Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review of The Peripheral by William Gibson (2015, Penguin)

Flynne and her brother, Burton, live in rural America in the not too distant future, where the drugs business, the Hefty corporation, and Homes (Dept Homeland Security) control just about everything.  Their life consists of raising the money for their mother’s meds and playing games for others for cash on what passes for the internet.  When Burton is called away, Flynne steps in to play security in what seems like a staid beta game.  All she is supposed to do is work a perimeter around a huge tower block, keeping away buzzing objects.  Then she witnesses what appears to be a murder.  After that things start to get a little crazy, with a contract taken out on Burton’s life and a corporate entity from Columbia, Coldiron, seeking to protect them.  Whatever Flynne has witnessed, one group wants her dead and the other wants her to identify the killer.  And both seem to have the resources to make staying alive one hell of a ride.

It’s easy to understand how some readers might get frustrated with William Gibson’s writing style.  In The Peripheral he uses a raft of made-up slang and neologisms, new cultural norms and invented technologies without ever explaining them.  He just plunges the reader into the narrative as if the world he is describing is entirely familiar.  One simply has to either try and work it out, or guess, or keep reading until what is being described eventually makes sense.  It took me about 80 or 90 pages to feel confident that I knew what was going on, but by then I was entirely immersed in his worlds.  And from there on in it was a really great read as Gibson conjoins two parallel histories, separated by seventy years, with the witness to a murder in one residing in the other, and ideas and minds shuttling between the two.  Flynne is an engaging humanist lead and Gibson populates the books with a coterie of other interesting characters, especially the cynical, jaded PR man, Wilf Netherton, and a clever, mysterious cop, Lowbeer.  The plot is ingenious and nicely constructed, and after a somewhat ponderous opening gains direction and pace.  The temporal separation of the two eras enables Gibson to explore the unfolding arc of history, and the interplay of politics and technology and to speculate on the fate of humanity.  Moreover, there is a good sense of place, both of rural America and urban London.  My advice is, if you find yourself struggling in the open chapters to understand what is happening, simply keep going and you’ll be rewarded for doing so.  I thought it was a great read.

No comments: