Space-rastas and Doctor Who (aka Response #2)

Well I just finished reading Neuromancer, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've never read any cyberpunk before, so it was certainly an interesting read. For some reason I am drawn to the idea of an imperfect future where things are grungy and gross and the people are flawed. I suppose it seems to me like a more realistic version of the future than one in which everyone gets along and there is no poverty and crime (i.e. the Star Trek universe). Perhaps I have little faith in humanity?.

There were a couple things that interested me in Neuromancer. The first was the role of the Rastafarians. It almost seemed like they were the religious aspect of the story. At the very least, Gibson certainly seemed interested in bringing certain aspects of that culture into his story. For instance, there are many references to Babylon. The Founders of Zion are willing to help Molly and Case because they will "bring a scourge on Babylon" and "may serve as a tool of Final Days" (109-110). In Rastafarian culture Babylon is corrupt society (I suppose in the book it would be the Sprawl and other Earth and non Rastafarian cultures in general), whereas Zion (in the book the home of the Rastafarians) is good. Zion also has connections to Africa which in turn makes me think back to Marcus Garvey and the Back-to-Africa movement. I don't remember my history too well here, but since the name of the tug was Marcus Garvey I think I am making a valid connection. There was also a connection made between Molly and "Steppin' Razor" which was a song by Peter Tosh who was a reggae musician (109). On the other hand, the Rastafarians seemed rather one-dimensional and stereotypical. They were constantly getting high and spoke with very thick accents and they just didn't seem to have too much substance. They're characters seem set in their ways and just less fleshed out than the others. This has led me to wonder exactly what Gibson's purpose was in using the Rastafarian culture as part of his story. He delves into many other cultures and subcultures in particular the Panther Moderns, but I'm unclear as to what made him pick Rastafarians in particular as the allies of Case, Molly and Company.

Of course I also really liked the use of technology. It kept amazing me that the book was written back in the early 1980s. The whole concept of the matrix and cyberspace and virtual reality has always been something I thought of a relatively new, so his use of these ideas in the early 80s I thought was very forward thinking. The idea of hacking into systems and spreading viruses seems so current! One thing that I wasn't too keen on, however, was the all the product placement (for lack of a better term). There was Sony here, Hitachi there, and then there were the little microsoft slivers used by the Panther Moderns. On the one hand I found this annoying because it made the universe that Gibson created seem less foreign. On the other hand the dominance of certain corporations in the technology industry can't be denied and the use of big company names seemed to make that point.

In the end, I suppose, I am left with two questions. Why did Gibson choose to use Rastafarian culture so prominently in the novel? While he certainly brings out many aspects of Rastafarian culture and religion, he never goes much deeper into the characters themselves which is disappointing. Second, why the brand names? Was it meant to make a connection between their time and ours? Or to show how technology as an industry is dominated by large corporations? I'm just uncertain.

Also, as I was writing this I remembered a Doctor Who serial which features a computer program called the Matrix! In the show it was a sort of virtual reality that a person could "jack into" using a big thing that came down over their head. I'm pretty sure that this episode was from the mid 1970s which would predate the novel… interesting.

I particularly like the ways you're reading the uses made of the Rastafarians in the novel...