"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
This is the story of Henry Case - a computer hacker, who committed his crimes in "the matrix" - a virtual reality cyberspace of the near future. Case was caught stealing from his employers, who retaliated by injecting him with a neurotoxin that prevented him from ever again connecting to the Matrix.
Case was devastated and unemployable until he was recruited by Armitage, a mysterious patron who promised to reverse the neurotoxin effects in exchange for performing a job. What Case did not know was that the reversal was only temporary - the surgeons left sacks of toxin within his veins that would dissolve without a transfusion. This set a time limit on the job.
So, Case partnered with Molly Millions - a beautiful mercenary, who has surgically enhanced her body to make her more dangerous; Maelcum, a Rastafarian space pilot; and a host of other bizarre characters to connect with powerful artificial intelligences and complete Armitage's jobs.
Gibson does a very good job of building a dystopian world and a digital cyberworld within that world. Among the features of this world:
-A personality may persist after death by uploading a person's consciousness into the Matrix. Case and his allies are assisted by the Flatline consciousness of a former mentor.
-Extreme surgical enhancements are commonplace - sometimes for aesthetics and sometimes for practical reasons. Molly has replaced her eyes with glass lenses that boost her vision and has retractable razors embedded beneath her fingernails.
-Artificial intelligences are self-aware and have grown powerful, manipulative, and dangerous.
This story is complex enough that I often found myself lost and re-reading chapters. Significant characters are introduced suddenly and it was not always obvious to me whether our antiheroes were in the real world or the Matrix.
But ultimately, I enjoyed this novel. The narration has the feel of both a science fiction story and a noir detective novel. Gibson reflects on humanity's relationship with technology and where it is headed. His description of a worldwide system of connected computer networks was prophetic - predating the proliferation of the Internet by at least a decade.
I respect the novel's place in history. William Gibson is credited with the invention of the cyberpunk science fiction subgenre (he originally coined the term in an earlier short story) and this - his first novel - helped to establish that subgenre in the popular consciousness.