Howard Cincotta's Reviews > The Peripheral

The Peripheral by William Gibson
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William Gibson is obsessed with textures. With clothes and rooms, and high-tech objects like the humanoid, cyborg, and robotic creatures – including the “peripherals” – that populate his latest novel. With clothing, for instance, Gibson devotes a remarkable amount of attention to fabrics, zippers, pockets, seams, and colors – as long as they are muted and limited to a palette of off-whites, slate grays, and deep blacks.

The familiar ultra-cool texture of Gibson’s language is on display as well in The Peripheral: short chapters with quirky titles and references to advanced technologies both familiar and obscure.

Here’s an example, chosen almost at random. Netherton, the chief protagonist from 70 years in the future, enters a bar populated by waitstaff of automata known as Michikoids furnished as a “hyper-lurid dawn in a generic desert. Something vaguely to do with downed airships.” He sits in a booth that appears “constructed from bits of derelict airships, roofed with netted bulges of gasbag, within which faint lights leapt and shuttered.”

(When he first enters, Netherton tells the Michikoid, “Table for one, cloaked, nearest the entrance.” Well, we’ve all been there, right?)

This sort of thing is the chief reason we read Gibson, even though, in this case, The Peripheral has a hypersonic plot replete with an elaborate premise and many complications. Flynne lives in a low-rent dystopian “present day,” where she substitutes as a player in what she believes is a sophisticated online game. In fact, she may have witnessed a very ugly high-tech murder taking place 70 years in the future – where she eventually learns to teleport via humanoid constructs known as peripherals, along with her brother and a disabled veteran from a recent unnamed war.

In addition to Netherton and other figures from the future, Flynne meets the wonderfully named Inspector Lowbeer, a being with enormous resources and knowledge. All-powerful figures like Lowbeer are another familiar element in virtually all of Gibson’s recent books, from Virtual Light to Spook Country.

Gibson pays a price for the consistently cool, shaded quality of his language. Everyone – Flynne, Netherton, Lowbeer, and assorted villains – speaks in the same clipped hip language that makes the personal pronoun “I” an endangered species. In a long book, with many walk-on characters, this can eventually contribute to a wearying sameness in tone.

Gibson handles the time paradox problem cleverly. By communicating with the past, future figures like Netherton have created a “stub” – meaning that Flynne and company are now on a separate divergent historical path and no longer directly dictating the future to which they commute with increasing regularity. We also learn the nature of the “jackpot” event that is the historical dividing line between past and future.

This formula by no means solves all the holes in logic and plot, but it serves the purposes of the story just fine, and that’s really all that counts.

The plot is a wonderment, since much of the long build-up – involving vast resource and technology transfers and sudden death via ferocious, often invisible weapons – is leading, of all things, to a party.

It seems that to identify the murder suspect, Flynne and Netherton must attend a party given by the spectacular performance artist Daedra, who has powers and connections that rival those of Inspector Lowbeer. The party inevitably takes place in the skyscraper where Flynne first witnessed the murder, and the climax, with all the high-tech wizardry that Gibson can deploy, doesn’t disappoint.
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Reading Progress

May 5, 2015 – Started Reading
May 5, 2015 – Shelved
May 5, 2015 – Shelved as: fiction
May 5, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction
June 3, 2015 – Finished Reading

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