By William Gibson
First Published: 2014
Jacket Design by Richard Hasselberger
Review © 2016 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Noir Thriller, Time Travel
The Peripheral is a terrific new science fiction novel from William Gibson. Gibson takes this novel in a new direction with an innovative form of time travel that avoids the common time travel paradox problems. Alternating between two interconnected thrillers with hard hitting noir elements, Peripheral delivers one of the best time travel adventures ever and, for my money, is Gibson’s best novel of the new century.
The beginning of The Peripheral is quite confusing. There is no exposition and the reader is thrust into two alternating narratives, one in the near future and one over 70 years beyond the first narrative. However, both narratives contain an intoxicating gritty noir atmosphere. The near future narrative is reasonably straightforward with a strong female protagonist named Flynne. She lives in a somewhat bleak world out in a rural area where jobs are scarce if, like her, you don’t want to be involved with drug manufacturing. Flynne’s brother Burton supplements his disability income from his time in the Special Forces with working in virtual worlds as a fighter or security guard. When he asks Flynne to fill in for him on a high paying security job, she agrees to help him out even though the security detail seems very boring. But then she witnesses a very strange murder in the virtual world and before she knows it, people start trying to kill her in real life while she wonders what she got herself involved in.
Meanwhile, the farther future narrative is an even bleaker world which has survived some kind of at least partial apocalypse. The narrator of this world is a jaded entertainment agent in London named Wilf. In his world, a new hobby has appeared among the ultra-rich which involves communicating with the past and making small tweaks in the past to see what happens.
It takes over a 100 pages for the plot to really come together but it’s a fun ride the whole way. Flynne is as tough in her own way as her Special Forces brother. When she finds she has a high price on her head, she doesn’t panic, she gets mad and vows to do something. Wilf seems to be more resigned to be at the mercy of those more powerful than him. But when Wilf makes contact with Flynne, he finds a connection that gives him more hope for the future than he’s ever had.
There are multiple mysteries to solve in this novel but the best part of this novel is the path, not the destination. The character dialogues, interesting future technologies, slowly building tension, and occasional bouts of violent action all make for a terrific reading experience. For anyone who enjoys a noir atmosphere, don’t miss the best novel from Gibson in years.