Those were the days before laptops, when not every writer brought a computer to a six-week live-in writing program. Those of us who didn’t own a computer of our own rented a tower and monitor from the university, so we could write in our rooms instead of a computer lab. It was incredibly liberating to have my own computer. At that time, I was used to writing on a typewriter.
When I read Neuromancer that first time, I didn’t know enough about programming to understand the AIs or the security ice or what exactly the cowboy Case got up to when he was jacked in. But I did understand Molly, the souped-up security agent who moves the pieces into place to get the AI Wintermute’s job done. Molly doesn’t get any point of view scenes in the book, so you never get into her head.
In the beginning, Molly has been tracking Case across Ninsei. She almost caught up with him in the arcade, then got ahead of him and was waiting in his capsule hotel when he returns to his coffin room. She tells him, “Nobody wants to hurt you…’cept I do hurt people sometimes, Case. I guess it’s just the way I’m wired.”
Despite the threat of violence, Case falls for her, just as the reader does. There’s plenty of description of Molly’s clothing and body, the burgundy nails that look artificial and extend into razors, the collection of boots she wears. One of my favorite examples occurs the first time Case wakes up beside her: “He lay on his side and watched her breathe, her breasts, the sweep of flank defined with the functional elegance of a war plane’s fusilage.”
So yes, Molly the perfect killing machine sleeps with Case. He assumes that it’s done out of affection, but it may simply be her way of keeping tabs on a valuable asset. As long as she’s with him, she knows he hasn’t drifted back into his addictions.
In fact, the most intimate moments they share are when he jacks into her head and feels her assassinate Ashpool: “She had it: the thing, the moves. And she’d pulled it all together for her entrance. Pulled it together around the pain in her leg and marched down 3Jane’s stairs like she owned the place, elbow of her gun arm at her hip, forearm up, wrist relaxed, swaying the muzzle of the fletcher with the studied nonchalance of a Regency duelist.”
Molly herself wasn’t a conscious inspiration for Raena Zacari, but now, rereading Neuromancer after all these years, I hear the echoes. I’m fascinated by the fact that Gibson never questions Molly’s behavior, but never explains it either. She does things on her own, for her own reasons.
Only after the caper is over does Case realize he doesn’t know the color of Molly’s eyes. He never thought to ask. Throughout their relationship, he merely gazed at the reflections of himself in the mirrors grafted over Molly’s eyes. He gets mesmerized by his own reflection, thinking that it is how Molly sees him — but without sinking past the surface into her thoughts, he doesn’t know what (or if) she thinks of him at all. The effect is devastating.
In the end, Molly walks away without saying goodbye. She leaves a note in Cases’s hotel room dissolving the relationship in the most dispassionate way possible. Case himself doesn’t protest the end of the relationship — who could he protest to? But the novel’s final line — “He never saw Molly again” — makes it clear that he never gets over her, either.
Sloane and Raena’s relationship is much more combustible, much more physical, but in the end, he also never sees past the way she reflects him back to himself. He never understands her at all.
My other Raena’s Foremothers essays so far are:
What strong female characters have inspired you?