This post contains spoilers through “The Straylight Run.” If you want to spoil beyond that, please label comments as such. And for next week, let’s finish the novel.
As something of a theology nerd, I particularly liked the parts of this section that are about the ways, both beautiful and terrifying, that technology brings us closer to the divine — or at least, redefines the boundaries of what’s considered possible and what’s considered miraculous. The Turing authorities who come to arrest Case are both literally and metaphorically advocates of those boundaries. They hold the guns to the AIs heads not simply because of practical concerns, because they see unincumbered artificial intelligences free to pursue their will to knowledge as a way evil comes into the world. As one of them says: “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?”
Of course Case doesn’t accept that conception and forges forward. Wintermute kills his pursuers, freeing him to dive into the ice and encounter Wintermute’s opposite number, a boy on a beach in a dream, as untechnological a vision as we have in the entire novel:
“You’re the other AI. You’re Rio. You’re the one who wants to stop Wintermute. What’s your name? Your Turing code. What is it?” The boy did a handstand in the surf, laughing. He walked on his hands, then flipped out of the water. His eyes were Riviera’s, but there was no malice there. “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.” “You’re cracking. The ice is breaking up.” “No,” he said, suddenly sad, his fragile shoulders sagging. He rubbed his foot against the sand. “It is more simple than that. But the choice is yours.” The gray eyes regarded Case gravely. A fresh wave of symbols swept across his vision, one line at a time. Behind them, the boy wriggled, as though seen through heat rising from summer asphalt. The music was loud now, and Case could almost make out the lyrics.
I think part of what I like about this moment is that it is, in a way, a strong statement in support of the appeal of the irregularity, mysticism, and oddness of humanity. An AI’s invested in the power of names, the life story and tragic death of the woman who dreamed him into being, whose youthful experiences he incorporated into the world he’s created for his ghosts. There’s something almost generous about Neuromancer’s wistful desire to provide a refuge for what’s left of Linda. Even technology strives towards heaven.