Time travel. Nanotechnology. Robotics. Corruption. These four concepts are pillars on which William Gibson has built his future vision of the southern United States --- and the world on a global scale --- in his stunning new book, THE PERIPHERAL. While Gibson has entertained and made readers think with every novel he has dropped, this is probably his most energized work of fiction since IDORU and brings with it a darkness akin to the award-winning NEUROMANCER.
Gibson is always at his best when he is pushing boundaries and making readers believe that these advances in technology are real, and exist in the here and now of his worlds. He is also at his best when he unravels his story with words that make readers puzzle over meanings, filling voids in sentences with new jargon that causes a reader to invest a little work. The payoff, just like in THE PERIPHERAL, is worth the effort.
"While Gibson has entertained and made readers think with every novel he has dropped, this is probably his most energized work of fiction since IDORU and brings with it a darkness akin to the award-winning NEUROMANCER."
Here we begin with a late 21st-century world where technology is well beyond what we have today. The world has gone to hell. Burton, a disabled veteran of a technically advanced Marine unit, asks his sister, Flynne, to cover for him on a job. To Flynne it seems easy enough: act as a guard during the beta test of a video game. During her shift, however, Flynne witnesses a disturbing murder that leads her to believe that this is no game she is playing.
Enter the 22nd-century forces who arrive to eliminate her. And the similarly futuristic group that comes to her aid. Now trapped between two warring organizations whose actions can alter her present and reshape the future, Flynne must use her future connection --- a man named Wilf Netherton --- to sort out this struggle and identify the murderer in the future timeline.
Time travel is not a physical act, but rather one of peripherals (we have a title!). Without leaving one's own time, they can connect to a drone via a virtual reality-style system that allows them to explore the other timeline and have a direct sensory experience. Wilf has major play in this arena as his 22nd-century London is far more advanced than Flynne's 21st-century small-town America.
Flynne and Wilf exist, not only apart in time, but also on either side of what is known as The Jackpot, a massive economic collapse. Flynne dwells in pre-Jackpot America where malls are run down and people actually know each other. Wilf, on the other hand, is a resident of the post-Jackpot world, where money is king and your ambition is only held back by the size of your pocketbook.
It's almost impossible to spend more time discussing the book’s plot because to do so would tread very heavily into spoiler territory. Gibson, whose statement "The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed" is often quoted, seems to have decided to play out that uneven distribution on the page. This novel has many a snapshot you could pull out of our own present, like income disparity and skyrocketing healthcare costs. There is a hint of anger at the world in certain passages and phrasings.
For all of its science fiction/futuristic themes and settings, THE PERIPHERAL is a darn good thriller --- a whodunit for the futuristic age. While Gibson has never truly disappointed, it's wonderful to see him shine so well here. He remains one of the great inspirations of the genre.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on October 31, 2014