I first read William Gibson as a teenager in the late 1980s. My father was a librarian and often brought me home books he thought I’d like. One of these was a yellow-jacketed Gollancz hard cover of Neuromancer. The book had a profound influence on me, and I still have a copy that was later withdrawn from the library in my collection (the 1985 second impression).
As usual, Gibson’s keen observation of the present proves uncanny at times. When advance copies of the book began circulating last year, the references to a flashpoint at Qamishli were widely discussed. Now, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, his veiled references to the part their analogs played in the Jackpot feel close to home. I’ve long thought that the concept kleptocracy is simply a more honest reflection of our current reality, one that terms like oligarchy, plutocracy and democracy simply gloss over.
For much of the book, it seems that most of the characters have little of its titular theme, rather they are manipulated by forces outside their control and understanding. The culmination of the book demonstrates that some do indeed have the ability to act and to determine their fate, but it’s clear that most do not and must content themselves to work within the frameworks of others, exercising what little control they are occasionally granted as far as possible.
Much could be made of the conceit at the heart of the modern timeline, where Clinton won and Brexit lost, but that would be a mistake. It seems to me that the main lesson is that little would be different in any fundamental way, especially in the longer term, given the momentum of the wider historical forces at play.
Gibson’s style and the short chapters full of detail and texture mean the best way to enjoy this book is to dive in and immerse yourself. This is always my preferred mode for a first reading - soak it up and don’t be too concerned with worrying about the themes or analysis. These notes are based on a reading like this, perhaps I’ll re-read more carefully and amend them in the future.