The Peripheral by William Gibson

Well, I have said it before, but I do like William Gibson‘s books. I think he is an excellent observer of the world, a social critic, and a fine writer. So, it is probably not extremely shocking to anyone if I write that I found his latest book, The Peripheral, engaging.

It is hard to know how much to divulge about the story in The Peripheral, because I have seen many argue that one should read it without any prior knowledge of the story. Something I did. Not because of the arguments, but because I knew I wanted to read it – so I just picked it up. Didn’t even check the back cover. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have lost much by knowing the basic premise. Though, as I wrote, I have seen a lot of people thinking otherwise.  So, if you want a good Science Fiction novel will recommend the peripheral, and you may stop reading now.

On the other hand, if you want to know what it is about. Well, I don’t know if I can explain that easily, but I can try to give you the basics.

Two protagonists: Flynn – living in small town somewhere in the US in the not too distant future, and Netherton a sort of PR person in a weird post-singularty-but-not-really version of London another seventy years further into the future. Flynn, while substituting for her brother as a game/drone operator witnesses a possible crime, something that has implications in Netherton’s future, and suddenly someone is out to get her and her family. That is the basic premise. And it is not as weird as my brief summary may make it read.

Now, and this I guess would be considered a spoiler by some: Flynn and Netherton interact, making this a time-traveling book. However  it is so in a special and quite elegant manner, in style with Gibson’s other writing. I think it is important to point out however that the whole point is not the time travel, but that of the future being a function of the past. It may not sound that different from other time-travel stories, but Gibson handles it very nicely, avoiding the technicalities and paradoxes where may other authors have dug their graves. The same goes for future technologies, especially those available in Netherton’s time. A time advanced enough that almost anything is possible and almost anything therefore could become a deus ex machina by mistake.

I should also mention that although the difference in technology between Flynne’s time (a world extrapolated from our own budding 3D printing revolution) and Nethereton’s (past nanobots) plays a role in the book, The Peripheral is not centered around it. Instead what Gibson is interested in this time is economic and social systems. Not so much what makes them tick, as their effect on society. It remains to be seen if his sensitivity to the world is as keen as it was about information in The Sprawl trilogy, or art/design in the Blue Ant books, but I believe he is as ever in tune with the currents underlying the Western culture. In tune with worrying things, especially regarding the US, about climate change and social injustice; but also that there are alternatives.

As I have already written above: I liked The Peripheral. It is a good piece of Science Fiction. I have to say however that at times I had a hard time fully emphasize with some of the characters. I liked Flynne and Netherthon, but now and then they were being railroaded through the story by the rest of the cast. Everyone around them being incredible special at their thing. At times I really wished for one of them to put down the foot and ask what the hell was going on, and actually being heard. On the other hand, both main characters do have proper arcs, and they do mature during the story which I really appreciated.  The ending also came quite quickly, and things worked out a bit too neatly on the personal plane for everyone (though I hope it sets us up for future books). Now (as always in my critique) this is small stuff. The book is great. I had a hard time even putting down The Periheral when it was time for work or food.

It is also worth mentioning that the chapters are short, only a couple of pages each, sometimes four or five. Yet they contain a wealth of action and narrative. It contrasts The Peripheral to many other books I read lately. Another sign of a master writer.

The Peripheral – recommended!

.L

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