William Gibson’s 2014 novel presents a world where time travel exists, but only digital information can be exchanged. Someone from our near future witnesses a murder from a world years in a future she won’t see, a fact which pulls several characters from the periphery into the roiling center of world-changing events.
And performance art.
Title: The Peripheral
Author: William Gibson
Flynne thinks she’s beta-testing a videogame; she’s actually piloting a drone in a future world, where she witnesses a murder. Inhabitants of that world, who exist on the other side of an apocalyptic event known as the Jackpot soon contact the small-town woman and her associates, plunging everyone into a plot as bizarre as anything in recent SF.
The nearer future in the book, Flynne’s era, where small town America lives off the drug trade, everything gets 3-D printed or purchased at Hefty Mart, and surveillance is ubiquitous feels as distubingly real as anything Gibson has written. His farther-future beguiles. By showing the interaction of two times, The Peripheral also comments on the shadows cast by historic events.
After careening through a crazy, chaotic hardboiled plot set in two future societies, the novel wraps up too neatly, too quickly—and too sweetly.
Originality: 4/6 Many people have written about time-travel, but The Peripheral feels original.
Imagery: 6/6 Gibson remains among the most gifted living writers of SF.
Characterization: 5/6 The characters are credible, but I was looking for a little more depth. The people of Flynne’s world have been better-drawn, but they’re also more familiar types. The farther-future performance artist is entertaining and disturbing, but more caricature than character.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Editing: 6/6 Gibson expects his reader to make sense of his books; expect to think during the first half.
Overall Score: 5/6 I have to give Gibson points for the sheer number of concepts he handles in this book: time-travel, drone bodies, and a colony of modified cannibals living on a floating patch of waste.
In total, The Peripheral receives 36/42