William Ginson

The Matrix Owes More to William Gibson than Most People Realize

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Yes.  I know.  I’m fifteen years late to the party.

Still, I just now got around to reading both Neuromancer and Count Zero, the first two books in Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy (maybe I’m thirty years late to the party?), and I was surprised at just how similar they are to the film The Matrix – or, rather, just how much the film lifts from the series.  I’m surprised that more ink hasn’t been spilled about this, and that it hasn’t been covered a little more in depth, so indulge me for a moment.

Now, I’m not accusing the producers of trying to hide anything.  After all, the very title of the film, The Matrix, is a nod to the name of the web in Gibson’s dark future so they were very respectful of the source material.  The way one navigates, by jacking in using special decks, will also resonate with those who watched the movie.  But, plot-wise, and philosophically, one concedes that there are many differences.

And that’s where most analysis ends.

Count Zero by William Gibson

The problem, as I see it, is that most readers only read Neuromancer, and never go anywhere near the other two books in the series.  And, though I’ve yet to read Mona Lisa Overdrive, Count Zero suddenly changed my perception of The Matrix.

A quick, spoilerless take on this one would be that it continues to tell stories set within the world that Gibson introduced in the first installment while only mentioning the original characters offhand.  If anything, it’s a slightly more ambitious book from a plot perspective, with three separate storylines that weave together in the end.  It starts slowly and gets good about a third of the way through… and then you hate the fact that it ends (this is quite different from Neuromancer, which starts strong and ends a bit weakly).

Twins from the Matrix

But quite apart from the story and general quality of the book, Count Zero introduces all the spiritual preoccupations that the second and third Matrix films revolve around.  It zags away from the tech / hard SF of the first book to explore a different philosophical terrain (albeit shallowly) – and gave the Brothers Wachowski all the ideas they needed to produce the sequels (whether or not they should have remains something of an open question).

So, an interesting weekend read on a number of levels.  Amazingly, these books hold up perfectly well over 30 years later.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  In Outside, he gives us his own take on an uploaded future.

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