The Peripheral, by William Gibson
Published October 2014 by GP Putnam’s Sons
Things have been rough for Flynne and Burton since the end of the war. Fortunately, Burton gets benefits from the VA, so he and his sister can still make ends meet, but it hasn’t been easy for them. So when what seems like a simple job comes up – fly a drone around in the beta for some new game – it seems like a perfect opportunity. What they don’t realize, though, is that playing this “game” is going to suck them into a world of time travel, alternate realities, and remote-piloted automatons.
At its core, The Peripheral is classic Gibson – as always, he approaches sci-fi and technology from an immersive, street level perspective. There’s no hand-holding for the reader, and Gibson discusses concepts like haptic feedback, automata, and nanotechnology with the understanding that the audience will already be familiar with them. In the hands of a less competent author, this might become confusing, but Gibson tells his story well enough that the audience remains intrigued until they’ve become fully familiar with them. It’s not necessarily an easy novel to get into from page one, but the payoff is absolutely there for readers that stick with it.
The future Gibson presents in The Peripheral is a terrifying dystopia, but a fascinating one as well. Climate change and other disasters have decimated the global population, with only the wealthiest and most corrupt surviving it. At the same time, it doesn’t really present as a dystopia for those living in it, which creates a unique moral tension when reading the scenes set in that time period. History might be written by the victors, but the future is determined by them.
While Gibson is often known as being a concept-driven author, one of the most enjoyable aspects of The Peripheral is the character-driven focus. Many readers have commented on how engaging of a protagonist Flynne is, and Netherton provides a fun straight-man to her while being an intriguing, empathetic character in his own right.
Smart, challenging, and engaging, The Peripheral is a wonderfully put-together piece of science fiction.