When I found out that William Gibson was making a return to writing proper science fiction I was elated. When his new book, The Peripheral (2014), was released last month I immediately picked up a copy and dove right in. Like most of Gibson’s books, you jump in right at the deep end, the very deep end.
Flynne is helping her brother Burton out by covering for him on his shift in remotely beta testing a new game. Flynne doesn’t really enjoy games, but she wants to help out her brother so he doesn’t lose his job. Unsure of what kind of game it is, Flynne does what she’s being paid to do until she witnesses a brutal murder in the game. But it’s just a game, right?
Gibson once again takes us forward a number of years into an entirely plausible future. He does this not with grandiose prose, but rather by immersing the reader in the way Gibson feels that people will speak.
While many authors include new words or slang, Gibson has a very unique talent in using his slang to convey the world around the characters. To this day no one can say sprawl without my mind immediately thinking of the BAMA Sprawl from his first novel Neuromancer (1984) plus its sequels Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988).
Like most slang, however, it is really only meaningful to people that already understand it. Otherwise it’s just nonsensical words strung together without any purpose. This is perhaps the challenge of The Peripheral when you first start reading. Gibson doesn’t ease you into the world he’s created, but like a person dumped in a country where you don’t speak the language, he’s left you to figure it out for yourself.
For ill or good, it is an extremely effective way to put his readers off balance in the beginning of the story, much like the characters. Like them, you’re not quite sure what’s going on, but as you continue things become clearer and you understand what is going on. By the end of the book you don’t even think about the slang, you’re just going along with the rhythm and flow of events. Which is what should happen with a good story.
Gibson writes The Peripheral like he’s spent time in our future and has come back to tell us the brutal truth about it and ourselves. He doesn’t paint the future in any other terms than how we seem to be progressing at the moment, and if you follow current events at all, it won’t be good.
While Gibson often paints a rather bleak view of the future, it never seems hopeless. You never get that feeling that things can’t be changed. It will be a difficult and painful change, but change is ultimately possible. In the end, the message I took away from The Peripheral is that the future is desperate unless we do something about it now.
The Peripheral is a somewhat challenging, but satisfying, book. Gibson’s writing remains as fresh and pertinent as it was when he made his début. I’m a fan of Gibson and this book only serves as a reminder of why I immediately latched onto his works right from the beginning. I sincerely hope that we can look forward to more science fiction from Gibson and if it remains as good as this latest offering we won’t be disappointed.
I can only recommend diving straight into The Peripheral at your earliest possibility. It’s very refreshing at the very deep end.