Today, we’re going to review The Peripheral, by William Gibson. I think we can probably begin with the TL;DR version of this review: go out and buy this book now. If you’re a fan of neo-noir, cyber-thrillers, cyberpunk, or general sci-fi, you should already own it. If you’re not really a genre-fan, but you have an appreciation for watching well-crafted characters unpack their struggles in the wake of a difficult plot, you should also buy it.
William Gibson writes fantastic characters. The sci-fi genre is full of massive space-operas and overwrought narratives, often putting the characters in the backseat to the setting or just throwing fifty one-dimensional cut-outs at the reader. Historically, weak characters have been a go-to criticism for genre fiction. William Gibson doesn’t have those, or, at the least, has so few of them as to be statistically unimportant to the books he writes. Ever since Neuromancer, I have loved the intriguing and often subtle ways he reveals his characters inner-stories, whether it’s as simple as when a character excuses herself to the restroom or as complicated as the web of lies they tell to distance themselves from an alienating world, it all comes off as believably human and poignantly deep. The Peripheral continues this trend. The characters are unfolded and unpacked in wonderful ways, stunning ways. Their relationships, simple or complex, are revealed and spotlit in admirable, potent prose. One of the less-subtle examples:
The protector had a thin white elastic cord. She pulled it on, settled the eye-shaped steel cups over her eyes, and sat in pitch darkness, while Macon positioned the soft tips of the thing’s legs on her shoulders. “When do you start printing?” she asked him.
“Printing the circuitry already. Do this headset stuff tonight. We pitch an all-nighter, might have it together tomorrow. Now hold really still. Don’t talk.”
Something began to tick around the ring-shaped track, headed to the right. She pictured the stuff in Conner’s yard, humped over with morning glory vines, and imagined him never joining the Marines. Failing the medical, for something harmless but never noticed before. So that he’d stayed here, found some unfunny way to make a living, met a girl, gotten married. Not to her, definitely, or to Shaylene either, but somebody. Maybe from Clanton. Had kids. And his wife getting all the morning glory cleared away, and everything hauled off, and planting grass for a real front yard. But she couldn’t make it stick, couldn’t quite believe it, and she wished she could.
And then the laser was right behind her head, still softly clicking, and then beside her left ear, and when it was back around the front, it quit clicking. Macon lifted it away and removed the eye shield.
The stuff in his yard was still there.
The cast is full of dynamic and intriguing characters, from the more intrinsically relatable Flynne and Netherton, to the increasingly alien, such as Lowbeer or Daedra. And, of course, the entire gamut in between. Watching these people unpack before you, interact with each other, act and react to their changing world, and struggle to exist on their own terms was a reward all on its own, but Gibson also offers us a stellar setting and complexly believable plotline.
Gibson, for anyone who is somehow unaware, has always had a reputation for interpreting the cultural meaning and narrative trajectory of our technology. This book continues that reputation. The two examined settings are in the 2030’s and 2100’s, and somehow it all seems to make sense, with most of the technology from both eras traceable back to our current one. The culture makes sense. The stepping stones seem easily visible from where we currently stand, as if this technology should be available ten years from now, and maybe less if you’re a big fan of Raymond Kurzweil. Of course, that makes sense considering one of Gibson’s better-known quotations:
I’m not trying to predict the future. I am trying to use science fiction to somewhat understand an unthinkable present.
It works. Through the lens of the setting and plot, we’re challenged to consider our technological culture, and the society built around it. Of course, there’s also The Jackpot…but I won’t spoil that for you, since you’ll be reading about it soon.
The plot couldn’t exist without the setting, the technological culture of the setting, the strange way it all makes sense to today. Again, I shan’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the complexity of it all is the sort of complexity you’d expect to come out of a machine with so many moving parts and so much data. It’s tightly paced, woven around the characters seamlessly, and incredibly intriguing. The ending isn’t your typical thriller-ending, either, which I appreciated. It’s much more believable than your typical high-octane series of reveals and action sequences.
I will say that it begins, as these things often do, with a witness to a murder. Except, at the time, she isn’t aware she’s a witness, or even that it’s a murder. Part of the reason for that is that the crime happens somewhere around seventy years in the future, and she was just playing a video game. After that, things build up, revealing decisions made for personal, political, social, and economic reasons that begin to spiral out of control, and at the center of the intrigue…a broke freelancer in 2030, and a washed-up publicist in 2100.
Worth every minute.Share This: