Estrangement, Indeed

I’m quite glad, actually, that there was a prompt issued for this week’s blogging as I know of nothing I would rather blog about.  Cracking William Gibson proved something of a frustrating, almost embarrassingly revealing reading experience.  I discovered this: I have no idea how to read science fiction.

The only book that has ever actually given me a headache is Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly; and if I were to compare Neuromancer and my reading experience therin, I would have to compare it to to Philip K.  I can liken my experience to reading the first 20 pages or so to being thrown, against my will and unceremoniously, into a high-power washer/dryer spinning furiously and out-of-control.  It was a dizzying, electrifying experience; and, as much as I would like to, I don’t think I can blame my confusion/frustration on the fact that I’d been reading off and on all day for other classes; no, I was beaten by William Gibson; his wordy words defeated me.

Neuromancer presumes an awful lot.  It presumes that the reader is living in the same universe at the same time and speaks the same language with the same jargon.  As a matter of fact, it made me want to echo the sentiments of Brian Doyle-Murray from one classic, beloved christmas film (scroll to the 0:39 mark).  He throws a barrage of words and phrases at us that, out of context, are all but meaningless.  He uses Sprawl (capitalized) as an adjective (Pg. 3).  His characters drink drafts of Kirin (I mean, that’s my drink of choice too; but how many people actually write about it in their novels?) (Pg. 3).  Apparently the “Chinese bloody invented nerve-splicing” (sure, I’ve played BioShock, but isn’t that gene splicing? What the hell is nerve-splicing? Does William expect us to know? Yes.) (Pg. 5).  There is a region/country/city/town/province/who-knows-what called Chiba? (Pg. 5).  Cyberspace (Pg. 5) is clearly quite relevant to this story; I just wish I knew what it actually was.  We find out on page 6 that he had been a “cowboy, a rustler”. I’m assuming Gibson doesn’t mean cowboy in the traditional sense of the word.  Characters sleep in coffins and there are such things as arcologies (Pg. 8).  He uses some obscurely-worded phrases that I feel like I should be understanding, but I just can’t quite get my head around: “…her face bathed in restless laser light, features reduced to a code…” (Pg. 10).  His descriptions of the regional/modern-day garb are also terribly elusive; and I found them impossible to visualize in my mind: “smudged black paintsick” (Pg. 10), “clingwrap capes” (Pg. 11).  Oh, and there are pachinko parlors (Pg. 11)

I found that a few of the phrases we used in the first day of class to define science fiction (alienating, estrangement etc…) quite appropriately described my experience with the first bit of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.  The text is so rife with these phrases and words anomalous in nature, that the reading is just jarring and disorienting.  I would like to conclude with the posing of a question.  Do we “learn the language” as we go? And if so – as a result – does the reading get easier?

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