Reading Like a Writer – Neuromancer and the Noir Aesthetic

I’m thinking of giving my posts some semblance of structure. Maybe I’ll map out a weekly schedule of what I’ll post or something, delegating certain days certain posts. Maybe. Might be fun.

In any event, after my cyberpunk obsession day, I picked back up Neuromancer by after reading it years ago. Truth be told, I barely remembered reading it in the first place. There was a time when I was young that I inhaled books without giving much thought to their contents. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them. Far from it. I understood it, but I didn’t really process all the moving parts.

Truth be told, I have yet to finish my second run-through of Neuromancer, so I’ll probably follow-up this post with another. However, so far, the visual aesthetic just blows me away. It’s clear, reading early on, that William Gibson was coming off of a career of short story writing when he wrote this. The book is such a fast-paced breeze. At time, actually, I wished the book was a little slower, so I could absorb the details of this world, understand what was going on. It felt at times that the book moved WAY too fast, but other times, the speed felt appropriate. It would feel more appropriate, however, in a book limited to about two thousand words, rather than how many words this book is written in.

Still, the minimalist style works here. In parody, often writers describe noir scenes in this sort of over-the-top tone, while, in Neuromancer, the noir elements are pretty straight forward. For a brief contrast (not from the book, but my own creation):

“I found myself on the dark streets that ran with shadows, much like the underside of a bullet casing after unloaded from a .22 magnum death-popper.”

Contrasted to the type of noir you’d see in Neuromancer (and, for that matter, good noir):

“I walked through the dark street.”

While I love deliciously cheesy dark lines, there is a clear line drawn in the sand between these two quotes. One brings the action to a crawl, which kills any chance of exhilaration. While the words are goofy, the similes and metaphors serve little purpose to the greater narrative.

When you cut the crap and get to the point, the darkness of the narrative speaks for itself.

That’s not to say that good noir doesn’t need metaphor. Flavor helps, but done within reason. However, it helps if there’s a personal element to it.

“The streets were dead. The last time this sidewalk was this quiet, some coke-dealer had a bullet lodged in his breast, blood spread over the curb. The gunshot deafened the city, or at least as far as I could tell.”

This figurative street adds a personality to the area without needing to go on and on with useless description. That said, this example is actually longer than the bad example before. The issue isn’t necessarily length, but substance.

Let’s apply this to Neuromancer.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” (Gibson).

First line of the book. Very simple. Metaphor that immediately connects the reality to the virtual, in a way that, while dated by today’s standards, is pretty effective. This line could have easily been screwed up by being over-written. For example…

“The heavens above me were a greyish-snowyish hue, like what a television looks like after you keep it on after hours.”

If you enjoyed the above sentence, okay, cool, but it lacks the impact that Gibson’s line has. Not only that, but it goes on for too long. The first sentence of a book NEEDS to get you invested, interested, and fast.

Again, I am still in the middle of Neuromancer, but most of Gibson’s sentences are like this. Quick. Snappy. Effective. Draw an immediate link to cyberpunk. The noir elements in this piece are a lesson worth drawing from, however. We young and aspiring writers need to look on the works of older, established people if we hope to make it. If we don’t learn from those who succeed–well, we’re shit out of luck.


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