My question is simple, and I apologise in advance if I'm missing something obvious. Why Case?

Molly herself raises the issue:

"Like something tells him [Armitage] to go off to Chiba, pick up a pillhead who's making one last wobble through the burnout belt, and trade a program for the operation that'll fix him up. We coulda bought twenty world class cowboys for what the market was ready to pay for that surgical program. You were good, but not that good..." She scratched the side of her nose. "Obviously makes sense to somebody," he [Case] said.

Well, I know who it made sense to... but I'm struggling still with why him, why Case. He's been out of the loop for so long, and he's (I'm sure he wouldn't mind me saying) washed up right about the time Molly plucks him out of his downward spiral... was there no-one equally malleable but with their finger on the button of recent developments in cyberspace? Or is Molly wrong, and was Case actually the best, even after being out of practice for so long?

  • It's probably a combination of: skills, lack of family or other ties, and a condition that be used to control him. I don't think it's ever explicitly spelled out.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Oct 20, 2016 at 23:57
  • 1
    What if it was an attempt to stay off the radar of the Turing cops? Like, contacting the best, most famous cowboys would have sent waves through the industry that would have caused some to wonder what was up, whereas pulling some nobodies out of their death spirals would largely go unnoticed? Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 11:30
  • Wasn't there some point where Wintermute described his methodology as one of using synergy, more than the sum of their parts? As opposed to merely putting together isolated components. Case was chosen as a part that synergized with the other elements of the team in such a way to lead towards Winetrmute's desired outcome.
    – infixed
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 16:44

5 Answers 5


There are a number of reasons Case was ideally suited for the job:

  1. Motivation (value)
  2. Motivation (visceral)
  3. Artiste (desperation)
  4. Self-Loathing

Needless to say, they all tie into one another. In my opinion, that's the core of the book, the way that Wintermute was able to see and orchestrate people and situations to bring out what he needed. Neuromancer calls it out when he says

"I need no mask to speak with you. Unlike my brother. I create my own personality. Personality is my medium."

Wintermute's strength is masks - manipulating others. He manipulated Case, and Molly, and 3Jane, to put the right people in the right place at the right time.

(All quote emphasis below is mine)

Motivation (value)

Any other hacker might be paid off in credits, or drugs, or hardware... things that are fungible. They could always go to the next highest bidder. They could always say "I could do 5 jobs with 1/5 the paycheck for 1/2 the risk of this one... no thanks!" Remember, nobody wants to mess with the Turing heat.

Case, on the other hand, is being paid in something that is unique. No other employer is going to want him badly enough to arrange his surgery. Many other employers might not even know of, or have the contacts, to put Case on the table where his damage can be repaired. Case hasn't been able to find anyone:

The Japanese had already forgotten more neurosurgery than the Chinese had ever known. The black clinics of Chiba were the cutting edge, whole bodies of technique supplanted monthly, and still they couldn't repair the damage he'd suffered in that Memphis hotel.

No one else could, or would, buy Case this way. It later comes out that Wintermute provided the information to the clinic for surgery, and that resulted in the clinic taking out 7 patents - an astounding value. Case knows that. He understands this is a one-in-a-quadrillion chance. He needs it:

"What would you say if I told you we could correct your neural damage, Case?" Armitage suddenly looked to Case as if he were carved from a block of metal; inert, enormously heavy. A statue. He knew now that this was a dream, and that soon he'd wake. Armitage wouldn't speak again. Case's dreams always ended in these freeze frames, and now this one was over.

"What would you say, Case?"

Case looked out over the Bay and shivered.

"I'd say you were full of shit."

Armitage nodded.

"Then I'd ask what your terms were."

"Not very different than what you're used to, Case."

"Let the man get some sleep, Armitage," Molly said from her futon, the components of the fletcher spread on the silk like some expensive puzzle. "He's coming apart at the seams."

"Terms," Case said, "and now. Right now."

He was still shivering. He couldn't stop shivering.

Motivation (visceral)

Before Case even experiences the proof that he's been healed, Armitage sets the hook:

"You have time to do what I'm hiring you for, Case, but that's all. Do the job and I can inject you with an enzyme that will dissolve the bond without opening the sacs. Then you'll need a blood change. Otherwise, the sacs melt and you're back where I found you. So you see, Case, you need us. You need us as badly as you did when we scraped you up from the gutter."

Offer a man money, then tell him you'll take it away. Not a very visceral deal.

