The Peripheral • 2014 • Time Travel novel by William Gibson



Synopsis:  In a small rural town in the U.S., Flynne and her brother Burton are hired for a security job in cyberspace. Flynne witnesses a murder there and doesn’t think too much about it because it’s just a kind of game. 

The story alternates every three pages with the second protagonist, Wilf Netherton, an early 22nd century publicist living in London several decades after an apocalypse called the “Jackpot”. Only a few million people survived this, most of them the well-connected and superrich. 
Wilf is working for a celebrity diplomat who wanted to establish relationships with a bunch of cannibalistic natives living on the Great Garbage Patch. After a disaster, Wilf is fired and relocates to his superrich friend Lev, who happens to be a “continua enthusiast”. He introduces Wilf to a “stub”, a connection to the past which is branched off their time-continuum. 

Flynne is invited to talk about the murder, because that’s what really happened in the future. But physical time travel isn’t possible, only exchange of information. That’s why she connects to one of the peripherals, which are empty sleeves of AI driven human bodies.

Review: Some years ago, I DNFed this book after a few chapters, because it was too hard to get into. Gibson throws a lot of neologism at the unprepared reader, just like he always does. But this time, the narration is also highly condensed, allowing absolutely no slack of concentration, and I often didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. One of the hurdles might be that I’m no native English speaker, but I usually do well enough. Comparing it to other works from him, that I recently re-read – like some short stories or his novel Neuromancer – this novel is far more complicated in its literary style. Only after some 100 pages, it gets somewhat easier.

I’ll have to see how much is caused by English, as I will read the next volume of the trilogy “Agency” back to back in German. 

Gibson is back to SF after writing a couple of contemporary novels around 09/11 and the financial crisis of 2008. I say ‘yay’ and loved diving into his technobabble that showed that he is still up for the task (not that I ever doubted it). Just one sample are dynamic, AI driven tattoos depicting extinct animals which are shy and flee to the owner’s back when a foreigner looks at them. While innovative, this remembers me a lot of Ray Bradbury’s “Illustrated Man”. 

The vivid atmosphere differs largely from his Cyberpunk scenery, while retaining his cool style, as you can see instantly reading the first sentence:

They didn’t think Flynne’s brother had PTSD, but that sometimes the haptics glitched him.  

The time travel trope is solved in a not exactly innovative way, by branching off a universe as soon as a connection to the past is established. From there on, time can’t be sped up, it just flows exactly as fast in both time slices. Being able to communicate in both directions gives a lot of fun, but Gibson doesn’t investigate the technical problems like time loops too much.

It just gives way to a over-complicated mystery which needs to be solved, because who’s done it? The plot itself is by far the least interesting element about this novel, and the resolution itself happens nearly passing by.

What I liked most in the story where two female characters: One the main protagonist Flynn, and the other one a future detective who’s just as badass in control as Molly Millions is. Gibson still writes strong and believable females, what a joy!

In summary, I liked the novel, and I’m happy to have read it, but it was a challenge to get through, and I’m still wondering if it was worth it. 

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12 Responses to The Peripheral • 2014 • Time Travel novel by William Gibson

  1. Interesting! I’m keeping an eye out for Gibson reviews for the eventual day that I will dive into his bibliography.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. pdtillman says:

    I have this one out from the library. I was under the impression this was his most recent. @2014, obviously not.

    IB I’ll just return it when due. I’ve had little luck with Gibson’s later novels. Like you, I loved Neuromancer & re-read it regularly. Oh, well. Thanks for your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wakizashi says:

    Good review, Andreas! I’m a native English speaker and I struggled with some of the language in this book. Gibson seems to enjoy inventing cool words and he never provides a glossary 🤩 Also, the story was quite complicated jumping between the different timelines. It’s easy to get lost if you don’t focus, as you said.

    I reviewed this back in 2015–one of my first reviews on my blog:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find Gibson hard to get into as well. I don’t know if his style is for me. I think it’s cool though that you gave it another chance, even with your doubts!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Alex Good says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you say here. Neuromancer was Gibson’s most popular book for being more accessible and written at a certain level. His later books are more an acquired taste. I don’t like them as much but he has devoted fans. I did like this book better than Agency, the sequel.

    Liked by 1 person

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