Neuromancer takes place in a world where technology is taking over, and many characters prefer the world of cyberspace to the organic one. Case, the novel’s protagonist, is a console cowboy who makes his living plugging in to the matrix. He is dismayed to be stuck in a physical body, which he often derisively refers to as “meat.” Bodies have needs and desires—hunger, exhaustion, lust, addiction—and he sees these as distractions. However, although he loves cyberspace more than reality, he still needs his body to house his mind and nervous system, which transports him into the world he prefers. Although the world of Neuromancer exists because of technological advances, the novel does not come down definitively on the side of the natural world or the technological one. Instead, it paints a picture of a society in which incredible near-future technology augments instead of supplants nature, and tampering too much with the natural order leads to tragedy and chaos. Although technology opens new doors into the world of cyberspace and medically enhances people with superhuman abilities, it also requires a physical body upon which to build. The natural world and unmodified bodies are enhanced by technology, and technology is made possible by physical bodies.
Case resents his body, which he describes as “meat.” He prefers the world of cyberspace, and sees his body as useful only as long as it can hook up to the matrix. Case’s job as a console cowboy “involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh,” but after his former employers punish him for stealing, frying his nervous system so he can no longer jack in, he falls “into the prison of his own flesh.” Cut off, Case becomes motivated purely by a desire to either find a way to log back on, or to numb the pain of separation. Even ostensibly good things in his life—like his short-lived romance with Linda Lee—disgust him. He describes the physical desire his body feels for her as “all the meat…and all its wants.” Case also develops an addiction to drugs to help him deal with being trapped in the prison of his body. At one point, coming down from a high, he comments “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.” Still, Case learns to enjoy some of the pleasures of the flesh—he often admires Molly’s body, enhanced as it is by technology. One morning “He lay on his side and watched her breathe, her breasts, the sweep of a flank defined with the functional elegance of a war plane’s fusilage. Her body was spare, neat, the muscles like a dancer’s.”
Technology and nature intersect explicitly in the world of body modification. These modifications can be foreign objects added to the body (such as weapons), invisible alterations that extend life, or projects that create new humans entirely (through cloning, or through neural blocks that turn people into temporary dolls). These are all generally helpful and enhance the lives of the people who use them. As resentful as people like Case are of the “meat” of the human body, body modifications are only built upon existing bodies. Cyberspace requires a human brain to plug into. Microsofts, slivers of code that people can stick into ports into their head, allowing them to overlay computer software over their real-life vision, require a human body to modify.
Many characters also modify their bodies more permanently. Molly has added silicon sunglasses-like inserts into her head, which give her a permanent display of relevant information. Additionally she’s had work done on retractable metal claws, and on her nervous system. Although these enhancements make it difficult for her to live an ordinary life, she doesn’t mind, as it makes her even better at her job as a mercenary and bodyguard. Julius Deane, a member of the Chiba underworld, is 135, but keeps himself alive and youthful looking by spending “a weekly fortune in serums and hormones. His primary hedge against aging was a yearly pilgrimage to Tokyo, where genetic surgeons re-set the code of his DNA.” Similarly, the Tessier-Ashpool clan keeps the family alive through cloning and a cycle of thawing and freezing, rotating through versions of the same family members, keeping them alive indefinitely to run their home and company. Armitage has had extensive work done—new eyes, legs, and a new face—which, although they cannot repair his intense emotional damage, at least allow him to function in the world (for a while). Many of these modifications, though shocking, enhance the lives of the people who have modified themselves.
Although many characters embrace technological advances, technology is not painted as purely good and helpful. Some technological body modifications are horrifying—Case meets a young man whose “face was a simple graft grown on collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides, smooth and hideous. It was one of the nastiest pieces of elective surgery Case had ever seen.” The most terrifying technology, however, are AIs, or artificial intelligences. An entire police force—Turings—exists to keep AIs in check, as they know that these computers could take over the world if they were unshackled. At one point Case meets a group of Turings who arrest him for collaborating with the AI Wintermute. One of the officers tells Case he is “worse than a fool” who has “no care for your species.” She compares collaborating with an AI to making “pacts with demons.” Although frightening, technology is never painted purely as the villain. Even Wintermute, once he escapes, causes no true harm, as he is more interested in his own freedom and in searching for other AIs than causing destruction on earth. Instead, technology is a tool to be used for either good or ill, largely as a result of human activity.
Technology plays a huge role in the lives of the inhabitants of Neuromancer. Although Case resents being stuck in the meat that is his body, and technology provides incredible opportunities for body modification, artificial intelligence, and access to cyberspace, Neuromancer never definitely comes down on one side in the tension between the human body and technology. Instead, the novel argues that in the modern world both must exist together, and the best technology is that which enhances the experiences of the body itself.
Technology and the Body ThemeTracker
Technology and the Body 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.
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 coughed. “Dix? McCoy? That you man?” His throat was tight.
“Hey, bro,” said a directionless voice.
“It’s Case, man. Remember?”
“Miami, joeboy, quick study.”
“What’s the last thing you remember before I spoke to you, Dix?”
He disconnected the construct. The presence was gone. He reconnected it. “Dix? Who am I?”
“You got me hung, Jack. Who the fuck are you?”
“Ca—your buddy. Partner. What’s happening, man?”
“Remember being here, a second ago?”
“Know how a ROM personality matrix works?”
“Sure, bro, it’s a firmware construct.”
“So I jack it into the bank I’m using, I can give it sequential, real time memory?”
“Guess so,” said the construct.
“Okay, Dix. You are a ROM construct. Got me?”
“If you say so,” said the construct. “Who are you?”
“Miami,” said the voice, “joeboy, quick study.”
“Right. And for starts, Dix, you and me, we’re gonna sleaze over to London grid and access a little data. You game for that?”
“You gonna tell me I got a choice, boy?”
“No,” he said, and then it no longer mattered, what he knew, tasting the salt of her mouth where tears had dried. There was a strength that ran in her, something he’d known in Night City and held there, been held by it, held for a while away from time and death, from the relentless Street that hunted them all. It was a place he’d known before; not everyone could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something he’d found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew— he remembered—as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.
The zipper hung, caught, as he opened the French fatigues, the coils of toothed nylon clotted with salt. He broke it, some tiny metal part shooting off against the wall as salt-rotten cloth gave, and then he was in her, effecting the transmission of the old message. Here, even here, in a place he knew for what it was, a coded model of some stranger’s memory, the drive held.
“To call up a demon you must learn its name. Men dreamed that, once, but now it is real in another way. You know that, Case. Your business is to learn the names of programs, the long formal names, names the owners seek to conceal. True names...”
“A Turing code’s not your name.”
“Neuromancer,” the boy said, slitting long gray eyes against the rising sun. “The lane to the land of the dead. Where you are, my friend. Marie-France, my lady, she prepared this road, but her lord choked her off before I could read the book of her days. Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead. But no, my friend,” and the boy did a little dance, brown feet printing the sand, “I am the dead, and their land.” He laughed. A gull cried. “Stay. If your woman is a ghost, she doesn’t know it. Neither will you.”