Top positive review
Not for Gibson neophytes: a return to form (Sprawl trilogy) with nostalgia/maturity (Bigend trilogy)
Reviewed in the United States on January 13, 2015
If you've never read Gibson before, this is NOT the place to start.
I remember the first time I read Neuromancer. Jeeze, like 30 years ago now. Reading Neuromancer and its often dense, cinematic prose often made me with for a glossary with the book, like there had been when I read my older brother's late 60s paperback copy of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. But Burgess' was using Anglicized Russian as British English slang in that book -- you really needed the glossary.
For Gibson, everything is written in English, so you get no glossary. You have to figure out the meanings of new/invented/esoteric terms from the context of the prose. Now, it's got it's confusing, hallucinatory aspects that make it akin to reading Burroughs sometimes (but without all the drugs and homosexual sex). But Burroughs' stuff also was frustrating to read because of the cut-up, disjointed narrative style. Gibson's stuff is far more tightly plotted and less hallucinatory.
Figuring out the meanings of terms from the prose and context is less an issue in this novel than in some of Gibson's previous novels (like The Sprawl trilogy novels). But it is definitely much more of an issue here than it was with in the last three "Bigend" trillogy novels combined.
I did not have a problem figuring out terms/actions from the context with this novel. For people who are already aware of topics as disparate but technologically reliant as social media's geolocation capabilities, social media mood indication/tracking, advancements in 3D printing, and concepts such as string/mbrane theories of physics (in a PBS TV kind of way) and possible parellel multiple universes, this book should not be difficult to read.
For everyone else, yeah... it will be a problem.
I recently had a friend -- who hadn't re-read any of Gibson's first 3-6 novels since she originally read them, 30-ish years ago -- complain about 3 things with respect to this book. I, however, recently re-acquired ALL of his books in ebook format, after having lost paperback and hardcover copies over the years. So I was in a unique position to respond to her arguments.
First, she said the first 100 pages of The Peripheral were unnecessarily dense. My response to that was: no, not really, unless you've forgotten how he *used* to write. Because this is not a new style for him -- it's more a return to form.
Second, she objected to the fact that under all the scifi trappings, it's "just a murder mystery." Well, you could say any of his previous novels had, "under the trappings," some fairly routine pulp-ish or noir-ish plots. Criminal pulled in/tempted by just "one last job." Corporate espionage and extraction of human workers who represent intellectual capital to these corporations. That kind of thing.
In my opinion, there are two mysteries in this novel: the murder mystery (which is the obvious mystery) and the underlying, shadow mystery, which is revealed in dribs and drabs until very near the end: the myster of The Jackpot -- what it is, how it happened, who it affected.
Ironically, the biggest mystery -- communication between people of one near future multiverse, and the people of a far future multiverse -- is simply set up as a given. (If anything in this novel is a deus ex machina, I suppose that is). So the mystery is never explained.
Third and last, she objected to what she felt was a Disney-ish happy ending. But, I argued, virtually all of Gibson's otherwise highly dystopian visions of the future end similarly: the bad guys don't entirely win, and the good guys don't entirely lose. Which is, I guess, just another way of saying the bad guys kind of lose, and the good guys kind of win. But one senses that the struggle and lives of the characters continue after you finish the book, and nothing feels too deus ex machina (except, in this novel, maybe some of the givens).
Let me put it this way: If you already know and pretty much love Gibson's previous stuff, I don't think this will disappoint.
If, however, Gibson's writing (especially the early stuff) put you off, then you'll probably hate this novel, too.
I loved it. Gibson has always been so expertly, specifically, and hauntingly able to describe the nostalgia of anachronistic characters and to chart the narratives of those people whose changing personal circumstances have left them with uncertain footing in either a not entirely friendly world, or an outright hostile one, as they try to secure some piece of stability and/or security for themselves amid an often constantly changing landscape. He's always written relatable and often quite compelling heroines, the vast majority of whom were not stereotypical scifi babes.
He has also always extrapolated from current and historical sociopolitical and economical trends -- especially with respect to technological innovation -- to provide a glimpse of the growing, ever-sharpening class divisions that our world has rapidly devolved into. Much of what he presented as mere backstory or incidental detail in his Sprawl trilogy novels (and even in later workrs) has come to pass. He obviously has class politics, and to me, Gibson seems to be one of those ex-working class intellectuals who never lost touch with the fact that -- had he never become successful as a writer -- he'd probably would have worked some kind of blue collar or civil servant/wage slave type job his whole life, because that's what he was headed for.
So he has remarkable sympathy for those square-peg-round-hole drones who get caught up in things larger than themselves, especially those who've had a taste of "the good life" and then otherwise blew it, lost it, or had it somehow snatched away. Yet he never comes across as overtly or explicity adhering to any 'ism;' he never comes across from that kind of tiresome first-raised pro-blue-collar/almost anti-intellectual pride, either. That's probably because, for many of his protagonists, it's their intellect, their brainy skills, that got them out of whatever backwater, wrong-side-of-town situation they were originally born into.
The way he writes his dystopian futures -- which are all merely extrapolations of things that are already true now -- "it is what it is." There's no agenda-pushing by Gibson, it's just a very dry recitation of the surrounding details that gradually weave into a whole where you see how the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, and you come to realize that is what we all would observe ourselves about our current world, if we were only paying attention.
So when one of his underdog protagonists finally achieves some level of security, you feel like it's been really earned... and much of the time, those underdogs are trying to pull another person or two or more up with them, or sometimes, enlighten an entire group even as they merely pursue their own trajectory.
It's that warmth and strange optimism amid all the doomy gloomy dystopia that has always kind of made Gibson's stuff moody, haunting, and ultimately very fulfilling reading for me.
These are some of the things I've always really admired about him.