“Cyberspace was born where the laurel grows lush and verdant; where the dogwoods blossom and the whippoorwills cry in the wind-whipped limbs of the tulip trees.”
Jack Womack, who is also a science fiction author, wrote that in an afterword for his friend William Gibson’s book “Neuromancer,” pointing to Gibson’s childhood playground as inspiration for the world in which “Neuromancer” is set in. Ironically, as beautiful as Womack’s description was, there’s nothing much to love in Gibson’s postmodern cyber world where “high tech, low life” infiltrates every corner. Except Molly Millions.
Molly was the original razorgirl, the prototype which Trinity in “The Matrix” and Motoko Kusanagi in “Ghost in the Shell” were loosely based on. Sometimes referred to as a mercenary, sometimes as a street samurai, by the time Molly appeared in “Neuromancer,” she had already received several body augmentations. Her most recognizable enhancements were surgically inset mirror shades that concealed her eye sockets. Gibson offered minimal background about Molly to begin with, and these lenses further added to her enigmatic persona. Case, the anti-hero in the book, upon breaking up with Molly reflected, “I never even found out what color her eyes were. She never showed me.” Personally, this open-ended character painting makes it easy to relate to her.
For one, she was full of contradictions. Within her contains both the stoicism of a professional killer and the sentimentality of a romantic.
There is something so charming about figures who've been through hell and back yet still retained a core part of who they originally were – a softness in their heart and vulnerability. Molly is exactly that, her physical toughness notwithstanding. She had loved a data trafficker named Johnny and lost him to an act of revenge from the Yakuza – gangsters in the cyberpunk world. After that she worked as a meat puppet – a prostitute that rents out their body while unconscious – to pay for her cybernetic augmentations. She shrugged off this pained past with a careless sense of humor. When asked by Case about who she was working for before he met her, she said, “For somebody else. Working girl, you know?”
Sometimes, she treated the scar of her past with reminiscence and introspection. Toward the end of the book, she confessed a lot about her history to Case, and even revealed that Case reminded her of Johnny. She said the Yakuza could wait years and years to give you more to lose before they seek revenge. She said, “I didn’t know that, then. Or if I did, I figured it didn’t apply to use. Like when you’re young, you figure you’re unique. I was young.”
Who wasn’t once young? Who didn’t once think they were unique and exempt from inevitable happenings like growing old, experiencing pain and loss and subjecting to mediocrity? Most of us have at some point thought something similar to “Nothing was like what I thought it would be.”
The typical coming-of-age model tells us there are only two ways the young idealist can end up — either remain nonconforming, ultimately facing mental destruction and rejection by society, like the protagonist in “Fight Club”, or conform and turn into the kind of person they so despise, like Renton in “Trainspotting.”
Yet Molly provides an alternative to this model. She embodies a bitter compromise between youthful, blind optimism and the inevitable pragmatic survivalism of adulthood in the cyberpunk world. She once thought “nobody could ever touch” her and Johnny. Through the hard way she learned to bury such naivety and not rely or get too attached to others. Case in point:“It’s taking the edge off my game” was the reason she gave Case for leaving him.
When I was younger, growing up meant abundant choices, possibilities and self-determination. It meant, tangibly, decorated department store windows, IKEA-style homes and exciting travels. But real adulthood, while colorful and enticing like Gibson’s cyberspace, is cold and so, so brutal. Control is more often than not just an illusion. Sooner or later all of us will get inopportune reminders that it is time to brace for the irreversible change that is growing up. We feel it when looking at our dwindling bank accounts (or food point accounts, for that matter). When our middle-aged parents talk more and more frequently about health concerns. When we get that phone call that suddenly flush our plans down the gutter.
Molly offers cold comfort that, for what it’s worth, there is always a glimmer of shared humanity, even in a world gone awry. Molly Millions was young. So were millions. Not to say I wish to become her, but whenever I feel like the weight of growing up is almost too heavy to bear, I know I can always open “Neuromancer” and find that razorgirl who spits out her tears instead of shedding them.
–Katherine Zhong, local arts editor
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Katherine Zhong is a Trinity junior and local arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.