For the first fifty pages or so, I experienced a horrible sinking feeling that The Peripheral would be prove to be just as disappointing as William’s Gibson’s previous novel Spook Country. But I’m glad that I forced myself to stick with the story, for as the narrative unfolded it turned out to be the best book he has written in ages.
Allied to the author’s inimitable style is real substance in the form of two rather bleak points of time in the future before and after the global collapse ironically called the “jackpot”. Although both periods have the trappings of advanced technology such as virtual reality, instant fabbing tools, and, in the case of the post-jackpot one, robots (called peripherals in the book) and even time travel, their economies are weak and their societies are riven with gross inequalities. All forms of wealth creation are closely guarded by a privileged and self-indulgent elite playing out their own petty power games while the rest of the population are forced to scrape out meager existences close to the trailer park poverty line.
The plot of The Peripheral is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged, but it’s the questions that Gibson raises about the future ahead of us that, in my mind at least, are much more important. Will we use all the amazing technology we are inventing for the benefit of the entire human race, or will it simply become a tool for extending the control of the elite?
The jury’s still out on that question. But even though Gibson does offer a few small signs of hope in The Peripheral, the overall picture he paints is pessimistic.