Yes, yes, the Prix Aurora Awards are long over by now, but I wanted to still put up my review of William Gibson’s The Peripheral. It’s taken me a while to be able to sort out my thoughts on the book.
William Gibson returns with his first novel since 2010’s New York Times–bestselling Zero History.
Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.
What is the outstanding “trend” in the book? (ie: outer space, aliens, dragons, elves, parallel worlds, etc):
I would say that parallel worlds sums this one up.
Is there a Message?:
Not really, I don’t think. It didn’t clobber me over the head with anything. If the message was that being poor sucks, well, we all know that’s true.
Any other genres incorporated into the book? Was it done well?:
This one seems to be straight-up science fiction/fantasy. Once I knew what was going on, it worked really well.
Is the “trend” realistic?:
Kinda? Will explain down below.
Was the book easy to get into?:
Oh hell no. I actually needed a glossary to finally understand what the hell I was trying to wrap my brain around.
Did you have to do any homework (pre-reading) to really understand the book?:
No previous books set in this world, no. At least, that I know of.
Was the world believeable?:
Once I figured out what I was reading? Possibly? The best way to describe how the worlds worked is to say that it’s like one future has the ability to play with alternate dimensions of the past the way that some of us play The Sims. The overarching plot after that (character sees a crime committed and has to provide evidence) is just gravy.
Were the characters believable?:
Yes. The characters were all very well realized. It’s one of Gibson’s main talents. Once you figure out which world you’re in and the world-building that surrounds it, the characters themselves are a treat.
What “problems” did you have with the book?:
There was a lot of slang. A lot of slang. Parts of the story are set in a world not too far ahead of us, and another that’s a few decades ahead of that. Apparently a lot changes in between those times, which made it hard for me to read the book without some form of translation. So I looked up a helpful glossary online that told me what things meant without spoiling the story. Problem solved.
Actually, the site that I’ve linked as the glossary pretty well sums up my issues with the book right in the introduction. I was confused to the point that I almost put the book down a few times…and having that one or two extra bits of explanation really helped me to relax and enjoy it.
What did you like about the book?:
Once I understood what I was reading, I really did enjoy the story. As mentioned, it was a standard “protect the witness” plot, but with some really interesting twists. It also didn’t end the way that I thought it would…the few Gibson books I’ve read have had some really grim endings, and this one was surprisingly upbeat.
Reading comprehension has never been a problem for me before this point. To be honest, Peter Watts’ books operate on a level that I have difficulty grasping. This one was worse. I’ve waded through medical journal text that was easier to understand. To be honest, I felt downright stupid for the first quarter to half of the book before I found the glossary and the little lightbulb went on. I really don’t like feeling that way, particularly when reading a book by an author that I admire. Some like the discovery that comes from being in the dark…I just felt like I was obviously too dim to understand what I was reading — which was a rather glum thought, and before finding the glossary, had me wishing I’d bought the hardcover* so I could pitch it across the room with a satisfying thud.
I was very happy to find out that the fault really wasn’t with me, but the fact that Gibson seems to have gone out of his way to obscure the story. I suppose I might have been a little more good-natured about the whole thing if I hadn’t been on a very tight reading schedule at the time.
Do I recommend it? Oh most definitely yes! The story, once you get past the stumbling points, is wonderful. If you need the glossary, here it is again. My suggestion is the same as the glossary authors – don’t read it unless you find you need it. It’s very possible you’ll click with the story a lot sooner than I did.
* We bought this book in hardcover about a year later when funds permitted.
TL;DR If you like walking around blind until you click to the jargon, you'll love this right off the bat. I needed a glossary. Once I knew the lingo, though, I really enjoyed this near-future adventure in not-quite dystopic America
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Published by Penguin
Genres: Cyberpunk, Technothriller, Science Fiction, Military SF
Source: Prix Aurora Award voter's package
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This post contains an affiliate link (to Amazon) you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.
I received this book free as a part of the Aurora Awards Voter’s Package. The Aurora Awards are Canada’s national awards for best science fiction and fantasy, as voted on by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. Nominees, winners, and CSFFA members must all be Canadian.