Moving on from the present future of the uber-wealthy that he explored in his Blue Ant trilogy, the man who made the internet cool before there was an internet takes us into not one possible future but two, separated by about seventy years, a causality paradox, and a cataclysmic domino effect referred to simply as “the jackpot.” With viewpoints oscillating between Flynne Fisher, a rural USian and accidental witness to a future murder, and Wilf Netherton, a fuckup London PR man, William Gibson’s The Peripheral is a blend of edge tech (3D printing) and old SF ideas (the peripherals of the title–temporary techorganic bodies for the space- or time-displaced) repurposed in a Gibsonal way.
Gibson doesn’t ease the reader into anything, and this isn’t entry-level science fiction; the rapid-fire switching of close-focus viewpoints is likely to keep most readers off balance for the first 70 pages or so, but it’s playful enough and the tech is engaging–and at times terrifying–enough that most readers should stay hooked. While Flynne deals with outwardly genial “builders” (read: drug dealers), hired ex-military assassins, and a thinly veiled analogue of the Westboro Baptist Church, Netherton is drawn into the agenda of a law enforcement figure who’s seen both sides of the jackpot. If Flynne never seems to be in quite enough danger to goose the urgency of the plot, and if the resolution feels a little too rosy, these are minor quibbles. Flynne and her family and allies are charmingly unfazed by their exponentially increasing entanglement with the future, and Netherton’s own world is almost quaint if you can see past the ache of sadness that runs through everything and everyone. And that’s the flavor of The Peripheral, really: resignation that things are going to get much, much worse, cut with optimism that we might just get through it if the right people start talking to each other.