The Peripheral Audio CD – Audiobook, October 28, 2014
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I remember the first time I read Neuromancer. Jeeze, like 30 years ago now. Reading Neuromancer and its often dense, cinematic prose often made me with for a glossary with the book, like there had been when I read my older brother's late 60s paperback copy of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. But Burgess' was using Anglicized Russian as British English slang in that book -- you really needed the glossary.
For Gibson, everything is written in English, so you get no glossary. You have to figure out the meanings of new/invented/esoteric terms from the context of the prose. Now, it's got it's confusing, hallucinatory aspects that make it akin to reading Burroughs sometimes (but without all the drugs and homosexual sex). But Burroughs' stuff also was frustrating to read because of the cut-up, disjointed narrative style. Gibson's stuff is far more tightly plotted and less hallucinatory.
Figuring out the meanings of terms from the prose and context is less an issue in this novel than in some of Gibson's previous novels (like The Sprawl trilogy novels). But it is definitely much more of an issue here than it was with in the last three "Bigend" trillogy novels combined.
I did not have a problem figuring out terms/actions from the context with this novel. For people who are already aware of topics as disparate but technologically reliant as social media's geolocation capabilities, social media mood indication/tracking, advancements in 3D printing, and concepts such as string/mbrane theories of physics (in a PBS TV kind of way) and possible parellel multiple universes, this book should not be difficult to read.
For everyone else, yeah... it will be a problem.
I recently had a friend -- who hadn't re-read any of Gibson's first 3-6 novels since she originally read them, 30-ish years ago -- complain about 3 things with respect to this book. I, however, recently re-acquired ALL of his books in ebook format, after having lost paperback and hardcover copies over the years. So I was in a unique position to respond to her arguments.
First, she said the first 100 pages of The Peripheral were unnecessarily dense. My response to that was: no, not really, unless you've forgotten how he *used* to write. Because this is not a new style for him -- it's more a return to form.
Second, she objected to the fact that under all the scifi trappings, it's "just a murder mystery." Well, you could say any of his previous novels had, "under the trappings," some fairly routine pulp-ish or noir-ish plots. Criminal pulled in/tempted by just "one last job." Corporate espionage and extraction of human workers who represent intellectual capital to these corporations. That kind of thing.
In my opinion, there are two mysteries in this novel: the murder mystery (which is the obvious mystery) and the underlying, shadow mystery, which is revealed in dribs and drabs until very near the end: the myster of The Jackpot -- what it is, how it happened, who it affected.
Ironically, the biggest mystery -- communication between people of one near future multiverse, and the people of a far future multiverse -- is simply set up as a given. (If anything in this novel is a deus ex machina, I suppose that is). So the mystery is never explained.
Third and last, she objected to what she felt was a Disney-ish happy ending. But, I argued, virtually all of Gibson's otherwise highly dystopian visions of the future end similarly: the bad guys don't entirely win, and the good guys don't entirely lose. Which is, I guess, just another way of saying the bad guys kind of lose, and the good guys kind of win. But one senses that the struggle and lives of the characters continue after you finish the book, and nothing feels too deus ex machina (except, in this novel, maybe some of the givens).
Let me put it this way: If you already know and pretty much love Gibson's previous stuff, I don't think this will disappoint.
If, however, Gibson's writing (especially the early stuff) put you off, then you'll probably hate this novel, too.
I loved it. Gibson has always been so expertly, specifically, and hauntingly able to describe the nostalgia of anachronistic characters and to chart the narratives of those people whose changing personal circumstances have left them with uncertain footing in either a not entirely friendly world, or an outright hostile one, as they try to secure some piece of stability and/or security for themselves amid an often constantly changing landscape. He's always written relatable and often quite compelling heroines, the vast majority of whom were not stereotypical scifi babes.
He has also always extrapolated from current and historical sociopolitical and economical trends -- especially with respect to technological innovation -- to provide a glimpse of the growing, ever-sharpening class divisions that our world has rapidly devolved into. Much of what he presented as mere backstory or incidental detail in his Sprawl trilogy novels (and even in later workrs) has come to pass. He obviously has class politics, and to me, Gibson seems to be one of those ex-working class intellectuals who never lost touch with the fact that -- had he never become successful as a writer -- he'd probably would have worked some kind of blue collar or civil servant/wage slave type job his whole life, because that's what he was headed for.
