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The Peripheral by William Gibson
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The Peripheral

by William Gibson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Stub (1)

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1,354639,548 (3.9)68
Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran's benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC's elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there's a job he's supposed to do-a job Flynne didn't know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He's supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That's all there is to it. He's offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn't what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.… (more)
  1. 00
    Agency by William Gibson (jeroenvandorp)
  2. 01
    Walkaway: A Novel by Cory Doctorow (melmore)
    melmore: Both works extrapolate from our current situation to imagine not-dissimilar futures. Both are concerned with questions of wealth distribution, resource depletion, human agency, equality, freedom. Both have super bad-ass female protagonists (who are nonetheless recognizable human beings).… (more)
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» See also 68 mentions

English (60)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
In a genre overloaded with lighter fare and simply garnished SF tropes, a novel like this from the wonderful William Gibson (of [b:Neuromancer|888628|Neuromancer (Sprawl, #1)|William Gibson|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1281419771s/888628.jpg|909457] fame) comes along and not only displays gorgeous tech and implications overloading the text, but does it with fantastic prose, delicious turns of phrase, and a boatload of subtlety surrounding some very stark SF events.

His earlier period was the one I was most interested in, ushering in the very term we use today, "Cyberpunk", with equal amounts Noir underdog hacker (replacing gumshoes) against multinational corporations and governments, equally handy with a gun and a fist alongside a computer terminal, heavy experimental tech, and even the odd pantheon of AI gods. :)

The middle period is known for technothrillers and fantastically subtle explorations of culture, specific techs and how they change us in every walk of life. I really appreciate his writing skill and scope, here.

But now he has returned to the SF I loved most... but I should mention this is NOT Cyberpunk. Gibson has long left those roots behind, instead forging his own ideas of the future in the same way he brought about the genre's revolution in the mid-80's.

The Peripheral is more of a huge-scope indictment of our modern world and the directions it is taking. What direction? Oh, just the slow decline and multi-front failures on every front, giving us a dark look at what we will become in 30 years, kept focused on a small cast but with tons of subtle cues everywhere for everything else.

But things don't stay there. We also have a kind of invasion from a hundred years in the future where most of humanity has died to leave only the decadent rich behind, using quantum tunneling technologies to reach back into the past, 70 years in the past, to be precise, to play their own games without remorse or much empathy.

Here we cross paths between these two complex timelines when our blue-collar buddies from the nearer future get caught up in the games of the future, including murder... and one particularly decent guy from that farther time tries to do the right thing. The characters are pretty damn cool. The worldbuilding is very detailed, and the tech never lets you take a breath. We as readers are all supposed to take an active role. :)

A disabled military guy with tattoos that used to let him control complex drones? Hell yeah. Gaming systems that are more like souped-up cosplay run through android-like Peripherals? Hell yeah! Now how about using some of those more powerful techs to game the living hell out of the past?

Muahahahahaha... the scope of this novel is MUCH larger than the blurb would let you guess.

I'm reminded, first and foremost, of William Gibson when I think about this novel. Secondarily, I'd place him in the same complex turns as Daniel Suarez and Iain McDonald and Neal Stephenson. This kind of novel is not meant to be popcorn trash. It seriously considers so many huge points and does it with style and panache while never stinting on the blow-you-away tech and implications. :)

Do I recommend? Hell yeah! ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |

In most science fiction, the future is a glamour (even when it's a gritty cyber-punk glamour) filled with almost-magical technologies that promise to make the world a different, usually better, place.

William Gibson is a master at casting these glamours, tempting us with not-quite-fantastic extensions of current cutting-edge technologies and dazzling us with intricate social forms that support technology-enabled life-styles that seem to be without constraint.

I am fascinated by his work because, although the glamours are vivid and novel, he invites his readers to see beyond them and understand that the fundamentals of what people do and why they do them remain constant. Gibson's technologies and ecologies are plausible enough to be tempting speculations but his people, especially his women, are real enough to make you care what happens to them.

"The Peripheral", published in 2014, was Gibson's first science fiction novel this century. In it he offers us not one but two future times, connected by a mysterious technology that allows people in the two time streams to connect via a telepresence called Peripherals.

The first future is set in a poor town in West Virginia, in the not too distant future, where people are doing what they can to turn a buck, knowing that they're being screwed but powerless to change it. In this world, Flynne, one of the strongest and coolest female characters I've seen in a long time, covers for her brother on a job that's supposed to be testing a game but ends up witnessing a very real-seaming and vicious crime in somewhere far away.

The somewhere far away is a future London, seventy years ahead of Flynne's time. The people there are either rich and ruthless or rich and bored. In both cases they are rich and extremely dangerous. Flynne becomes a bridge between the two worlds and ends up in danger in both.

