2023 In Books: “Agency” by William Gibson

Book 2 of the Jackpot Trilogy. There are things about this series I’m liking less as I go, and some I’m liking more. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the balance is in my favor between those as we head into the third, closing book (which, of course, ain’t out yet).

Much like The Peripheral, the first book in the series, there’s basically two plots going on: a local, close to our time one taking place in some flavor of an alt-history of the OTHER plot, which is generally set in a further-future London. Basically, the rich fucks who survived The Jackpot (read: general climate collapse and increasing war and violence due to that that lasts for decades) have found a way to reach back into their own pasts and, from the moment they make contact, those pasts spin off into their own quantum existences and now the people from Future London can fuck with the future of these past worlds of theirs and change outcomes.

Yeah, writing about multiple differing futures where one is also the past of one but not all of those futures is… challenging, tense-ly speaking.

Anywho. You’ve basically got 2080/2090 or so London folk fucking with our own more immediate future. In the first book, the fucked-with were basically a small county in the American south circa the 2030’s and Our Heroes were workaday shmucks, young military vets who had been damaged by their deployments, their gig-worker siblings, etc. Regular folks.

I liked that much more than this book’s collection of West Coast Silicon Valley rich tech dorks and LA celebrities and its setting in our 2017 or so. It’s been a month or so since I finished and I seriously had to hit Goodreads to even remember who the earlier future folks WERE in this one.

Worse, Gibson decides to spend a lot of time around the conceit that the London folk made contact in our 2015 and tilted the election to Hillary Clinton over Trump (neither named, but it’s obvious to the point of annoying that they’re NOT named) and that this somehow was leading directly to nuclear war.

So, half the fun of The Peripheral (his rural southern America 15 years from now was actually really well done and compelling,IMO) is out the window in favor of thinly veiled shots at our recent politics and Amazon/Facebook/Google and just… *yawn*. He doesn’t say much interesting about this, the nuclear threat thing is somehow BORING, the takes on our current tech overlords are not novel or interesting, and it just does fuckall to move the needle for me in any sense.

The London folk and plot I have found more interesting in both books, but Gibson doesn’t seem to want to spend a ton of time developing what’s going on in that further, more dystopian future, although how things end in this volume make me hopeful that we’ll focus more on them for the finale?

The London folk are either the oligarchs who rule that future, having violently taken things over and monopolized under their own control the various technological advancements that allowed some 20%-ish of overall humanity to survive climate collapse, the wars, pandemics, etc., or their management class like Lowbeer, who I find by far the most compelling character in these books so far. Is she a gov’t cop, an oligarchy enforcer, both, neither…?

This book moves her motivation along a bit; she hates the world she lives in and wants to modify a “stub” (what her world calls these quantum spin-off past Earths their contact creates) to where the Jackpot is avoided or mitigated if possible but, if not, that it at least doesn’t end up with the Oligarchs in charge at the end.

To this end, she proves to a rogue oligarch who doesn’t like her meddling just how far her power extends. It’s a neat scene.

Overall, as you can probably tell, I did not care at all about the main plot of this book, the alt-2016 tech/celeb dorks trying to avoid a thinly-sketched nuclear threat that only exists in that universe because Hillary Clinton beat Trump (it’s all… very dumb).

But I _do_ care about future London; he doesn’t spend much time in that world, but it’s very interesting to me. I feel like the ending of this book sets up spending more time there in the finale, addressing the bigger picture of the world post-Jackpot and the ethics of doing ANYTHING with the “stubs” that, quantum freakouts or not, contain billions of real lives (increasingly less billions as time goes on, but still).

I really hope that’s what the third book deals with, because the stub stories have gone from “pretty compelling” in the first one to “who gives a shit” in this one, and this entire series could just be set in the post-Jackpot world without the stubs at all and I would probably enjoy it more. We’ll see.

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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