The Pe­riph­eral

Gib­son’s back, and this time he’s ac­ces­si­ble!

SFX - - Penny dreadful -

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.

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