So he has remarkable sympathy for those square-peg-round-hole drones who get caught up in things larger than themselves, especially those who've had a taste of "the good life" and then otherwise blew it, lost it, or had it somehow snatched away. Yet he never comes across as overtly or explicity adhering to any 'ism;' he never comes across from that kind of tiresome first-raised pro-blue-collar/almost anti-intellectual pride, either. That's probably because, for many of his protagonists, it's their intellect, their brainy skills, that got them out of whatever backwater, wrong-side-of-town situation they were originally born into.
The way he writes his dystopian futures -- which are all merely extrapolations of things that are already true now -- "it is what it is." There's no agenda-pushing by Gibson, it's just a very dry recitation of the surrounding details that gradually weave into a whole where you see how the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, and you come to realize that is what we all would observe ourselves about our current world, if we were only paying attention.
So when one of his underdog protagonists finally achieves some level of security, you feel like it's been really earned... and much of the time, those underdogs are trying to pull another person or two or more up with them, or sometimes, enlighten an entire group even as they merely pursue their own trajectory.
It's that warmth and strange optimism amid all the doomy gloomy dystopia that has always kind of made Gibson's stuff moody, haunting, and ultimately very fulfilling reading for me.
These are some of the things I've always really admired about him.
There were some clever, new ideas that made up for some of the characters being shallower than I was used to from Gibson. Overall it was definitely worth reading.
Top international reviews
484 pages of this. Alongside a rather more readable Empty Hearts – it is going to Help the Aged.
The novel opens in near-future rural America, where protagonist Flynne Fisher agrees to take over her brother’s job one night, working as security in a new video game. When she witnesses a particularly gruesome murder on the second night she begins to question whether it’s just a game or something more.
Meanwhile, in a post-apocalyptic 22nd Century, publicist Wilf Netherton loses his job after a disastrous assignment and finds himself getting drawn into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a socialite he has links to.
Connecting these two seemingly disparate stories is the continua, a never-explained link between Wilf’s ‘present’ and various points in the ‘past’. Through the use of a mysterious server that’s believed to exist somewhere in China, the denizens of the 22nd Century are able to reach back in to the past, but in doing so they create stubs, new timelines separate and distinct from their own which continue forward at the same rate of temporal progress.
It’s an unusual approach to the time-travel trope, and raises a lot of questions about how much of the story is real or imagined within the context of the narrative. The fact that the alleged Chinese server McGuffin that allows contact with the stubs is deliberately kept vague and mysterious even to the denizens of Wilf’s timeline suggests that there’s a lot more going on under the hood of this novel than you realise, and while that could be true of pretty much any novel by Gibson, here the layers of obfuscation feel positively abyssal in depth.
As ever, Gibson’s writing here is superlative. The way he weaves the two distinct narratives together is damn near perfect, though he does leave a lot of threads hanging throughout the book. Even by the end of the story, when everything’s been brought together in an adrenaline inducing climax and it’s been revealed who has in fact done it, there are still a lot of questions left unanswered. That this is the first in a new series is in no doubt, but where his earlier works were more-or-less independent of each other, you can’t help but get the impression this new trilogy is going to prove to be very interconnected by the turn of the last page of the final book.
All in all it’s fair to say Gibson hasn’t lost any of his talent for telling stories. This is cyberpunk for the post-cyberpunk world, and definitely worth a read if you’re a fan of the genre.
It is written as two parallel related stories, pretty much sticking to alternate chapters for each. Gibson fans will be familiar with him juggling three or even four story threads, but here he restricts himself to just the two.
Every book by William Gibson that I've read has a dense style which frequently has me flipping back a couple of pages to try to understand what happened or even who said what. I have come to enjoy that style but, in the first few chapters of The Peripheral, it isn't just hard to follow, there isn't actually enough information present to follow who's who and what is going on. Maybe a deliberate choice, but it could be the cause of those reviews declaring it "unreadable". Once about three or four chapters in you'll have more of a handle on who and what, and the book becomes more compelling.
The book has the typical street-wise close-lipped characters that Gibson loves to write but, on two or three occasions throughout, someone will just "spill the beans" in an uncharacteristic display of eloquence. This inconsistency in character, or at least the sudden manner in which it happens, was quite jarring. For this reason and the overly challenging beginning, I have knocked off one star.
Having grasped the narrative well enough to be able to embrace all the characters, the story becomes enthralling, engaging and highly entertaining.
One of the things I love about Gibson is his ability to change his writing style. While I've found the shift to be a challenge on occasion, bearing with it has always proved to be rewarding and The Peripheral was no exception.
Looking forward to my next incursion into the wondrous worlds that Gibson introduces.
Netherton is a borderline alcoholic who works as a publicity agent for a volatile and unpredictable celebrity in a world seventy years further into the future.
