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cyberspace
November 8, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I've never read William Gibson's Neuromancer, but I'm curious about how "Cyberspace" is represented in the book.

Here are my questions:

1. Is Cyberspace a virtual "space" that can be inhabited, or is it just people staring at computer monitors and stealing data from other computers.

2. Do people have avatars in this space?

3. What does this space look like?
posted by to sir with millipedes to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Let's quote Chapter 3:

`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...'
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:57 AM on November 8, 2012


I won't give specifics in order to avoid spoilers, but the impression I had was that you essentially have an avatar in a three-dimensional space, which is so directly connected to your mind and body that you can be killed or hurt by events taking place in it. From the book, it is vague, but it sounds like it looks like a bunch of voxels representing data density and content.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2012


I saw that on the Wikipedia page, but it's pretty vague. I was hoping someone could put a little finer a point on it.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 10:00 AM on November 8, 2012


Thanks, Blazecock, that helps!
posted by to sir with millipedes at 10:00 AM on November 8, 2012


Gibson's Cyberspace was a 3D volume where corporations had reserved volumes within-- large glowing boxes, ads, etc. The volume of cyberspace did not have, IIRC, any simulated physics except the speed at which you move through it. There were no storefronts in cyberspace, or social interaction, but you could enter a reserved volume, such as a company, and then you'd get a new interface in which to log in and interact.

Or, in the case of Gibson's hacker characters, you'd find another way in, such as by employing representational hack attacks against the "physical" structure of your target company, while its countermeasures fought back.

The real advanced tech of Gibson's stories were the AIs (very few and expensive, and very well regulated), wetware (technology grafted to the human brain), which allowed a person to participate in the "consensual hallucination" of cyberspace, and great surgery, which lets a person fill their body with aggressive weaponry if they so desire, or replacement organs-- one character is a kind of TV star who records her body's senses and you get to live in her body for the duration of her... performance, I guess.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:02 AM on November 8, 2012


Entering cyberspace involves putting dermatrodes (plugged into a computer called a "deck") on one's head. When a cyberspace deck is activated, the field of vision is replaced with the graphical representation of cyberspace. So someone in cyberspace looks, roughly, like they are meditating and typing at the same time -- moving through cyberspace is done via keyboard in a method not very clearly described. Gibson was never clear on the avatar representations IIRC, but going by the general imagery, there's no man-shaped avatars. Rather, everything is geometrical shapes of one form or another.
posted by griphus at 10:07 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Neuromancer's cyberspace is Secondlife without the hardware interface - you login directly from your brain. Since this In The Future, it's also presumably better articulated and less shit.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:10 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and, for fear of getting anymore specific, all the "rules" of cyberspace are set up to be broken if not in Neuromancer then the Sprawl trilogy at large. Everything from representations of individuals to the way one interfaces with cyberspace to the way it looks is eventually, in some way, changed.
posted by griphus at 10:10 AM on November 8, 2012


Follow up question - is there ever a time when characters are confused as to whether they were in the online world or the real world?
posted by to sir with millipedes at 10:10 AM on November 8, 2012


Yes.
posted by griphus at 10:11 AM on November 8, 2012


(But it is a very, very unique situation that a general cyberspace user would never encounter.)
posted by griphus at 10:12 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My memory of the book is like griphus's- I didn't envision Gibson's cyberspace as any kind of 3D MMORPG. I don't think real people ever meet in cyberspace in the book, do they?
posted by mkultra at 10:14 AM on November 8, 2012


is there ever a time when characters are confused as to whether they were in the online world or the real world?

Yes. This happens once in Neuromancer and again at the beginning of Count Zero. I don't recall this happening in Mona Lisa Overdrive, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:14 AM on November 8, 2012


Gibson's world did allow for advanced simulated worldspaces (in computers) that people's minds could inhabit while, for example, they were undergoing medical procedures such that their brains were not supportable by their bodies. At least a couple characters were brains-in-vats. One of them, IIRC, was said to live in cyberspace, but I'm sure he was aware of it. Another was getting his body replaced after his encounter with a "slamhound," which as far as we know is a dog on a scent and a few pounds of explosive implants. A comatose man known as "the Count" was definitely "living" in a portable machine, but at some point someone connected it to cyberspace and it became a large, glowing volume in cyberspace.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:21 AM on November 8, 2012


I don't mean to spam the thread, but one thing about the representation of cyberspace in the Sprawl trilogy, and especially Neuromancer, is that a lot of it is intentionally left vague, and a lot more of it is described using symbolic and psychedelic imagery. So you're going to get some conflicting descriptions here, many without a canonical answer as to whether they are "right" or "wrong."
posted by griphus at 10:27 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The description of the technology used to interface is also left almost entirely to the imagination. Interestingly, the specifics are replaced with emphasis on the brand names of (fictional) major corporations that make the equipment used to connect. Like you're not watching television, you're watching a "Sony Trinitron", if that makes sense. It's an interesting narrative trick that adds to the "magic" of the world that Gibson creates, as well as the experiences of the people that inhabit it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


1: it's a virtual space
2: Not explicitly stated in Neuromancer that I recall, but implied
3: Get your hands on some Shadowrun books, specifically Virtual Realities and Virtual Realities 2.0 and Matrix, and there should be some nice glossy color art in those. To say Shadowrun was "heavily inspired" by Gibson would be a bit of an understatement. (There should also be some good bits in the 1st and 2nd edition core books) Should give you something to work off of.

Also, if you want an idea of what one of the cyberdecks might've looked like, I think the closest thing is a Commodore 64.
posted by curious nu at 11:02 AM on November 8, 2012


As I recall, Gibson's cyberspace was a primitive form of the "sim-stim" technology he talked about. It used the same headbands or "trodes". The way I pictured it in my head was a wireframe of geometric shapes, all different colors, all connected by lines of varying thicknesses and colors. The shapes and lines were all lit from within. The user "flew" through these shapes and lines, with no gravity and no connection to the landscape until they tried to access one of the systems.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:54 AM on November 8, 2012


The Sega Genesis version of Shadowrun had a playable cyberspace. It looked like this.
posted by Nomyte at 12:11 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read an interview with Gibson where he said that cyberspace is where you are when you're talking on the phone. This was years ago probably in Mondo 2000 magazine.
posted by gentian at 12:34 PM on November 8, 2012


A huge difference between Cyberspace and Second Life is that, as Gibson has said in interviews multiple times, nobody ever uses Cyberspace in his books to talk to other people. It is seen as repositories of corporate data and transactions.
posted by chrchr at 12:36 PM on November 8, 2012


(I like that the metaphor is already becoming dated.)
posted by gentian at 12:37 PM on November 8, 2012


1. Virtual space, neon lights and stuff. Through the 'trodes/sim stim (simulated stimulation), you feel like that you're there. There's an allusion to 'riding a shark' during one of the final attack runs, and the protagonist could communicate with a copy of a (dead) hacker riding shotgun with him, but it was mostly audio.

2. Not avatars as such. Very abstracted. Stephenson's Snow Crash explicitly uses avatars (and facial emotions are a major advancement that made the use of avatars actually useful).

3. Slightly updated representation in the movie Hackers [youtube], especially "hacking the Gibson" run.

(I like that the metaphor is already becoming dated.)

"The sky was the color of television tuned to a dead channel."

I've seen some recentish fiction that made fun of that. Dead television tuned to dead channel is now deep sky blue, not static.
posted by porpoise at 1:45 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


A huge difference between Cyberspace and Second Life is that, as Gibson has said in interviews multiple times, nobody ever uses Cyberspace in his books to talk to other people

I hate to be the well actually. But, well actually. When case first loads up the Dixie flatline construct Dixie instructs him to go to the university sector of cyberspace where they find telephone access codes written ..... Somewhere. Flatline says they were written there by students.

Yes, cyberspace was lo-Rez simstim. It used the same trodes. The Fin attached a switch to Case's Ono Sendai that allowed Case to use his trodes to access either cyberspace or simstim from Molly.

Most of it is vague because as far as I know Gibson had never even seen a computer when he wrote it.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:20 PM on November 8, 2012


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