2023 In Books: “The Peripheral”, by William Gibson

Man. Gibson.

Thanks to a favorite grandma who handed me a copy of Neuromancer when I was 9 (read: not at ALL prepared for what that book was throwing down), I have always been a huge fan of Gibson, but hadn’t read anything by him since Idoru. With the hubbub around the Amazon adaptation of this book, I figured I should finally knock it out.

And I liked it, but it had some issues.

Like most of his stuff, it tosses you right into the midst of a world with terms and phrases and things happening that range from “I get it” to “I can guess at what this might be by using my future-guessing brain” to “no idea the fuck is going on here”. I felt like this book kept the reader in the “wtf?” phase longer than his usual, but eventually it sorts out reasonably well.

Not a super-original premise but a lot of well-thought out twists on common near-future sci-fi concepts here. The idea of the rich riding out a slow, long, and thorough collapse of the common weal thanks to technology sort of keeping up with multi-variant catastrophes but not soon enough to save the regular people of the world isn’t new, but I always love to get red-assed reading a new take on it, and Gibson’s description of this new world here is evocative.

The near-future American “buttholeville” is… probably scary accurate to what it’s actually going to be in a few decades outside of our major urban cores. The line about how traffic wrecks just stay on the road or the side of it because the state and the county don’t have the money to deal with them anymore… I feel like Texas is like 3 years from that today.

I think that’s where this book succeeds most; it REALLY defines a time and place that is wholly realized in its fictional fabric. “Hefty”, the corporation that just owns and leases absolutely everything out to everyone, is clearly a thinly-veiled Amazon and also a highly-plausible future Amazon growing to control everything’s physical, retail presence as much as they do online shopping today.

Where I think this book is weakest is in the actual plot event we’re supposed to care very much about. Given the capabilities of both the “good” and the “bad” guys in this book, the contrivances made to actually put people at specific risk are… well, they’re a bit much.

For a book where the events at hand are possibly world-shaking, the book almost feels a bit too intimate for that scale of risk. It takes place almost entirely in a weird future heavily depopulated London, and one hillbilly county vaguely placed somewhere in the American south. Tying these small handfuls of, at least on the American side, utterly unremarkable folk to the fate of billions is a lot to ask of the reader’s willingness to suspend disbelief.

Also, sorry, but the final Big Bad is comically underdeveloped and one-dimensional. That character was the one absolute “bleaugh” I felt reading this otherwise-enjoyable yarn.

That said… I also didn’t care. The people and place feel true, even if the plot macguffin sometimes doesn’t, and it was more than enough to keep me turning pages.

I know there are two more books in this series, and I hope he fleshes the larger universe out some, because, as with most Gibson works, it’s those ideas and concepts that tend to be the most interesting part of the work.

Call it 3.5 Mirrorshades out of 5

About Me

Disaffected middle-aged guy who hates what the internet has become and led to and just wants to write on his quiet corner of it that he actually owns himself because WOW was social media a bad idea. I mostly write about books and terrible current events. Sorry.


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