The Peripheral (2014) by William Gibson

I’ve read most of Gibson’s novels before, starting with Neuromancer (1984) when I was a teenager. (I can’t believe it was published over 30 years ago; that makes me feel old!) I skipped the other two novels that make up the Sprawl Trilogy, and got back into him with 1993’s excellent Virtual Light–I think that it might be my new favourite Gibson book. Since then I’ve read all of his works except The Difference Engine, the latest ones being the Blue Ant Trilogy. I recommend them all, but you can probably tell I’m a big William Gibson fan.

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The Peripheral tells the story of Flynne Fisher, a young woman who works in a 3D printing shop in near-future rural America. Her brother Burton is recovering from cybernetic implants given to him when he was part of the U.S. Marine Corps’ elite “Haptic Recon unit”. While Burton is out of town, Flynne takes over his job working security in a virtual reality video game. This virtual game’s world appears to be a version of London, familiar yet futuristic and strangely empty. While playing this “game,” Flynne witnesses what appears to be a brutal murder and begins to have doubts about what she has become entangled in.

This book is not an easy read, especially the first one hundred or so pages. Gibson makes you work with The Peripheral, throwing you in at the deep end and expecting you to keep up with his style and invented language. There are no explanations, you’re just there in the middle of this world which feels strange yet familiar. You could liken it to a form of time travelling, or eavesdropping in on a dream from another dimension. The opening line is:

“They didn’t think Flynne’s brother had PTSD, but that sometimes the haptics glitched him.”

Wow, what a start! I instantly wanted to know more. What are “haptics” and why do they “glitch” him? You can form some kind of idea about the meaning but it’s best not to worry too much about it; just go with the the story and discover the meaning as you progress. This kind of language is common in Gibson’s writing and he doesn’t include a glossary. I don’t mind this. In fact I enjoy the challenge.

The Peripheral isn’t perfect, and as I’ve already mentioned it requires the reader to work through it. But I believe that “‘work” is very rewarding. Sometimes it’s good not to have an instruction manual. That way, you can put the story together in your own original style. Recommended, but I prefer Gibson’s earlier writing. If you are looking to start reading him, then I suggest you start with the brilliant Neuromancer.

Thanks so much for reading!

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6 thoughts on “The Peripheral (2014) by William Gibson

  1. I really enjoyed this one, but yeah, it does require some “work.” Or at least some trust in the author that it will all make sense in the end. It’s like the meaning of the jargon just floats to the top when it’s most important. It’s a neat trick.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Agency (2020) by William Gibson | Wakizashi's Teahouse

  3. Pingback: The Peripheral TV Series (2022) | In the Teahouse, a Wakizashi

  4. Have you been watching the Amazon Prime series based on this? I’ve not read the book so I’m curious how close to (or indeed divergent from) the book the series actually is. Its so full of great ideas that its clear its based on a genuine sci-fi writers work, and the show is really well produced with some lovely visuals. Just wondering what you think – its definitely worth you checking out if you haven’t yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: MARGINAL THOUGHTS ON THE PERIPHERAL (1): we are the “polts” in the machine | Xeno Swarm

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