BOOK REVIEW: THE PERIPHERAL / AUTHOR: WILLIAM GIBSON / PUBLISHER: PENGUIN / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 20TH
Thirty years have passed since William Gibson’s debut novel Neuromancer hit bookshelves. Often imitated but never equalled, Neuromancer arguably set the standard for the cyberpunk genre it helped to create, but also for all of Gibson’s work that followed. His latest is The Peripheral, set in two worlds. The first is a near-future, while the other is seventy years after that, a world that is recovering from a global disaster.
Gibson tells his tale of two futures with seamless precision. Flynne Fisher lives in a rural America of drones and illegal drugs, while Wilf Netherton inhabits a decadent and powerful London, a city that is almost empty. Opposites in many ways, they find themselves united by their humanity as well as their technology, and each learns from the other. This is something Gibson handles extremely well, never letting the concept dominate. He builds his characters from the core, allowing us to grow with them, care for them and wish them a good ending. He creates sympathy by making them feel like pawns, manipulated for nefarious ends, or victims of tragic circumstances. The plot of The Peripheral tests the characters to their limits, but it never feels forced, just a series of events that they have to adapt to, believable twists in their everyday lives.
His writing has been refined over the years, but Gibson still maintains that sparse, edgy style that has been a characteristic of his work from the very beginning. Dialogue is spoken in short, sharp bursts – a question can be asked in a single word – littered with slang that can be confusing at first, referring to technology that they take for granted as everyday parts of their lives; it may be a struggle initially, but once the reader becomes accustomed to it, everything slots naturally into place.
Ultimately, The Peripheral is a story about people; their hopes, their fears and frustrations. Despite advances in technology, the worlds still consist of the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, making Gibson’s protagonists and their companions constant battlers against the system, striving for change, for something better, something they deserve. Gibson remains as unnervingly prophetic as ever, making his futures feel like they’re just around the corner, products of humankind’s inability to act when necessary, transforming a sci-fi whodunit into a work of fiction that feels both ahead of its time and frighteningly relevant to today’s world.
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