Gibson’s back, and this time he’s accessible!
William Gibson brings his more accessible side back to the world of SF at last. Hooray!
Release Date: 27 November
486 pages | Hardback/ ebook Author: William Gibson Publisher: Viking
“Across Bloomsbury Street, a metre- long mantis in shiny British racing green, with yellow decals, clung to a Queen Anne façade, performing minor maintenance…” It’s a very William Gibson sentence. Flynne’s just a kid playing computer games for money. Her brother, another veteran of one of America’s fucked- up, unwinnable wars. Her mother needs meds; her cousin Leon’s not as stupid at he pretends, but it’s a close call. When Flynne’s brother needs her to pretend to be him in the beta of a computer game, she hits him up for what they’d be paying him and gets to work. How weird can it be? This is Gibson. It’s going to be weird and then some.
Flynne’s is the future of which modern America is afraid. A hardscrabble world where the poor live hand- to- mouth in non- jobs, the rich keep themselves in place with corruption and violence, and power has shifted away from the West. A future already arriving at your nearest station.
But in the century beyond… Seventy- five years or so further into the future, on the other side of an ecological collapse known as the Jackpot, we’ve got that metre- long mantis in Bloomsbury Square, Oxford Street as a strip of forest, and a London that’d be familiar if not for the fact that only a handful of the ultra- rich still seem to live there – and they’re mostly kids of Russian oligarchs. Actually, that’s familiar.
The supposed link between capitalism and democracy has been broken. The gap between capitalism and theft has narrowed to the point of disappearing. Think Chinese levels of centralised capitalism with Russian levels of corruption. You might as well, that’s where we’re heading anyway. The “klepts”, the great criminal families, are hereditary powers, with their bodyguards and bank accounts, and relics of the past hidden in the basements hollowed out under their beautiful townhouses.
Inhabiting this world is Wilf Netherton, PR guru to a selfobsessed rich kid who has herself flayed every time her body fills up with tattoos and exhibits the skins. Wilf ’s not that rich, he’s not that important, he’s not that fond of the future he inhabits. The future he inhabits isn’t that fond of him either.
Neuromancer was the defining novel of its generation. A slick, hard- edged sliver of silicon noir that fed off and fed on Reaganomics, the rise of cheap computing and our early understandings of AI and virtual reality in an 8- bit world. More than anyone, William Gibson helped define ’ 80s and ’ 90s science fiction. For people outside the genre he was science fiction. The “inventor” of cyberspace. The go- to guy for how our world was going to look. But there’s a problem with writing one of the defining novels of any genre: people want you to do it again. The pressure must have been immense. And it showed in his steady move into novels that were more literary, more layered. Still set in the future but a future that felt mere decades, sometimes years, sometimes simply seconds away.
How weird can it be? Weird and then some
The Peripheral appears to be a move away from that. It’s fastmoving, accessible, instantly gripping, so laden with cliffhangers you become afraid he’ll run out of cliffs. His two worlds are vividly drawn and the chapters cut between them at breakneck speed. That “appears” is important though, because this time round we have the slick inventiveness of his early work matched to the writing skills of his later books. The Peripheral inhabits a more sophisticated, more organic, more completely realised almost-cyberspace, where both sides of the screen are real, but we’re back in familiar territory and its handlers are as damaged and dangerous as they ever were.
But the biggest trick he pulls off ? It’s not the near- future politics, the vivid worldbuilding, the clever sideways jibes at our world’s refusal to face up to water wars, global warming and coming scarcity… It’s that he makes a PR person almost loveable. Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Gibson devised a smartphone technology for the book involving communal dreaming, but decided that it was too distracting.