Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Peripheral, by William Gibson

William Gibson occupies a pretty amazing space in speculative fiction, for the genre as a whole and for me personally.  I ate up the Sprawl Trilogy, as pretty much anyone reading SF at the time did.  He took us to a completely different world than we were used to, but one more thoroughly plausible than space travel novels.  The early Cyberpunks well understood that with the birth of the Internet we were finally going to let go of the notion that our future was off planet--inner space was going to become much more fascinating than outer space.  Gibson established his thick descriptive style and clipped dialog in the Sprawl, and it really worked for that setting.

I've read several of his novels since then, the most recent one being Pattern Recognition.  He seemed to get away from his older style of dialog there, but it was a pretty good book (from back before I was reviewing, and I don't think I'll go back to do one).  But it wasn't good enough that I went out to pursue the other two in the series.

Fast forward to 2014, and I receive The Peripheral as a gift.  I let it age on my to-read list for awhile, as I am wont to do, and finally got around to reading it. 

And I'm a little sad.  It's not a terrible book, but it's kind of a poor reflection of the early groundbreaking work.

Gibson's plot driving speculation is a mysterious "server" that sets up a connection between the present and some point in the past.  This "server" is somehow to be thought of as not just "a magic spell" by being Chinese.  Once the server establishes that connection, information can be exchanged between the present and that past.  Once the connection is established, though, that past is altered and no longer leads to the present.  The few people who survived a devastating depopulation event (the "jackpot") include some who have become very interested in these "continua" as hobbies.

The characters in the book are very much types, as opposed to people.  The protagonist is an Ingenue.  Her brother and his friends are Wounded Warriors.  We have a Drunk, an Agent, and some dissolute wealthy Villains.  The chapters alternate between the present and the now-altered past.

Gibson does differentiate the voices--the past people all speak in the same clipped way the people in the Sprawl do--the eras seem related.  The future people are wealthy and refined, and speak in complete sentences.  Within that, it's kind of hard to tell who's talking, particularly for those in the past.

It takes awhile for the action to get going, but it does.  The climax is good fun but awfully brief.  I don't know.  It just seems forced.  Hopefully he can get it going again, but we'll see.  Two stars for this one.

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