A study of portrayals of presence


If you have information about this portrayal that is missing below or if you disagree information below, please Add a new portrayal with the exact same title as above and enter only the new or changed information.







William Gibson 





from Neuromancer tells the story of Henry Dorsett Case, a talented computer hacker and thief in the high-tech dystopian future of the novel's setting. The novel's opening finds Case working as a low-level street hustler in the back streets of Chiba city, living out the last days of a self-destructive arc of risky behaviors and fast deals in the high-tech underworld of Japan. Formerly a talented hacker, Case made the mistake of stealing from his employers who retaliated by damaging his central nervous system with a Russian military mycotoxin, leaving him unable to use the direct brain-computer interfaces required for high-speed access to the cyberspace representations of the global computer network. With his career effectively ended, Case journeys to the Chiba City "black clinics" which deal in quasi-legal and illegal biomedical engineering techniques and cybernetic implants, in a desperate attempt to reverse the damage. When Case finally depletes his resources without finding a cure, he finds himself trapped in the underworld of Japan, surviving as a street hustler. Unable to return to the life he knew, and unwilling to create a new one, Case embarks on a self-destructive path of drug addiction and high-risk crime, subconsciously wishing to die, and waiting for his high-risk life to kill him. Case is saved from his arc of self-destruction when he is forcibly recruited by Molly, a "street samurai": a combination street-fighter/bodyguard/hired killer whose reflexes, strength and speed have all been artificially enhanced. Molly's most notable alterations are her "mirrorshades" - protective lenses surgically inset into her face to protect her eyes - and a set of 4cm retractable razors concealed beneath her fingernails. Molly is a "working girl" - a mercenary - who has been retained by Armitage, a shadowy ex-military officer whose intentions and loyalties are unclear, and charged with retrieving Case. Armitage also recruits Case, offering to cure his neurological damage in exchange for his services as a hacker. Case soon jumps at the chance to regain his lost life as a "console cowboy", even though neither he, nor Molly, know what their "mission" really is, nor who (or what) Armitage's mysterious backers are. Case has his nervous system repaired at an illegal clinic using brand-new technology that Armitage gives to the clinic in return for their work. Armitage also pays them to leave several sacs of the same mycotoxin in Case's blood vessels that will eventually burst. He promises Case that if he completes his work, he will remove them. Armitage also pays to replace several of Case's organs damaged by his drug abuse, organs that have been modified to render Case unable to effectively use his previous drugs of addiction. Case and Molly develop a personal relationship and secretly begin to inquire into Armitage's background. Armitage's first job for them involves a daring theft at the corporate headquarters of media conglomerate Sense/Net. A group of anarchists calling themselves the Panther Moderns are hired to create a massive diversion in the form of a simulated terrorist attack, allowing Molly to penetrate the building while Case directs her to the location of a priceless ROM module that contains the saved consciousness of McCoy Pauley (AKA "The Dixie Flatline"), a deceased cyberspace jockey who, in addition to being a legendary cyber-cowboy, was also one of Case's mentors. Apparently they will need Pauley's expertise for whatever job Armitage has for them. Case and Molly continue to investigate Armitage's background and soon discover that he was formerly known as Colonel Willis Corto, one of the few surviving veterans of a famous Cold War military operation known as Screaming Fist, a covert operation in which a glider-mounted commando force augmented with cyber-hacking capabilities was ordered to attack a Soviet military base. Unbeknownst to the commandos, however, the raid was engineered by high-ranking military commanders to examine the effect of EMP weapons against unprepared troops. Corto's men were slaughtered, but he and a few survivors commandeered a Soviet military helicopter, escaped over the heavily guarded Finnish border and were all killed, with the exception of Corto, who was almost fatally wounded by Finnish defense forces upon landing. The trail leads Case and Molly to a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) known as Wintermute, constructed by the plutocratic Tessier-Ashpool clan, whose members alternate control of the family wealth and spend periods in cryogenic preservation in the family mansion at the Freeside space resort. Wintermute engineered the individual known as Armitage from the remains of Corto, whose body and mind were devastated during his attack on the Soviets and subsequent escape to Finland. However, when the Armitage persona proves to be unstable, Wintermute is forced to open lines of communication with Case directly. In Istanbul, the team recruits another member, Peter Riviera, an artist, thief, and drug addict who is able to project detailed holographic illusions with his mind with the aid of sophisticated cyber-implants. He is very dangerous, but is coerced by Armitage into joining the team. Wintermute is revealed as one half of a planned super-AI entity. The Turing Law Code (governing AIs) bans the normal construction of such an entity, so it had to be built as two separate AIs, with Wintermute programmed with the need to merge with the other half, Neuromancer, in order to achieve the desired super-AI. But in order to circumvent the Turing locks (specifically designed to prevent the development of that level of AI), it needs outside help, i.e. Case and the others. Wintermute's plan is for Case to enter cyberspace and pierce the Turing-imposed software barriers using a Chinese military grade icebreaker (a virus-like piece of software) of unprecedented sophistication, while Riviera charms the password to the physical barriers out of Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool. As Lady 3Jane is the terminally bored current leader of Tessier-Ashpool SA, Wintermute believes the cruel Riviera will pose an irresistible temptation to her, and that she will give him the password, if for no other reason than the ensuing excitement. The password must then be physically uttered to an elaborately decorated computer terminal that is located in the heart of Villa Straylight, the Tessier-Ashpool clan's fortress, at roughly the same moment Case pierces the software barriers, or else the Turing locks will remain intact. As Molly and Riviera gain entrance to Straylight, Wintermute helps Case escape from the Turing Police, whose job is to regulate AIs and who have found out about Wintermute's plan. Armitage finally comes undone and reverts back to Corto, but is killed by Wintermute. At the same time, Molly is captured by Lady 3Jane and Riviera, who by this point has switched allegiances. Aware that Molly is in trouble, Case enters Straylight with Wintermute's help. At that point, Neuromancer attempts to trap Case within a cyber-construct that feels very real to Case, and where he finds an old girlfriend with whom he has unresolved issues. However, Case manages to escape back to the real world after discovering the true nature of Neuromancer's cyber-construct with the help of Wintermute. Case confronts Lady 3Jane, Riviera, and a cybernetically enhanced ninja named Hideo. Riviera tries to kill Case, but Lady 3Jane is sympathetic toward Case and Molly, and so Hideo prevents the killing. Hideo then chases Riviera and later kills him. They go to the computer terminal, where Case jacks into the matrix to check the status of the Chinese virus under Pauley's guidance. Lady 3Jane, to keep the excitement going, speaks the secret words at the right time and Wintermute succeeds in its task, allowing it to unite with Neuromancer and fuse into an even greater entity, becoming a part of the matrix itself. Case and Molly are rewarded handsomely for their efforts, including the removal of Case's mycotoxin sacs. Molly eventually leaves Case because she can't handle a peaceful, boring life (in Gibson's later books, we learn that Case eventually married, settled down and had four kids). The new AI that used to be Wintermute/Neuromancer tells Case that it has found another entity like itself by decoding transmissions received over the course of eight years in the 1970s, transmissions that originated in Alpha Centauri.  


Distant future 


Countires do not exists as we know them today. The cities of the eastern seaboard form Atlanta to Bostson are connected as one megatropolis. surgery is common to add artifical ehancements to people, such as permenent sunglasses, etc. travel to space is common. 
The Matrix (Cyberspace) and Wintermute 
Cyberspace: "The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. Cyberspace. . A graphic representation of data abstracted from 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" (69). A person jacks into the matrix through dermatrodes attached to his forehead and manipulating a keyboard, called a deck. It can be done anywhere, but needs a hardline to jack into. The matrix is represented as geographic places related to real physical places, such as London and Berne. Corperations and places are also represented as methaphorical boxes, surrounded by ice (data security forces). Wintermute, the artificial intelligence personality, can travel anywhere he chooses, showing up in any TV or computer screen. He interacts with Case as if he was human, taking on the image and aspects of a person from Case's past. Wintermute acts superior and all knowing. 
Surfing cyberspace, traveling around in it, looking for information. Also, speaking with Wintermute in cyberspace, interacting as if offline, holding a physical conversation. 
Functions well. 
unknown who created the matrix. Marie-France Tessier created Wintermute. Wealthy, female, and the head of a corperation, ran by her family.  
to run the compmay while her family and herself, lie in suspended animotion. 
People who enter cyberspace are called cowboys, looking for secrets and technology to sell or retreive for money. Mostly male and youngish, rebels, smart. Many people interact with Wintermute - male, female, all ages. 
Both spatial and social presence 
Being in cyberspace is dangerous and creepy - AI try to kill you, constructs (dead cowboys) offer advice. Cyberspace also can be very real - appearing as real places, inhabited by real people from past and present. Interacting with Wintermute is also dangerous and creepy. Most of the novel Case does not know exactly what Wintermute is planning and he does kill people. 
Yes, although sometimes Case gets confused in cyberspace, because it is so real. 
it is thrilling and an adreneline rush to be in cyberspace, but can be unpleasant. 
feelings of self-motion (vection), enjoyment, involvement, distorted memory and social judgments, more intense parasocial relationships, confusion about time and space, sometimes he 'flatlines' - has no heartbeat for a few minutes. 
the story ends fairly happy. Wintermute succeeds in reaching his goal, as does Case. Case survives and presumably lives happily ever after, although not with Molly. 
Amanda Scheiner 
Temple University 


Top of Page