Jack In: William Gibson's Neuromancer Getting TV Series Adaptation From Apple TV

Cover art from the Brazilian edition of Neuromancer
Courtesy: Aleph

After many, many false starts and failed attempts, it appears that William Gibson's genre-defining cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (and possibly the whole Sprawl Trilogy, if things go well) might finally be making it to the screen. It is no exaggeration to say that Gibson's 1984 novel is surely one of the most influential and iconic sci-fi books ever written: one of the founding texts of the cyberpunk genre, the book that gave us the word "cyberspace" (seriously), and an influence on a whole generation of sci-fi media, from Max Headroom to The Matrix. And yet, for reasons fans have never fully understood, it has proven weirdly difficult to adapt to the screen, despite numerous attempts dating back as far as the late-80s. For a while there were many who thought the novel to be unfilmable, due to how much of it is set in Gibson's virtual-reality realm of cyberspace itself, which would have been very hard to realize on-screen before CGI was up to the task (just ask The Lawnmower Man). But that hasn't been an issue for a long time now, and yet every attempt has still fallen through for one reason or another.

Now, according to a report broken yesterday by The Illuminerdi (which has not yet been confirmed by the studio, so take this with a grain of salt), Apple TV is finally ending the decades of preproduction hell, and will adapt Neuromancer as a TV series in 2023. According to the report, William Gibson himself will serve as the series' executive producer, while Graham Roland (Jack Reacher, Lost) will serve as showrunner. Miles Teller has allegedly been offered the lead role of strung-out black-market hacker Case. Personally, as a fan of the novel, I question that casting choice - Teller is a great actor, but I have trouble seeing him as the gaunt, world-weary "console cowboy" who seems like a better fit for someone like a Bill SkarsgĂ„rd or a Riz Ahmed. But still, Teller is a powerhouse actor who is having quite the moment right now after Top Gun: Maverick, and if he is the kind of lead the series is allegedly courting, that is a good sign that this may be the kind of big-budget series that stands a chance of doing justice to Gibson's high-concept universe of The Sprawl. 

Photo credit: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

It is also a very good sign that Gibson himself is involved as an executive producer - a title which will hopefully be more than honorary, and will hopefully mean that he is on-board to both protect his universe, and to guide how it is updated. Because it definitely will need updating: Neuromancer was written when the internet age was on the horizon but not yet here, and while a lot of its predictions (cyberspace, VR, digital data being the ultimate commodity, etc) were very accurate and prophetic, some were a bit off the mark, and it would be really interesting to see how Gibson might alter the story to work in a 2023 world (which, let's be honest, is a techno-dystopian hellscape in a lot of ways already, except without the cool cyberpunk fashions).

The series has not yet cast any of its other leads - crucially, it has not yet cast the female lead: the cybernetically-enhanced assassin Molly, who was cited by The Wachowski Sisters as a direct influence on The Matrix's Trinity. The Illuminerdi report does, however (again, without citing any sources, so take that for what you will), mention that Apple TV is looking to cast Molly as the one carryover character who would continue on to seasons 2 and 3 if the show is successful, which is a major indicator of the studio's intentions. Specifically, this means that they are looking to adapt Neuromancer as a one-season story, and then adapt the two other novels in the Sprawl Trilogy, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, as seasons 2 and 3. The trilogy is a loose one: three novels all set in the same world, but not direct sequels to one another in the sense that they don't follow the same characters from one book to the next. Each book has a different ensemble of leads, with characters recurring and popping up across all of them, and Molly is one of the principle ones, and definitely one of the most memorable and iconic characters in Gibson's universe. In addition to the novels, the Sprawl series also includes three short stories, Johnny Mnemonic, Burning Chrome, and New Rose Hotel, so if the series is a success, Apple TV and Graham Roland will have plenty of source material to work with.

A previous cinematic portrayal of The Sprawl,
from Johnny Mnemonic
Courtesy: Sony

The Sprawl is a future Earth where governments have largely collapsed and the world is a dystopian network of cities ruled by corporations and crime syndicates; where data is the ultimate currency and people are cybernetically enhanced, in both body and brain. When you die, your consciousness can be uploaded to cyberspace, where you can live (in a manner of speaking) forever as an AI ghost in the machine, and cyberspace is a virtual-reality realm that you jack into via a port in your skull. Against the backdrop of this cyberpunk dystopia, Case is a down-on-his-luck hacker who is just desperate enough to be recruited by Molly and a mysterious man named Armitage for a very high-stakes, and very high-reward, cyber heist and espionage job. But things are not what they seem, and Case and Molly quickly find themselves in over their heads in a labyrinthine plot spanning both the crime and corporate worlds, leading them across the entirety of the Sprawl, not to mention the darkest corners of cyberspace itself. It's a dense novel with a ton of great world-building, and an episodic nature to its structure which gradually adds up to a grander plot. It would be pretty tricky to adapt well as a single film (hence why the only two film adaptations set in Gibson's Sprawl that have actually gotten made are both based on short stories: Johnny Mnemonic and New Rose Hotel), but it would be perfectly suited to a big-budget streaming series.

This Neuromancer TV series looks as though it will cement 2022 and 2023 as quite a moment of resurgence for William Gibson and his brand of cyberpunk: Amazon Prime has been quite successful with their series adaptation of another one of Gibson's (non-Sprawl-related) cyberpunk works, The Peripheral, and this year also saw the 25th anniversary black and white re-release of a previous Gibson film adaptation of one of his Sprawl stories, Johnny Mnemonic, which has been undergoing something of a reappraisal from notorious box-office flop to increasingly-appreciated cult classic. If Neuromancer, the quintessential Gibson novel, ever had a serious chance of making it to the screen, this is surely it. Again, if this report pans out, and the project actually makes it to production this time, unlike so many past attempts.

We will keep you updated!

- Christopher S. Jordan

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