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On Rereading Gibson

Determined to heed Francois’s advice and practice my rereading of Neuromancer in the hope that some of its details might adhere, this go-round, I’ve decided to blog certain of the comments and questions that arise as I make my way back through the text.

And here’s the first, which focuses on Screaming Fist, the Special Forces operation in which the person we come to know as Armitage was damaged: at the first mention of the maneuver, Case remembers it, and Armitage similarly describes it, as taking place primarily in cyberspace:

“Some kind of run, wasn’t it? Tried to burn this Russian nexus with virus programs. Yeah, I heard about it. And nobody got out.”

He sensed abrupt tension. Armitage walked to the window and looked out over Tokyo Bay. “That isn’t true. One unit made it back to Helsinki, Case.”

Case shrugged, sipped coffee.

“You’re a console cowboy. The prototypes of the programs you use to crack industrial banks were developed for Screaming Fist. For the assault on the Kirensk computer nexus. Basic module was a Nightwing microlight, a pilot, a matrix deck, a jockey. We were running a virus called Mole. The Mole series was the first generation of real intrusion programs.” (28)

The second time Screaming Fist is mentioned, however, Julius Deane emphasizes the physical aspects of the run, the aspects that take place in meatspace:

“Famous. Don’t they teach you history these days? Great bloody postwar political football, that was. Watergated all to hell and back. Your brass, Case, your Sprawlside brass in, where was it, McLean? In the bunkers, all of that… great scandal. Wasted a fair bit of patriotic young flesh in order to test some new technology. They knew about the Russians’ defenses, it came out later. Knew about the emps, magnetic pulse weapons. Sent these fellows in regardless, just to see.” Deane shrugged. “Turkey shoot for Ivan.”

“Any of those guys make it out?”

“Christ,” Deane said, “it’s been bloody years…. Though I do think a few did. One of the teams. Got hold of a Sov gunship. Helicopter, you know. Flew it back to Finland. Didn’t have entry codes, of course, and shot hell out of the Finnish defense forces in the process. Special Forces types.” Deane sniffed. “Bloody hell.” (35, ellipses in original)

This slight slippage in our understanding of Screaming Fist is, I think, crucial to understanding the novel’s take on the relationship between cyberspace and lived geographic space. Despite Case’s apparent dismissal of the physical (shrugging when Armitage reveals that one unit made it “back to Helsinki”), despite his sense that, in cyberspace, “he could reach the Freeside banks as easily as he could reach Atlanta. Travel was a meat thing” (77), these passages suggest that geopolitical boundaries are still operative. Case’s inability to comprehend or accept the continuing importance of meatspace seems, at the moment, the locus of a significant critique of the cyberculture to come.

More soon…


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