Instead, find a man who has lost nearly everything. Lost his job. Lost his girlfriend. Lost his health and his ability to work. But most of all, lost the thing that makes him him. A painter whose lost his eyes. A singer with throat damage. An artist deprived of the one thing that they were compelled to immerse themselves in.

Offer that man his soul back.

Then tell him it's already being taken away again and the only way to prevent that is to do the job.

He's going to be motivated in a visceral way that few others would be.

Artiste (desperation)

When we meet Case in Chiba City, he's living the desperate life of a hustler, dealing at the edges, always trying to move deals around fast enough to stay ahead of trouble. The bartender Ratz calls him Artiste because of this:

"You look bad, friend artiste," he said, flashing the wet ruin of his teeth.

"I'm doing just fine," said Case, and grinned like a skull. "Super fine." He sagged into the chair opposite Ratz, hands still in his pockets.

"And you wander back and forth in this portable bombshelter built of booze and ups, sure. Proof against the grosser emotions, yes?"

Molly understands that being in Chiba had stripped Case down to his basics, the desperate animal that Wintermute needed:

"Guess you're kinda like he was," she said. "Think you're born to run. Figure what you were into back in Chiba, that was a stripped down version of what you'd be doing anywhere. Bad luck, it'll do that sometimes, get you down to basics."

Wintermute hired Case because he's a cornered animal. He will fight with everything he has because he had nothing left to lose.


In the end, it is the mixture of this motivated desperation and Case's base skill set that pushes him to transcend his limitations and become what Wintermute needed:

He came in steep, fueled by self-loathing. When the Kuang program met the first of the defenders, scattering the leaves of light, he felt the shark thing lose a degree of substantiality, the fabric of information loosening.

And then – old alchemy of the brain and its vast pharmacy – his hate flowed into his hands.

In the instant before he drove Kuang's sting through the base of the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he'd known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an ancient dance, Hideo's dance, grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.

  • 1
    Good answer, although you could argue Wintermute should have inflicted neural damage on another, more talented hacker, then offered to heal the damage in return for the hacker's services. The hacker wouldn't know that it was in fact Wintermute that caused the neural damage in the first place.
    – RobertF
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 16:21
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    Wintermute could have done exactly that to Case. Commented Jul 31, 2023 at 4:16

One of the AIs states near the end that Case is simply the best cowboy, period. Since it was Wintermute making the decisions, it was the (probably accurate) opinion of the AIs that mattered.

  • 1
    Thanks, I must've missed that: do you have a quote ?
    – alice19
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:52
  • 3
    Don't Dixie Fkatline and Kuang Mark IV (or whatever it was exactly) actually do most ofl the hard work in cyberspace? In what way was Case the best? Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 11:26

Among the many reasons others have proposed here, I think two others are key:

  1. Dixie Flatline - because the Dixie Flatline character, who in most ways is the more skilled Cowboy than Case, is a ROM construct and cannot form new lasting memories, Wintermute needs someone that Dixie knew during his life and would work with. “Miami, joeboy, quick study" Dixie says when he meets Case in Cyberspace - he already has a working relationship with Case

  2. Drug use - It's likely that Wintermute, in its many models, knew that Neuromancer would successfully lure Case into his braindeath version of the alternate reality with Linda and took steps to help Case beat Neuromancer. The facts that Case's new pancreas had a blind spot for betaphenethylamine is a notable, and beta seemed to be somewhat unique to Freeside - it was novel to an experienced user like Case. And beta was instrumental in helping awaken Case from Neuromancer's mental trap - Maelcum gives Case two derms of it to when he's flatlined. It's likely that the beta figured into Wintermute's models, and possible that Wintermute's guidance engineered the drug's manufacture and propagation in Freeside in the first place.


Stumbled across this old question with an accepted answer, but I though about this years ago when I first read the book.

For what it's worth I think that answer is that they needed Case because they needed Molly.

Molly and Case fell for each other to a degree. Molly could handle Hideo. Molly also became an infatuation for Peter. They needed Peter to influence Lady 3Jane.

Wintermute could see all these interactions and knew that Molly was required as the glue to hold the team together. and Case was needed to keep molly on the team.


Molly realises Case is godlike and the reason he goes through the downward spiral is because he's a man of integrity, something none of the other cowboys have. Case was never out of the loop, he simply watched from his window.

  • 1
    I think he certainly becomes very powerful at the end of the book, but that seems to me more through the influence of the AIs than innate ability (is it they who, [spoiler] orchestrated the removal of the toxin sacs, if they ever existed).
    – alice19
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 8:55

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