Friday, December 01, 2017

The Peripheral by William Gibson

William Gibson, seminal sci-fi author and best known as the inventor of the cyberpunk genre, returns to his roots with The Peripheral after wrapping up his near-future Blue Ant series.

Told in alternating chapters, Gibson presents two stories positioned on either side of a vast economic and ecological near-apocalypse. In the near future, we meet master gamer Flynne Fisher, who is covering a beta-testing shift for her disabled ex-military brother when she witnesses a gruesome murder in the immersive virtual reality game she’s being paid to test play. And in a far future, post-collapse world is introduced Wilf Netherton, a debauched London publicist in a world which has lost 80% of its population but has in exchange made great leaps and bounds in technology which have allowed the remaining humans to survive, if not precisely thrive. Wilf, whose latest client’s sister has mysteriously disappeared, is drawn into the investigation – and it turns out that Flynne, despite her position on the other side of time, is in a position to help. Quantum tunneling, a new faddish technology in the future, allows her to reach forward into the future – her consciousness controlling a drone called a peripheral, and the game was not, as it turned out, just a game at all – to assist in setting things right.

Like the Blue Ant trilogy, this latest novel shares the author’s long-time focus on developing technologies and projecting their effects forward into the future as culture develops and changes around them. Readers will recognize the technology of Flynne’s very-near-future period, from the immersive games to the surveillance drones, the wearable technology to the “fabbing,” or 3-D printing. Her world is not so very science fictional, when compared to our own; and that familiarity and “there but for the grace of” feeling has long been Gibon’s genius. Indeed, at times his work feels more prescient than speculative; and the cautionary tales and social commentary presented are alternately chilling and fascinating.

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