Case, Riviera, Linda Lee, and others struggle with their addictions to drugs and alcohol, but also to sex, violence, and technology. These characters and others have experienced trauma in their pasts, which leads them to seek out substances and experiences that will numb the pain. Neuromancer therefore depicts addiction as the result of a search for coping mechanisms to deal with trauma and the stresses of the modern world.
Many characters in Neuromancer are hooked on drugs, which the novel depicts as being incredibly destructive and dangerous, wreaking havoc on the lives and bodies of drug users and the people who care about them. At the beginning of the novel, Case is hooked on a combination of stimulants. He has an explicit death wish, and the drugs, in addition to a dangerous job, almost guarantee that he will soon die. This obviously affects his day-to-day life, but also hurts the people around him. Case gets Linda, his on-again-off-again girlfriend, hooked on the same drugs that have ruined his life. He describes seeing them transform her—“her perpetually startled eyes” turned “into wells of reflexive need.” At the same time, he sees her “personality fragment, calving like an iceberg, splinters drifting away, and finally he’d seen the raw need, the hungry armature of addiction.” Dealing with his own demons, Case is too strung out to even feel remorse for helping destroy another person. Occasionally, Case describes how drugs make him feel. After a binge on a new drug that he takes in Freeside, he describes his brain as “deep-fried. No, he decided, it had been thrown into hot fat and left there, and the fat had cooled, a thick dull grease congealing on the wrinkled lobes, shot through with greenish-purple flashes of pain.” Riviera also has a drug addiction, and shoots up throughout the novel. Both he and Linda Lee die as results of their addictions. Linda Lee dies because drugs put her in proximity to untrustworthy people, while Riviera is poisoned by a batch of bad drugs.
Although the novel deals extensively with drug addiction, it also explicitly describes Case’s (and other’s) addiction to technology. Case describes his early life as a console cowboy, during which “he’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high,” not unlike the highs he seeks from amphetamines in Chiba. After his former bosses punish him for stealing by shorting out the parts in his brain that connected him to the matrix, he is stuck in his body, cut off from technology. He responds to this like a drug addict in withdrawal. “He’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void…he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.” In fact, his addiction to the matrix drives his collaboration with Armitage and Molly, who promise to restore his mind and allow him to plug in again. When he finally hooks up to a console for the first time in years, from inside the machine he’s aware of his body “laughing…tears of release streaking his face.” This is never explicitly framed as a problem, as Case’s addiction to technology goes hand-in-hand with his expert handling of cyberspace and the tasks he is asked to complete in it. This complicates the issue of addiction, which seems to be simply a byproduct of Case’s job.
The novel investigates why people become addicted. Although with the exception of Case’s love of technology addiction proves fatal time and time again, Neuromancer takes the time to explain why drug users are the way they are. Case, for example, uses drugs to offset his depression at being deprived of his favorite indulgence—cyberspace. He hates the feeling of being trapped in his body, and describes how, one morning, as “the high wore away, the chromed skeleton corroding hourly, flesh growing solid, the drug-flesh replaced with the meat of his life. He couldn’t think. He liked that very much, to be conscious and unable to think.” Riviera, similarly, had a traumatic war-torn childhood, and although the link is never made explicit, his drug use is likely used to mask the trauma of his youth.
In no way does Neuromancer condone drug use or other addictive activities, but it does paint a sympathetic picture of addicts whose use serves to mask pain or mental illness, or, in the case of Case, is directly linked to the job he does—he’s a successful console cowboy because he’s hooked on it, and his addiction and his proficiency are linked. Neuromancer repeatedly demonstrates the disastrous effects of addictions on individuals—leading to death or near death in almost every case. Still, it is sympathetic in its depictions—addiction is a disease, often developed in response to trauma, but it can be fatal if not treated.
Addiction and Dependency ThemeTracker
Addiction and Dependency Quotes in Neuromancer
A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he’d taken and the corners he’d cut in Night City, and still he’d see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void….The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he’d cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there.
For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall. In the bars he’d frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.
“The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,” said the voice-over, “in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.” On the Sony, a two-dimensional space war faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding....”
This was it. This was what he was, who he was, his being. He forgot to eat. Molly left cartons of rice and foam trays of sushi on the corner of the long table. Sometimes he resented having to leave the deck to use the chemical toilet they’d set up in a corner of the loft. Ice patterns formed and reformed on the screen as he probed for gaps, skirted the most obvious traps, and mapped the route he’d take through Sense/Net’s ice. It was good ice. Wonderful ice. Its patterns burned there while he lay with his arm under Molly’s shoulders, watching the red dawn through the steel grid of the skylight. Its rainbow pixel maze was the first thing he saw when he woke. He’d go straight to the deck, not bothering to dress, and jack in. He was cutting it. He was working. He lost track of days.
And sometimes, falling asleep, particularly when Molly was off on one of her reconnaissance trips with her rented cadre of Moderns, images of Chiba came flooding back. Faces and Ninsei neon. Once he woke from a confused dream of Linda Lee, unable to recall who she was or what she’d ever meant to him. When he did remember, he jacked in and worked for nine straight hours.
The cutting of Sense/Net’s ice took a total of nine days.
He bought a mug of Carlsberg and found a place against the wall. Closing his eyes, he felt for the knot of rage, the pure small coal of his anger. It was there still. Where had it come from? He remembered feeling only a kind of bafflement at his maiming in Memphis, nothing at all when he’d killed to defend his dealing interests in Night City, and a slack sickness and loathing after Linda’s death under the inflated dome. But no anger. Small and far away, on the mind’s screen, a semblance of Deane struck a semblance of an office wall in an explosion of brains and blood. He knew then: the rage had come in the arcade, when Wintermute rescinded the simstim ghost of Linda Lee, yanking away the simple animal promise of food, warmth, a place to sleep. But he hadn’t become aware of it until his exchange with the holo-construct of Lonny Zone.
It was a strange thing. He couldn’t take its measure.
“Numb,” he said. He’d been numb a long time, years. All his nights down Ninsei, his nights with Linda, numb in bed and numb at the cold sweating center of every drug deal. But now he’d found this warm thing, this chip of murder. Meat, some part of him said. It’s the meat talking, ignore it.
“You are worse than a fool,” Michéle said, getting to her feet, the pistol in her hand. “You have no care for your species. For thousands of years men dreamed of pacts with demons. Only now are such things possible. And what would you be paid with? What would your price be, for aiding this thing to free itself and grow?” There was a knowing weariness in her young voice that no nineteen-year-old could have mustered. “You will dress now. You will come with us. Along with the one you call Armitage, you will return with us to Geneva and give testimony in the trial of this intelligence. Otherwise, we kill you. Now.” She raised the pistol, a smooth black Walther with an integral silencer.