The Peripheral: Or, Gibson's meditation on potential futures and string theory

The Peripheral - William Gibson

It's difficult for me to know how to go about reviewing a book like this. I've read Gibson before, and this has sort of cemented my feelings on his writing. Gibson, at least in my opinion, is an amazing idea guy. I have to admire his ability to visualize possible futures, the way he can think tech and social systems forward, and how he is able to deftly theorize about paradigm shifts, patterns, and structures. He's an extremely clever man. What he isn't, again - at least in my opinion, is a good storyteller.


To say this book dumps you in the deep end right from the start isn't necessarily a problem, but it's compounded by Gibson's writing style - the fact that he jumps back and forth between timelines, and POV characters, without indicators (or often even pronouns) means the book gets off to a choppy start. When you read dozens and dozens of pages and all you can say for certain is, "These are all good words, arranged together in some sort of fashion..." that's asking a lot of your readers. Some people will be a fan of this. I unfortunately was not.


Once the story started to take shape and a rhythm emerged, such as it is, the book still had problems for me. His characters can usually be summed up as people who do certain things or have certain skill sets, while their personalities and motivations languish on the sideline (if they are addressed at all). The plot in this book in particular is hung together so loosely that upon deeper scrutiny it fell apart entirely. Which is a problem as Gibson's work invites scrutiny. Having so many interesting ideas hanging on a conceit of having someone visually ID a murderer, in a world where people can change their appearances radically and routinely borrow bodies, is thinner than thin.


But the ideas, right? Such brilliant and interesting ideas. Such visions of the future, speculation about global trends, and leaps in technology. This is why Gibson made a name for himself, and why he remains relevant. I will likely never be a fan of his work, but I do respect it. Mostly I just wish his ability to think forward was accompanied by a stronger sense of storytelling and not just world building.