memories of a lazy hack(er)

Posted by Marie on Thursday, September 23, 2010 in , ,
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Science Fiction; ISBN 0-441-56959-5; Ace Books, 1984.

First, the obligatory synopsis: Henry Dorsett Case was one of the hottest console cowboy in the Sprawl. But a double-cross went awry and he found himself, a year later, on the back streets of Chiba City, Japan, with a burnt-out nervous system incapable of even logging into cyberspace. Penniless, hopeless and suicidal, he reluctantly joins Armitage, an ex-military man with a mysterious past, and Molly, a mercenary razorgirl, for a last chance run that can either be his salvation or his doom.

My love affair with Neuromancer started in a night class called Computer Security. It was a last-minute addition to a fully loaded semester. Our teacher was supposed to be some top network security guru for one company on the top tier of the Fortune 500s, and the department chair (
as we were constantly reminded
) had just barely persuaded him to teach this class. Never mind
that the class ended exactly at midnight, and the students walked out of the classroom like brain-fried zombies.

But considering all the stuff we've heard about him, the guy was surprisingly unpretentious and easy to talk to. Knowing the class barely had an iota of attention to spare him, he got rid of the theoreticals; everything was hands-on from day one. Better than that, he figured that
the best way to learn how to protect a computer network is by knowing how to hack into them. It is (to use a Harry Potter analogy) like having a Defense Against the Dark Arts class that taught you how to do the Dark Arts itself.

Suffice to say, it was the coolest class I had that semester.

Between learning how to masquerade IP addresses, how to secretly listen into someone's Internet traffic, and even how to hack an Automated Teller Machine, he told us about this book called Neuromancer. "It's a book about hacking and you should read it - no, no, it's not a required reading (the rest of the class stopped listening at this point) - it's just something that you guys might enjoy."

I guess I remembered this, because I picked up a copy in a bargain bin for less than a hundred bucks at a National Bookstore branch in Katipunan.

Well, I never did became a decent hacker (I'm too lazy and I lacked finesse). I'm not much of a computer security person either (again, too lazy and lacked finesse). But I did pick up the habit of reading Neuromancer roughly every three years since then. And it's not because of the plot, which is basically just a caper story,
if you take the tech mumbo-jumbo out.
I reread the book partly due to professional curiosity - I like comparing the future it describes with the technological realities at that point in time - and partly due to affinity and
a sense of
parallelism of my life to Case's story.

Sadly though, I dawned on my fourth rereading just last month that the present had, in many ways, caught up with the book. Cyberpunk culture borrowed so much from William Gibson that his visions had become dated and cliché. And as online communities became a de facto standard, cyberspace became mundane in the twenty six years since this oft-quoted definition from the novel:

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.

Will I do a fifth rereading three years from now? I hope so - I'd hate to lose this 'tradition' of mine, just when everything Gibson that predicted seems to be within our grasp.



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