I won't go into the plot here. If you'd like a summary, here's a better one than I can provide. I want to talk about the impact the book has on me.

I found myself pondering the title. What, in this novel, is The Peripheral? Of course it refers to the tele-presence technology that allows people to be present when their bodies are somewhere else. I think it also refers to how the people in London, see the people in West Virginia, as peripheral to their own existence, on the boundary of the real. Extending that, it made me think that all futures and perhaps pasts, are peripheral. They pull the eye away from the now, which is where reality is happening.

Then I asked myself what Flynne sees as being peripheral and the answer is almost everything that doesn't directly affect the welfare of her and her people. She understand how screwed they all are and how little power they have and she doesn't expect that to change. When wealth appears to arrive, she treats it with suspicion. When she meets the powerful, she is not seduced. She recognises them as predators and tries not to become prey.

In my day-to-day life, I'm paid to imaging the impact of technology on commerce: digitalisation, the Internet of Things, Social Media and so on, so I enjoyed watching William Gibson imagining the world where 3D printing is so commoditised that even a strip mall in Nowhere West Virgina has a local fabrication to order outlet, and the idea of weaponing haptic technology to direct soldiers in combat )making them another form of peripheral and so on. Yet what I enjoyed most was that none of this technology made anything better. The poor are still poor and the powerful will always screw them over.

What makes "The Peripheral" grown-up science fiction isn't the pretty technology but the depth of the society using the technology. The folks in West Virginia have parents and siblings and social affiliations that mean things to them. They are people first and protagonists in an SF novel second.


I think the ending of "The Peripheral" may cause some people problems. It seems to me that Gibson's books have a tendency to stop rather than end. I think this reflects real life, where all endings are artificial to some extent but I understand that some readers may feel sh0rt-changed.

In this case, I rather like the inconclusiveness of the ending. Did they all live happily ever after? Does anybody? Ever?

I think Flynne ended the book financially better off but knowing that her world was hurtling towards hurt that she can't avoid. This was no surprise to her. You take the money when it comes your way and you hope for the best but you know the worst is much more likely. No amount of technology is going to change that.

If you're interested in William Gibson's views on "The Peripheral", take a look a this interview with Flavorwire and this one with The Guardian.

If you'd like to hear an extract from "The Peripheral" click on the SoundCloud link below.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/193077522" params="auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" iframe="true" /] ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
Nobody writes like William Gibson. ( )
  pjohanneson | May 5, 2020 |
one of his best. And more prescient than I want it to be. ( )
  ThomasPluck | Apr 27, 2020 |
I’m a big fan of WG. His latest works were some of his best writing but had less SF than a lot of his previous iterations. In this piece, the writing is still great, but the choppy editing and awkward characterization early on made it extremely hard to follow.

After the thing gets rolling it makes more sense and I was able to catch up. Once I became familiar with the characters and what Gibson was doing with alternate timelines and pseudo-time-travel it was a lot more enjoyable. Great metaphor and description, and his ideas are, as always, very interesting.

The ending was kind of flat. Big build up and then it just kind of peters out. Gibson has said before that he likes to read stories where he has to figure out what is going on, and this certainly fits that brand. He never tells you how this remote presence thing works, but it avoids a lot of boring details that way as well. I recommend to any Gibson fan.
( )
  Kardaen | Apr 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
"The Gibson of The Peripheral is interested in ideas but he’s also very much interested in big-screen, popcorn-chewing thrills. Unlike more po-faced SF writers, he takes glee in kick-assery of an adolescent sort."
added by bookfitz | editThe Guardian, Sam Leith (Nov 19, 2014)
 
"The Peripheral" is engaged with serious ideas — the moral pressure of life in late capitalist society, the state of identity in a world of mingled gamer-selves, online-selves, physical-selves — and through them it achieves the strange effect of making our own accelerated days feel quaint, at least partially analog for a bit longer, "oddly optimistic," still yet to endure anything truly apocalyptic.
 
"What sets each book apart is the worldbuilding that surrounds that plot kernel. This time around, it’s particularly intriguing."
added by bookfitz | editKirkus Reviews (Oct 15, 2014)
 
"All of Gibson’s characters are intensely real, and Flynne is a clever, compelling, stereotype-defying, unhesitating protagonist who makes this novel a standout."
added by bookfitz | editPublishers Weekly (Sep 1, 2014)
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Gibsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Achilles, GretchenDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gray318Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hasselberger, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
I have already told you of the sickness and confusion that comes with time travelling.

--H. G. Wells
Dedication
To Shannie
First words
They didn't think Flynne's brother had PTSD, but that sometimes the haptics glitched him.
Quotations
“Why aren’t you up in the future,” Flynne asked him, “flying your washing machine?”
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