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William Gibson
The Peripheral
Putnam / Penguin Group
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-399-15844-5
Publication Date: 10-28-2014
486 Pages; $28.95
Date Reviewed: 11-19-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Science Fiction  General Fiction  Mystery  

Flynne is sitting in for her brother, Burton, test-driving a video game. Wilf Netherton is trying to herd a difficult personality. Their worlds are utterly different. But we know both worlds are our world, in some sense, in some version. How did we get from where we are now to these places? The history between any two is a compelling and intense mystery. How did we get to where we are now?

William Gibson's latest novel, 'The Peripheral,' is a perfect union of opposites, in many senses. It alternates between two protagonists, Flynne and Wilf. Flynne is pretty much trailer trash in a nearish future where the worst parts of the present have been cranked to eleven. Wilf is a rich git with some sort of heart that can't be shut off so easily as one might expect of a man living in his rather opulent circumstances.

In any single scene, Gibson's prose puts us perfectly in the moment. Flynne's crappy future is heavy on meth-heads, rustic rust, and a vision of America looking like Germany in the late 1920's – money by the bucket, worth not so very much. There's no fascist leader in sight, but life manages to have grit and ugliness in spite of the second-hand future tech the characters have scrounged from greener pastures.

Wilf's splendor is equally confusing and not so much happier. Sure, Wilf isn't struggling with drugs and poverty, but his comfort is no less imbued with stress than Flynne's life. The writing here is richer and more ornate, as is the setting, but the overall effect on the reader is the same. Everything is unsettling. No matter where you go, the future is a foreign country.

'The Peripheral' takes some effort on the part of the reader. Gibson gives nothing away as to what he's up to and why. But as the relationships unfold and as the worlds become clearer, as readers solve the first mystery as to what the hell is happening here and why, the second-level mystery, the plot of the novel, unfolds in a series of magnificent revelatory chapters.

Readers are advised not to read the dust jacket, which gives away a big part of the story, as do many reviews.. This is a novel best experienced on its own, immersive terms. Gibson has proven that he's a writer we can trust and that pays off here in so many ways. Plunging us into a vision of crime and caper complicated by an intricately devised future, 'The Peripheral' is perhaps Gibson's best novel yet.

One the most enjoyable aspects of 'The Peripheral' is Gibson's bone-dry sense of humor. This is a very funny book, with nary a laugh line in sight. Gibson's smart use of the crime genre and science fiction genre give him the perfect excuse to zip up and down the income scale in a manner that speaks intimately to the income gap permeating our lives that nonetheless is somehow unspeakable.

All that is readily apparent in our world starts out invisible in 'The Peripheral.' By the time the novel ends, we can look back, and sense our own history, remade and re-mystified. Gibson paints a portrait of the future that highlights the weirdness of the present. He writes superbly about technology; how it changes us as we change it. But he needs no tech to re-wire our minds. Words will do just fine.

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