Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: The Peripheral, by William Gibson

After four years, William Gibson is finally coming out with a new book, “The Peripheral”. Time to preorder now.

There’s not much to review. If you like Gibson’s work, you’ll like this book. (Also, if you don't like Gibon's work, then you are wrong).

What I like about Gibson’s work is his investment in the supporting characters, which are often more interesting than the main characters. Each has a complex backstory, but more importantly, each has a story that unfolds during the book. It’s as if Gibson takes each minor character and writes a short story for them, where they grow and evolve, then combines them all into the main story. It’s a little confusing at the start, because it’s sometimes hard to identify which are the main characters, but it pays off in the end. (I experienced that in this book, among the numerous characters he introduced at the start, it was the least interesting ones that turned out to be the main characters -- it's not that they were boring, it's that they took longer to develop).

One departure from his normal work is that this book is maybe a little more autobiographical. Gibson grew up on the countryside in the south, which is part of the setting in this book. He describes it in such detail that the reader feels at home there every much as in the urban dystopic fantasy.

Another departure from his normal work is that it’s as much about a dystopic present as it is about a dystopic future. Frankly, the modern world has caught up with Gibson – we are the future he was writing about 30 years ago. He can’t very well dream of a “cyberspace” when it’s all around us right now.

He deals with the dystopic present with nuance. For example, there is an analogue to the Westboro Baptist Church. These guys are a bunch of bastards that are easy to hate, so the average fiction writer would come up with a horrible disfiguring plague to wipe them out, to give us readers satisfaction. Gibson doesn’t.

The book has a scifi trick that you don’t figure out until about a quarter of the way through the book. Most reviews of the book give this up as a spoiler. I won’t here, because I really enjoyed trying to figure it out for myself as I read the book. I therefore recommend that you don’t read other reviews.

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