The Peripheral: William Gibson vs William Gibson
In The Peripheral, William Gibson's first futuristic novel since 1999's All Tomorrow's Parties, we experience the fantastic synthesis of a 20th century writer -- the Gibson of Neuromancer, eyeball-kicks of flash and noir; and the Gibson of Pattern Recognition, arch and sly and dry and keen. Cory Doctorow reviews.
In fact, The Peripheral is a novel that is doubly futuristic, set both in our near future, and in a more distant future, further down the line, beyond a kind of terrible singularity called, simply, "the jackpot."
Flynne -- and her redneck, PTSD-shocked brother -- live a rural existence, sometime in the next 10 or 20 years, in a Picketty dystopia, where the one percent hoard nearly all the world's wealth, merely scraping off a crumb or two to spend on guard labor to fight in overseas military adventures or to spy on the domestic population. In Flynne's town, the only economy to speak of comes from builders -- people using illegal printers to run off narcotics -- and the corrupt money they spread around to keep themselves safe from homes (Homeland Security) and the other appendages of the distant, crumbling state.
Wilf Netherton lives in Flynne's future -- sort of. He's the disgraced publicist for a performance artist/reality TV star, jobless and dependent on the charity of Lev, part of the klept -- a paranoid, post-Putin global Russian diaspora, unimaginably rich and powerful. And Lev has a weird hobby: he's part of a clade of bored aristos who've discovered a heavily encrypted gateway that gives them access to a past. Not the past, but various stubs off the past, off of Flynne's era, a network bridge between the present and the future. No one is sure where this server is, or who operates -- possibly the mysterious Chinese, who were better prepared for the jackpot than most.
When Lev began interacting with the past, he created a new stub, a new timeline that runs at the same time as his own, one minute per minute, separated by decades, reality, and the unbridgeable gulf of the jackpot, which has produced a radically depopulated world of unimaginably advanced tech and unimaginable authoritarian surveillance. If Flynneville is Picketty-complete, then Lev-ville is the Picketty Singularity.
Using a front, Lev hires Flynne's brother to operate a private security drone, a job that is subcontracted to Flynne while her brother goes to beat up some Luke 4:5 protesters, the spiritual descendants of the Westboro Baptists. And while Flynne is flying that security drone, she is the sole witness to a ghastly murder. Flynne can't go to the alternate future to identify the killer, but as information can pass between the worlds, she doesn't need to physically do so anyway. And so it begins.
The 20th century William Gibson produced dense, beautiful, well-turned books that sparkled with dark flash and bohemian chic. But in this century -- up until now, at least -- Gibson has confined his fiction to contemporary, brooding thrillers, a strange kind of science fiction set just a few years in past. Both Gibsons are marvellous, both are literary treasures, but in 2014, we get a new Gibson altogether, the synthesized Gibson whose political commentary is every bit as nuanced and deft as the Spook Country material, but whose plotting and flash and sheer velocity are the match of anything from Neuromancer to Virtual Light.
This is, in other words, a perfect fusion of Gibson's pulp heritage with his fine-tuned design and social sensibilities. As he says in Conversations with William Gibson:
The only kind of ghetto arrogance I can summon up from being a
science fiction writer is, I can do fucking plot. I can feel my links
to Dashiell Hammett. If I meet some guy who subsists on teaching
writing in colleges, and if there's any kind of hostility, I think, I
can do plot. I've still got wheels on my tractor. The great thing is
when you're doing the other stuff and you whip the plot into gear,
then you know you're driving something really weird.
You could hardly ask for a better example of this principle in action than in The Peripheral. From the microscale word choices to the macroscale plot, structure and themes, the book is strange and contemporary in a perfectly futuristic way.
(Image: Portrait of author William Gibson taken on his 60th birthday, Gonzo Bonzo, CC-BY-SA)
Emily Wilson is the author of a new "lean, fleet-footed translation" of Homer's Odyssey that "recaptures Homer's 'nimble gallop.'"
John Hodgman's last book, Vacationland, was a kind of absurdist memoir of a weird kid who'd grown up to the kind of self-aware grownup who really wanted to dig into how he got to where he was, with bone-dry wit and real heart (I compared it to Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes, but for adults who'd […]
Kickstarting a deluxe "Dracula" edition in a suitcase full of "primary source materials" from the novel
Josh O'Neill writes, "We're doing a box set edition of Dracula in which we reconstitute the novel into the primary source documents from which it's drawn: Mina's diary, Lucy's letters, Dailygraph newspaper clippings, even an actual phonograph record from Dr. Seward. It comes in a suitcase. Or a wooden casket or stone crypt, depending on […]
As much as vaping has taken over the market during the last decade, there’s still a lot of questions about the technology, as well as health concerns that we’re just now finding out about. One thing you can say about smoking: You know exactly what you’re getting, especially when it comes to pipes that you […]
We can’t all go through life with just a pair of sneakers and flip-flops. Sometimes, you have to invest in a pair of high-quality dress shoes. However, you’ve probably discovered that high-end footwear almost always comes with eye-popping price tags. You’ve got to compromise on second-hand or just suck it up and take out a […]
We have a theory about those throw blankets that are barely big enough to cover your legs. The only people who seem to make them or use them are grandmothers, and the blankets are only that small because Nana got bored halfway through the sewing job. Look, we’re sure she means well. But if you […]