Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review of The Peripheral by William Gibson

If you are a William Gibson fan, you’ll likely be excited to learn that he has returned to his particular flavor of science fiction. He has detoured into more conventional (but no less enjoyable) fiction recently, exploring conflicts among ad agency/security firms, investment denim creators, spying drones controlled by smart phones, etc, but returns to the scifi genre in The Peripheral. For folks who’ve never read his work, his prose is exactly right-not unnecessarily long, not too spare. Just right.
 He is the guru of the near-future; one reads about things in his work that you are certain don’t exist, and then observes them in a few years. This novel however reaches a little farther into time than his previous work. It presumes that multiple presents and futures exist-that is the multiverse or quantum universe hypothesis.
Within that framework, he shows his craftsmanship in creating characters that the reader immediately envisions, easily finds believable and become interested in.
In the book, the U.S. has been economically devastated by an event only hinted at. Our protagonist Flynne is an expert gamer and the sister of a former highly skilled military veteran. (Gibson seems partial to heroines).  At his request, she substitutes for her brother in what she believes to be testing an online shooter game, only to observe a death that she finds uncomfortably realistic. Her observation of the event set the plot in motion, and the book proceeds along two dimensions, one in the not-to-distant future U.S.; the other farther into a future. And the folks in the more distant future have learned how to get messages to the past/other parts of the multiverse. And some of them are out to make sure that no one in their future finds out what Flynne saw.
These messages flow in both directions and enable Flynne and others to experience the alternate universe via realtime communications. Going much further into that will give too much away.
While it is science fiction in its roots, Gibson has always been equal parts scenes, characters, mystery and action, with the future tech and science fiction in supporting roles. The action proceeds quickly in The Peripheral, locking the reader in. We become quickly attached to the no-nonsense, quick-thinking Flynne, her professional warrior brother Burton, and his ex-military buddies. We are suspicious of Inspector Ainsley Lowbeer who is investigating certain event in the future, and curious how she seems to know so much. We are unsure of who are the good guys and bad guys within the large cast of characters in the alternate universe.
Like a few other celebrated authors, Gibson creates words when he feels it necessary (do any reviews fail to mention he invented the term cyberspace?). A few new ones crop up here; we’ll see which join the dictionary.
I’ve stated before that I have one huge problem with Gibson. Apparently I can read his books far faster than he can write them. I did my best to stretch this one out- limiting the number of chapters to burn through at each sitting. Fighting the urge for an all-night reading session. But inevitably I finished and I eagerly await his next.

This is William Gibson at his best: a skillful professional story teller. An intriguing page-turner. Highly recommended not only to Gibson fans like me but to anyone who cares for science fiction.

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