Violence and death permeate William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy. Disturbingly, it nonchalantly treats many of the deaths as inconsequential. The characters treat death as an everyday thing as common as breathing without much thought about their actions or their repercussions. Life itself loses much of ther value we think it has today. Not only does the character's dialogue show this attitude, but, as the following passage from Count Zero demonstartes, this nonchalance appears in the story's characteristic style:
"Right," Turner said, and drew the gun, depressing the stud that activated the xenon projector. The first tight-beam flash of noon-bright xenon light found a twisted saguaro, its needles like tufts of gray fur in the pitiless illumination. The second lit up the spiked skull on Lynch's belt, framed it in a sharp-edged circle. The sound of the shot and the sound of the bullet detonating on impact were indistinguishable, waves of concussion rolling out in invisible, ever-widening rings, out into the flat dark land like thunder. [Gibson 95]
One death, however, that is taken in considerably more emotionally is Alain's in which Gibson describes:
And finding him there in that same watery light, silver light, the other tower blocks featureless, beyond a rectangle of window, against pale rainy sky, where he lay curled like a child on the hideous orange carpet, his spine a question mark beneath the taut back of his bottle-green velour jacket, his left hand spread above his ear, white fingers, faintest bluish tint at the base of his nails.
Kneeling, she [Marly] touched his neck. Knew. Beyond the window, all the rain sliding down, forever. Cradling his head, legs open, holding him, rocking, swaying, the dumb sad animal keening filling the bare rectangle of the room. . . .And after a time, becoming aware of the sharp thing under her palm, the neat stainless end of a length of very fine, very rigid wire, that protruded from his ear and between the spread cool fingers.
Ugly, ugly, that was no way to die; it got her up, anger, her hands like claws. [Gibson 143-144, ellipsis in original]
In relation to the way most other deaths are treated, this one produces a profound effect.
1. Although Webber and others are startled at Lynch's death, Turner is virtually unfazed despite being the killer. Furthermore, while Webber and others are initially startled, they soon put it in the back of their minds with no attempt to punish Turner. What does this say about the attitude towards death and killing in Gibson's world? Has killing become such a normal activity because physical death no longer means total death?
2. Look at the way Lynch's death is described: much of the paragraph is describing the xenon beam and its physical effects rather than focusing on what has happened to Lynch (and his body) or the significance of his killing is. What significance does Gibson's choice to describe most deaths in Count Zero and the other Sprawl series books like this have on the story? On the message he is trying to send to his readers? Also consider the beginning scene of Count Zero in which Turner is basically blown to bits, and the first few chapters talk about how he was put together more than the significance of this violent act.
3. Alain's death, on the other hand, is dealt with more traditional dignity. It describes his ravaged body and Marly's emotions towards his death. Why does Gibson choose to break from his typical mold here and give Alain's death this special stylish treatment?
4. Notice the color details that Gibson uses in describing death. Why does he use more vivid, warm colors such as "noon-bright xenon light" in Lynch's death, which Gibson presents with much casualness? Why does he use metallic, cold tones such as blue and gray in Alain's death when Gibson seems to treat Alain's situation with almost a sort of nobility?
Gibson, William.Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.
Last modified 1 March 2005