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By William Gibson
G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
Although I was a huge fan of "cyberpunk" author William Gibson when younger, I must admit that I haven't read anything by him since 1996's Idoru, mostly because the four novels he's written since then have all been contemporary thrillers with little science-fiction in them, which is simply something I'm not really that interested in; so when I heard that his newest novel, last winter's The Peripheral, was a return for him to his sci-fi roots, I was excited to pick it up, and now that I have I can confidently state that I was not disappointed at all. More Virtual Light than Neuromancer, the dual storylines take place a mere 30 years in the future and 70 years after that, making great use of current cutting-edge subjects to deliver what on the one hand is a fascinating day-after-tomorrow story about an America in deep decline; but that's part of the fascinating nature of this book, that in the world of The Peripheral, a series of cataclysmic events happen soon after the storyline half that's set 30 years from now, in which the vast majority of human race dies even while the remaining few succeed in the kind of advanced science indistinguishable from magic, making the part set 100 years from now seem like far-future sci-fi, not only to us but to the hard-partying redneck military veterans we follow in the first storyline.
It's this commingling of time periods that's at the heart of this book's fascinating plot; essentially, through a development that is barely understood, the 100-year-future characters of Post-Apocalypse London figure out a way to contact and communicate with our blue-collar heroes from the 30-year-future America, even while the quantum disruption ensures that the two worlds now exist as two different alternative timelines, neatly eliminating the tricky subject of whether actions in the "past" will affect those characters currently living in the "future;" and while this is first done just as a lark by bored rich celebrities who like saying that they have a literal ghost from the past virtually acting as one of their bodyguards, soon the intrusion into each other's timelines becomes an unstoppable mess that threatens to destroy both versions of Earth. Featuring Gibson's trademarked blend of mind-blowing concepts introduced with no explanation whatsoever, his habit of humanizing high tech into the dirty, scruffy world we all actually live in, and with great metaphorical digs not only of the Tea Party but also the kinds of hipsters who obsessively collect vinyl in an age of MP3s, this is nonetheless perhaps the most accessible science-fiction novel Gibson has ever written, with a storyline that was surprisingly easy to follow despite the time-traveling nature of it all, benefiting greatly from the "Justified meets The Matrix" paradigm of its 30-year-future half. Strongly recommended, but as always to just sci-fi fans only; if you're not already a fan of the genre, this will likely make you roll your eyes every few pages.
Out of 10: 8.9, or 9.4 for sci-fi fans