They are brought together when Flynne, deputising for her brother apparently testing a game, witnesses a gruesome murder in Netherton's world
After his recent work, which has been set barely a heartbeat into the future, and which could almost be described as market-fi, this is very much a return to science fiction and to one of its oldest genres, time travel fiction. Indeed, the novel is prefaced by a quote from H G Wells. By invoking quantum theory and multiverse theory however, Gibson very cleverly sidesteps one of the biggest problems with time travel, the "Grandfather paradox'". What happens if the time traveller kills his or her own grandfather?
So this is a new take on an old genre, but it is very much a William Gibson book. Both style and characters are familiar. I often find when reading a Gibson novel that I feel I am spending the first few chapters running to catch up. Here, as ever, he makes few apparent concessions to the reader's comprehension, shooting out characteristically flashy, noir-ish prose right from the first sentence. "They didn't think Flynne's brother had PSTD, but sometimes the haptics glitched him".
Amongst the characters we have Russian gangsters, ex-soldiers damaged in some mysterious special forces conflict, heroes living at the margins of a corporately controlled world, and the super-rich who have moved beyond normal morality.
This is recognisably a Gibson work, but it is also something new and original. At a time when there is so much space opera and brainless military SF around, Gibson continues to follow a different and distinctive path, revisiting an old device, and using it to play with ideas of financial power, of environmental catastrophe, and of individual morality.
Yes, one does have to trust that the occasional unexplained elements will fit into the pattern, but what glee when they fit precisely where one suspected/hoped they would! It is very cleverly done, too. It is, of course, a puzzle, within two mysteries.
Characters develop by inference, and the monstrously evil nature of the main conspiracy is gradually made plain.
The story just rattles along at a natural pace, building to reveal the jewelled intricacies of the two future worlds in which it takes place - and the outcome arrives with a real sense of relief from the tension of the tale rather than mere excitement.
Not recommended to those unhappy with reader anticipation being needed, but for a die-hard SF reader who has enjoyed every one of William Gibson's books this is a real treat.
Recommended for those who like it like this!
I have all of his work up to the Pattern Recognition trilogy that I skipped as I consider it too contemporary, so this is the first new thing I have read from him since 1999.
As you would expect it is mostly obscure for the first half to two thirds of the book, Gibson launching straight into his new world without explaining it until he feels like it.
The cyberpunk elements are all present in the form of the technology and weapons, with the Internet represented but in this instance displaced with transferred consciousness to the future which is where an element of sci fi is introduced not in his writing before.
The structure and characters are what you would expect and by the last third of the book things are falling into place that would benefit a second read to actually understand it from the beginning on that read through.
My only reservation is the ending which seemed a bit rushed and disappointing.
Overall I can recommend it to old fans that want more from the man who created cyberpunk but with a dash of completely acceptable sci fi added in and potentially to new readers as long as they bear with Gibson's style to not explain things until much later.
I am not sure if this is a one off or a trilogy, I would hope that there are another two to come and I wouldn't hesitate to buy them if he follows the same formula to give another fix of much needed quality cyberpunk.
This one has all the hallmarks: the badass female character, the fragile male one, both out of their depth getting involved into something very big, the shadowy, protean, massive entities shaping the universe, only hinted at and manifesting through smooth characters who are, unlike the protagonists, seemingly in control, and a plot that feels like it was came up with as things went along, only to be tied up in the last couple of pages in a bit of narrative hand-waving that feels rushed and cheap.
And yet, in spite of all this, it's the best book I've read this year.
I recall Gibson's writing being described as "textural" somewhere, and I can really get behind this. It doesn't matter if the plot has holes or if the characters are a bit cookie-cutter, the man builds a universe that's got grain.
The Peripheral marks a return to a futuristic setting, two of them actually, after the contemporary setting of the previous trilogy, and it's a delight to see him being able to spread his wings without being constrained by current technology and politics. And he does. With a vengeance.
And because it's the universe that's the true star of Gibson's books, and it always deserves more than a single tome, The Peripheral will leave you craving the next two novels we can hope, based on previous patterns, will be set in the same setting.
But if you know what you are getting into, well, this is just one of his best. Total immersion in a new world.
There are some common themes here that the author returns to again and again. Rubberized shotgun rounds bouncing round corners, hill-billy backwoods technophiles and so on. However these are old friends by now but it's the reason I gave 4/5.
The handling of 'stubs' and divergent time lines is handled with elegance and the characters were well written...but Gibson shines in his descriptive language. His best book since Mona Lisa and I hope we get some more from this Universe(s).