Whilst I’ve read significantly more over the last year than I’d typically managed in years previous, I’m still mostly a quick-chapter-or-two-before-bed sort of reader. Hence, whilst most of the books I’ve read recently have been clever comedic sci-fi, they’ve been light enough for me to keep up whilst my brain shuts down for the day. When my pre-ordered copy of William Gibson’s new book, The Peripheral, was delivered to my Kindle upon release a while back I knew, from the experience of reading Neuromancer previously, it might be heavier going and wasn’t wrong!
There’s something about the sci-fi trick of dropping you into a new world without any introduction, and The Peripheral does it doubly so! I seriously struggled working out what was really going on in the first ten percent or so! A near future America with some level of identifiability with 3D printing and gaming and smartphones, but also new language to decode along with wounded vets bearing the side effects of some sort of human/machine haptic augmentation. Then an indeterminately future Britain with an even stranger mix of past, current (reality TV stardom) and future concepts. With the book jumping back and forth between the two, the linkage was not apparent!
I’m not going to lie … after a week or two I simply restarted and read it all again to make sure I’d got my head around it, before finally it all started to make “sense”! Shortly thereafter, just to make sure, Gibson dropped in a quick summary to make sure you were keeping up!
A shadowy technology via some dark server somehow allowing a network connection of sorts between the furthest future world and the nearer future world, providing effective informational time travel in both directions; an unwitting virtual witness to a murder in the furthest future via that; the ultimate in telepresence – the peripherals of the title being almost-human organic bodies in the furthest future world that allow remote users to connect and physically experience things over a network; the use of those peripherals to allow the protagonists from the near future world to experience the furthest future world; the impact of the furthest future world tinkering in the near future world’s economy; and ultimately the pursuit of the murderer.
One key concept is that at the moment somebody in the furthest future world first establishes new contact back in time, the timeline in the past effectively is forked just like a codebase, and what happens in that “stub” timeline thereafter is no longer linked to the main timeline thus avoiding paradoxes.
The pace continued to grow as relationships were formed and more was revealed, and I became more and more hooked and immersed. Ultimately though I was slightly disappointed when it was mostly wrapped up neatly in about a chapter’s worth, but that’s a criticism I level at many books.
But here’s the thing … it took concentration but as a result the story has “stuck” much better in my head resulting in a more enduring “memory” of the worlds I experienced. I’d struggle to recall in detail many of the lighter books I’ve read, even though they slipped by more easily. Gibson is a master of this style of sci-fi, and my intention now is to read his other books that I’ve not read between his first (Neuromancer) and this his most recent. Overall The Peripheral is a highly recommended read!