I've finished reading the first chapter through a couple of times and am thinking hard about it. It seems clear that there is a lot of nihilism in cyberpunk. Clearly traditional values, and the quest for meaning generally, have been discarded: there is nothing but the super-fast movement of culture and technology, a sense of disorientation, a definite, and by now very trite, noir sensibility, a sense of humanity overwhelmed by change and super-smart machines, machines which have become conscious, leading us to the brink of the "technological singularity"(see the wikipedia page) that leads to the end of human history, a time machines will then recursively outpace us, machines will drive history, not us. In this way, cyberpunk is thoroughly postmodern, but in the way that we all have to face up to, not in some purely academic way where you are not allowed to have subjects, verbs, and objects in sentences unless you cross them out.
The first line of the novel,
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"(N, pg.7),
obviously reminds me of the first line of the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot:
'Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky, like a patient etherized upon a table"
In The Wasteland, Eliot refers to the "Unreal City", and Chiba City in the novel is real, hyper-real, and surreal -- one of the characters even has a melted Dali clock on the wall to drive this home. The hyper-real cyberspace is a merging of human beings with computers, consciousness is separated from the body. Man, this sounds like the books I've been reading; check out my last section of entries on I Am A Strange Loop. Consider Chase's description of the cyberspace experience:
"...jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix." (N pg. 9)
The passage below shows the distinction between disembodied mind and a life dominated by the flesh. We see that cyberspace is like heaven and the world is like hell:
"For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall...The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh."(N, pg.9)
The desire to escape to cyberspace is balanced perfectly by the thanatos embodied by the city itself:
"Ninsei wore him down until the street itself came to seem the externalization of some death wish, some secret poison he hadn't known he carried."(N, pg. 10)
The beautiful sentence below gives the sense of nihilism caused by rapid change in a heartless society dominated by massive corporations and organized crime:
"Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button."(N, pg. 10)
There are no humane values, just technology and profit to be had. The world is what happens when an Ayn Randian philosophy has a chance to move forward. Even the hero of our story seems self-centered; he is more an antihero than anything else.
Case speculates that this region was allowed to exist so that there would be a place where technology could have free reign; technology could mutate in the same way biological entities do so that it can adapt. It is an interesting thought that technology should be allowed to compete with itself so that the better technologies survive. Human beings are then the vehicles, the meat sacs carrying the technologies that are really the point of the evolution. This is where one could speculate that the "singularity" has approached and human evolution is replaced with machine evolution; human beings are the pawns in this game.
Looking at shurikins in a shop window Case thinks:
"...it came to Case that these were the stars under which he voyaged, his destiny spelled out in a constellation of cheap chrome."(N,15)
The stars that guide the world are ultimately the impersonal forces of technology and the dark forces of huge corporations. Can he have anything like freedom in this context? Only, it seems, through more violence.
He then draws a parallel between the artificial and the biological in the remarkable passage below. Notice the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us" from The Bible mutates into "data made flesh":[I'm still thinking about this one, when I have got some stuff thought out I'll come back to it]
"Get just wasted enough, find yourself in some desperate but strangely arbitrary kind of trouble, and it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties. Then you could throw yourself into a high speed drift and skid, totally engaged but set apart from it all, and all around you the dance of the biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market..."(N,19)