The Peripheral

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So I finished The Peripheral, which took a little time to get going but really paid off in the end.

I am aware that there are alternate opinions, but I am a big faan of Gibson, not just as a futurist, a calling at which he is perhaps singularly excellent, but as a prose stylist; his tight sentences and utterly ridiculous yet totally believable dialog call to mind obviously Dashiell Hammett, among others, and make the strivings of fellow genre writers seem limp and stupidly expository by comparison. I do very much appreciate his vision of the non-linear future (“the Jackpot”) and the multivariate utterly predictable yet unknowable path to destruction, a banal Apocalypse that is all the more chilling for never really being explained (after all, it’s not a part of the book that really matters – it’s a MacGuffin for explaining the framing device of the story).

Gibson came along at exactly the right time for me with Neuromancer – there’s a reason I program computers, and it’s not PEEK and POKE on a IIE – and then again with Virtual Light, which tweaked me to upend my life and move to San Francisco – still no Little Godzilla or repurposing of the Bay Bridge, but a man can hope. He lost the plot for me with the woman allergic to brands (TRYING TOO HARD), so I was a little worried about The Peripheral. I was too nervous. It is extraordinary.

There’s a little bit of Navy SEAL power-fantasy that makes me uncomfortable, but one thing that Gibson has always been excellent at is women, which more than makes up for the testosterone power-fantasies of Turner and Berry Rydell and the Haptic Recon Marines; the women always seem to be fully realized people, and central to moving the plot along; and then there’s the personal stuff with Appalachia – he is very generous with people who are papered over, if mentioned at all, in most science fiction. It’s not all glorious mind-bursting intelligences; Gibson’s science fiction is made of up of people, people we might encounter at Wal*Mart or driving around redneck areas of the continent, and he treats with them as fully autonomous, fully human beings.

I think of Gibson as a deeply humanist writer who happens to see the future in ways that the rest of us are continually chasing. He has had a significant positive effect on my life, not strictly literary, and I am well-known as a pusher of genre fiction (“books for readers, not books for writers”, cf, Jack Vance, for instance) but there remains a certain reluctance to full heartedly endorse non-literary fiction. To this I say: Bosh! Flim-shaw!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★