Its not time travel, its just the ability to be in two different times, one real and one virtual…although that’s real too. But it’s not time travel.
You have to keep your wits about you reading William Gibson. He introduces so many different ideas in his books. ‘The Peripheral’ is his first future based novel in some time. Its set in two different futures – one, probably late 21st Century or early 22nd, close enough that the reader can regognise tech and references extrapolated from today. The second future is a more dystopian ‘post-jackpot’ world set a further 70 years further into the future. While the post jackpot world is dystopian, the earlier future is hardly a barrell of laughs either. The employment choices appear to be ‘building’ drug, 3d printing or ‘fabbing’, the armed forces, and playing different roles in online games.
Its through the latter that Flynne, who thinks she is covering for her brother running security for a game in a beta test glimpses the dystopian London of the future and witnesses a murder. This brings her unwanted attention of unseen and powerful forces and the story kicks on from there.
The Peripheral’s of the title are not printers or scanners that we have now, but bodies or exoskeletons that can be used to be present in places other than where you are physically placed. This allows our characters to interact and be present in different time continua (but it’s not time travel). In the future, the rich and powerful of the remaining 20% of the population that survived the Jackpot have discovered the ability to access timelines from the past. The points they travel to create new branches to the timelines lives of the people they observe or interact with.
The early part of this book is slow going. Characters, places, ideas and language are introduced to the reader chapter by chapter, skipping back and forth through time and place, but once it gets going it you won’t want to put it down. At its heart we find a crime noir whodunnit, wrapped up in techno thriller.
While early William Gibson novels were arguably gamechangers, at the forefront of cyberpunk, I’m not sure the same will be said for The Peripheral. It introduces some new ideas, its entertaining, and paints a suitably gloomy view of the future. Its weakness however is that it all lacks a little bit of depth and the ending especially is all wrapped up a little bit easily and conveniently. We’re brought to a hinted brink of global economic catastrophe, brought on by the behind the scenes battle of future forces, but as events reach a climax we’re led to believe things just sort of settled down fairly quickly. The Jackpot is also kind of glossed over and never totally explained. Its a minor quibble, and doesn’t remove from the story while reading it. But it does reduce that overall sense of satisfaction that comes with finishing a really great book.
A really good return from William Gibson, but one that doesn’t quiet reach the level of (unfair?) expectation that probably accompanies the work of such an iconic favourite of the genre.