauri. Okay, that's pretty cool.
But here's my problem, Gibson sort of adds that at the end of the book as a sort of afterthought. Despite the fact that this would have given the book a much more cohesive flow, there was no foreshadowing of the fact that the combined AI would be doing anything interesting or good. If Marie-France, who had designed the AIs, had been fascinated with outer space, or had been focused on some sort of cosmic goal, then her reasoning for embedding Wintermute with its desire to become a greater whole would have made more sense. Also, throughout the book, Wintermute is generally crazy as hell: brainwashing and killing people (even children), and doing whatever is needed to further its desire to combine with Neuromancer, and so the reader is left with the general suspicion that the end of the book could result in something even more insane than Wintermute. At the end, the result is a sense of, "wow, that was lucky" rather than a sense of fulfilling a destiny.
The characters in the book are all introduced within a context of a wild-west style future, so any failings they may have, or crimes they may have committed seem justified by their surroundings, and as a reader you are immediately on their side. There really is no ambiguity in any of the characters intentions. Case and Molly are generally good, Corto is nuts, Riviera is evil. And Wintermute is presented as entirely evil throughout, which makes you wonder why Case and Molly would continue to help it, and not try to find some way to prevent its plan, despite the consequences. If there was any hint that Wintermute might be working towards a greater good of some sort, then you could accept some of their decisions a bit easier, but as it's written, the story seems to drive towards an end that the protagonists have no real reason to see occur.
As there will inevitably be a movie of this book some day - I really hope the director takes a hard look at the motivations of the characters, and helps present the audience with a better rationale for Wintermute's actions earlier on. Making Marie-France less of a mysterious matron who's only goal is to ensure her clan's continual comfort by providing super powerful AI nannies, if she instead was someone who had a greater goal in mind (such as communicating with other civilizations), then the audience and characters might have actual incentive for going along with her insane plan.
Just my thoughts. Next is Count Zero. :-)