Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Peripheral by William Gibson

William Gibson’s storytelling skill is such that we read/listen to him string adjectives, verbs, and nouns together in the places we expect to find them, only to discover 30-40 minutes later that we have no earthly idea what it is he is talking about. Ah, but what does it matter? He is slick, cool, forward-thinking. Surely it will all become clear.

I like several things about the world that contains Flynn and her brother Burton. Composting toilets are no longer unusual, and virtual reality is commonly used. Coffee and Red Bull are in big demand but only two vegetables (jalapeno & green onion) were mentioned amidst cronuts, pork or chicken nubbins, blinis with caviar & sour cream, sardine panini, shrimp bowls, breakfast burritos, and an unreasonable amount of sushi. You can see where my head was.

Anyway, there’s lots of technology, but the really big thing is that two time periods can coexist: before and after the “jackpot." “That really was a vile period, Flynn’s day,” one character from the other side comments, and another tells us the jackpot had already begun while Flynn was living pretty rough, close by her veteran brother and his shot-up best buddy, Connor. Humans can travel between these two time periods, and can effectively change singular outcomes, though not the jackpot. The jackpot, we are told, is multi-causal and devastating to life on earth.

It is only a little curious (but still cool) that Gibson barely even refers to sex. It’s as though women got what they wanted—to be recognized for their minds and their skills rather than their bodies. Some attention is paid to clothing, haircuts, and attractive features, but Flynn is strangely reticent to be seen in a sweatshirt and panties by a face on a screen, even one some great distance in the future. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask the screen to hide it’s eyes. But the language and thought processes of men and women are oddly similar among everyone except Lowbeer, who has a mind I recognize as feminine.
It was delightful to discover she also has a male body, coincidently still alive in Flynn’s time.

I really liked what Gibson did with his worlds. He seems to have taken Naomi Klein’s nonfiction book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate to heart and imagined what comes before, during, and after climate change. His later world is filled with people for whom the concept altruism draws surprised comment. Newgate prison in London has been rebuilt because “the klepts thought it a wise and necessary thing.” One thing I didn't like as well was that he gave his chief villain in the post-jackpot world a Middle Eastern name. One could look at that as divine justice, but for me it was a little too reminiscent of those old films where the bad guy looked Russian and had a German accent. Maybe a little too obvious in a book without much of that.

China has a presence in both worlds, though not too heavily underscored. It was kind of cool, the post-jackpot imaginings...though sans vegetables…Connor, the shot-up veteran who was wheelchair bound, had a chance to bound around in new and different peripherals who accepted his personality and life force. And the very end shows the maturity of Gibson’s vision.

Despite liking the sentiments Gibson shares in this big story, I probably am not going to reach for another scifi novel very soon. I read this as a challenge to myself to get out of my comfort zone and see the world(s). However much I finally enjoyed it, it still feels a little too much like play when we have a lot of work to do if we’re to change outcomes slightly during our own jackpot.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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